African American cooking is not just soul food. It's much more, taken from the two hundred year old disapora that ripped Africans from their countries and roots.Native foods came with them, forever altering American tastes and dishes. Now there is a movement to bring those flavors to current dining trends.
Regular contributor to the Wednesday Times Food section, Jeff Gordonier wrote an extensive piece on this. There is a new generation of African American chefs that are fusing history and imagination to create dishes that go beyond the typical soul food marriages of cornbread and barbecue or collard greens with ribs.There might be collard greens but they're reimagined cooked Japanese style with a coating of sesame dressing. This is what Nicole A Taylor did to them in her new cookbook " The Up South Cookbook. There is also more embracing of original vegetables such as eggplant and peanuts, along with spicing, reminiscent of West African spice markets..African cooking is not taught or just ignored in the Euro centric cooking schools.Many chefs have to take their own trips to countries such as Ghana or Nigeria to acquire recipes or base theirs on older ones.
What about soul food? It's there and many chefs will cook it. It's origins are from the farm, with the mantra "If it grows, together then it goes together."However it does get a fine tuning. Creole Shrimp and grits get a California zing with sweated vegetables at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland,CA.Chef Tanya Holland keeps the richness but adds some baby spinach and cumin for a healthy kick. Some newer soul food restaurants will smoke pork belly on site as well as having shrimp that comes from Baja California as opposed to the Gulf of Mexico. Many chefs make regular visits to their local farmer's markets for the same freshness that 19th and earlier 20th Century home chefs incorporated in their dishes. For years these dishes were either dismissed or lost because they were deemed unimportant yet real soul food is healthy and flavorful,It's also a link to the West African countries that served as their basis.
African American cooking and West African foods have contributed so much to American culinary scene, It is finally being celebrated in many delicious ways. It's about time