What is a cookbook, anyway? Depends. The late Molly O'Neill, in her Introduction to American Food Writing, An Anthology With Classic Recipes, wrote that much food writing in the first decade of 21st Century belonged to the genre of "My Awakening and What I Ate." She credits this to M.F.K. Fisher's 27 books, describing Fisher's various awakenings and what she ate, in mildly luscivious, gluttonous prose.
Escoffier's classic cookbook is the opposite of that. It has two parts: Part I, The Fundamental Elements of Cooking and Part II, Recipes and Methods of Procedure. Escoffier was a sort of user's manual for the kind of kitchen where Samuelsson spent six months as a commis: The Victoria Jungfrau, in Interlaken, Switzerland.
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Samuelsson was trained in the Escoffier method, but his cookbooks show the influence of M.F.K. Fisher. Samuelsson's recipes are more than ingredients and instructions.
Six cookbooks and a memoir in 17 years is a lot of awakenings. In Aquavit (2003), Samuelsson awoke to life in New York City and refreshed the Swedish standards with techniques and tastes he'd learned from his Franco-Swiss training and his world travels.
In Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa (2006) Samuelsson discovered not only the foods and favors of Africa, but regained his Ethiopian father and half-siblings.
The New American Table (2009) celebrated the immigrant food of the United States. Samuelsson himself had become an American citizen a decade earlier.
His memoir Yes,Chef (2012), divided into sections called Boy, Chef and Man, chronicled the awakening called growing up. Samuelsson made a home, started a family and opened a restaurant in Harlem. The recipes for what he ate are in Marcus Off Duty (2014).
The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem (2016) reads like a personal diary of what Harlem taught him: the African American experience since the Civil War. The recipes also read like the notebooks of flavor possibilities which Samuelsson kept and reaches to for inspiration. (Playlists included.)
The Rise (2020) is different, part manifesto, part homage. This is not homage in the same way that Chef Corey Lee's menu for his In Situ restaurant in San Francisco. In Situ is a tastable food museum located in the city's Museum of Modern Art, where Lee presents the signature dishes his favorite chefs, with their permission, of course. You went there, pre-COVID, to look at modern art and eat expensive modernist metropolitan food.
Samuelsson's approach enables you to make and taste future classics at home, and to dream of life of eating out after COVID,
Yes, The Rise is remembrances and recipes, but with a purpose. Samuelsson uses his Star Chef powers to elevate and make visible Black chefs and culinary professionals from all over the Country. It is, he writes, "a cookbook about race, class and the equity of the American food landscape."
Recipes are arranged "in honor of" over fifty Black creatives, featuring intriguing histories of their culinary careers, followed by Samuelsson's riff recipes. Like a jazz composer, he encapsulates their stories and recipes reflecting on their particular style.
To guide you through these compositions, right up front, a Recipe Guide serves as cross-index organized by drinks, appetizers, soups, salads, fish-seafood-poultry-meat, grains, vegetables, breads and pantry staples. Mise en place lovers will find that Escoffier's Part I lives on in the Pantry Staple section's procedures and ingredients.
Finding excellent Black chefs from across the country was not difficult.
The cookbook groups these talents into four sections, arranged under the headings: Next, Remix, Migration and Legacy. The Next section features "Cutting Edge" chefs are located in New York and other metropolitan areas. Many were born in the Caribbean, and influenced by the special mix of African and European of each different island. All new to me and intriguing, as you'll see in my next installment: The Food.
I was on more familiar ground with the characters in the later chapters. Here are figures I've relied on to learn about African American cooking. Some were founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Remix touches on variation in Black cooking across geographies and cultures. You'll find the food work of Adrian Miller and Therese Nelson. Toni-Tipton Martin brought many of the chefs in Remix, and the following chapers, to the ground-breaking Soul Food Summit conference some 5 years ago.
Mississippi Mixologist Joe Stinchcomb is featured in the Migration Chaper. The Legacy chapter honors food journeys from Africa to the Americas, and stories of reclamation: BJ Dennis, Jessica Harris, Leah Chase, Mashima Bailey, Michael Twitty, Rodney Scott, Carla Hall.
Overwhelmed? I was, and I wondered where to start, how to put together a meal.
Here's the secret: once you go down these delicious paths, your mouth will tell you which connect and compliment others. As a student of Atlantic Creole languages, I know that both vocabulary (flavors) and grammar (technique) survived the Middle Passage. Now I can taste the different ways these have flourished in the African Diaspora. I call them distincticve but mutually intelligible dialects.
On the other hand, I am planning a versus between the Spice Lemon Chess Pie, in honor of Joe Stinchcomb and my Mississippi relations, and the Tigernut Custard Tart with Cinnamon Poached Pears for Toni Tipton-Martin, with gratitude for her leadership.
As Marcus Samuelsson says: "Let's cook, let's eat, Let's Rise."
And may we all rise together and be free.