A groundbreaking exhibit exploring the often-overlooked contributions of African Americans to the culinary and cultural landscape of America opens in New York City in time for Black History Month. After a two-year delay, “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table,” produced and presented by The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) comes to The Africa Center.

The exhibition’s opening stalled for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now comes to life on February 23 and will highlight 400 years of contributions by black chefs, farmers, and food and drink producers who made the country’s cuisine what it is today.

Dr. Jessica B. Harris, an acclaimed culinary historian and author whose book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America inspired the 2021 Netflix documentary series of the same name, curated the much-anticipated exhibit. Dr. Harris worked in conjunction with an advisory committee of over 30 visionaries within the Black American culinary landscape, including James Beard Award-winning authors Michael Twitty and Adrian Miller, as well as Nicole Taylor, author of the Up South Cookbook.

“This large-scale, first-of-its-kind exhibition delves into the many ways African Americans have shaped the American culinary experience,” said MOFAD President Nazli Parvizi. “So much of what we grow and how we grow it, and what we eat and how we eat it, derives from these invaluable contributions. We are thrilled, after a two-year pause, to see the full scope of this project come together.”

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The Ebony magazine test kitchen was once named the most distinctive every created. ©MOFAD museum

Highlights of the exhibit

Encouraging the preservation of these culinary contributions is one of the main purposes of the exhibit and one of its main attractions itself was saved from destruction in the nick of time by MOFAD curators. 

The Ebony Test Kitchen, a technicolor mid-century chef’s kitchen once labeled “the most distinctive test kitchen ever created,” by the Chicago Tribune, was the site where countless recipes from oyster gumbo to sweet potato pudding, came together for Ebony magazine’s iconic “A Date With A Dish” column. The kitchen was nearly destroyed when its Chicago publishing company’s building was torn down, but was rescued and restored especially for this exhibition. 

Another part of the exhibit features a 400-block legacy quilt, hand-stitched by Harlem Needle Arts and illustrated by visual artist Adrian Franks. The quilt represents the food traditions that were stitched together across oceans and time by Black cooks around the world. The Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience that will allow visitors to submit their stories of the African American culinary heroes in their own lives—emphasizing that these traditions are still living and highlighting the importance of documenting and celebrating them.  

A Taste of History

An exhibition about the culinary contributions of Black chefs naturally might make visitors hungry and the curators of African/American have taken this into consideration in a very thoughtful and poignant way.

For an additional fee, visitors can purchase a to-go “shoebox lunch” that harkens back to the history and struggles of this community. Renowned chefs such as Carla Hall, Adrienne Cheatham, and Kwame Onwuachi have created tasting menus served in shoeboxes, which recalls the meals African American travelers packed in these boxes to eat while traveling during the Great Migration as they were often refused food service on trains and other forms of transportation.

How to see the exhibit

MOFAD’s African/American: Making the Nation’s Table at The Africa Center, located at 1280 5th Ave in New York, will run from February 23 to June 19. 

Tickets are available for purchase starting on Wednesday, January 26 at mofad.org. General admission to the exhibit is $15 for adults, $10 for a discounted admission (Senior, Military, Low-Income, Disability, Student admission) and $7 for youth ages 5 to 17.

Admission that includes a shoebox lunch is $29 for adults, $24 for a discounted admission (Senior, Military, Low-Income, Disability, Student admission) and $21 for youth ages 5 to 17.

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