A Seat at the Table: Amplifying the Voices of Black Cookbook Authors

by Deirdre Appel

We learn so much about each other through the food we eat, and in cookbooks we find personal stories, historical notes, in addition to techniques for maximizing flavor. Cooking or sharing a meal together is not only a pleasant way to satisfy hunger, it’s a great equalizer. Expand your repertoire with recipes by these talented black cookbook authors who draw on flavors of their youth, family experiences, and global travels. This is not a comprehensive list, by any means, and if you have favorites to add, please email the center at info@nycfoodpolicy.org and let us know. Some of these authors have written award-winning books that are studied for their cultural and historic impact, and there are even a couple of books you can look forward to being published later this year.

While online retailers may generally be a go-to source for ordering books, we now have the opportunity to support Black-owned businesses. It has been reported the coronavirus has disproportionately hurt Black-owned small businesses, so consider shopping for these and other titles at Black-owned bookstores (see our list of NYC stores below). You may also order online from some independent bookstores at Bookshop.

The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent
Author: Jessica B. Harris
Published: August 17, 2010
Summary: Jessica B. Harris is considered the expert on the African diaspora, and has recently received the 2020 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. She has written a dozen cookbooks that have had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America. This Queens-born scholar is Professor Emerita at Queens College/CUNY in New York City, and is the second African American woman (after Leah Chase; see The Dooky Chase Cookbook), to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award and the first African American woman to address a Culinary Institute of America graduating class.
Length: 400 pages

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed
Author: Bryant Terry
Published: April 8, 2014
Summary: Often found on recommendation lists for best vegetarian cookbooks, and a favorite in the plant-forward arena, renowned chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry’s recipes put a new spin on dishes that pay homage to the African diaspora. Whether you’re looking for menu inspiration, gathering friends and family around the table, or need suggestions for pairing music with your dinner, you’ll get insights into a culinary history rich with healthful, local, and seasonal offerings.
Length: 215 pages

Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day
Authors: Alexander Smalls and JJ Johnson
Published: February 6, 2018
Summary: Written by chef and restaurant owner JJ Johnson, and Alexander Smalls, owner of celebrated Harlem jazz club, Minton’s, this multi-award winning duo brings the flavor of Afro-Asian cooking to life in food that transcends borders. They have traveled around the world over the past three decades, inspired by a culinary and historical path that brings together African, Asian and American flavors. The book includes essays on the history of the melting pot found in Harlem, and if you’re in NYC, you’ll see representative offerings at JJ Johnson’s Field Trip restaurant.
Length: 272 pages

Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing
Author: Jerrelle Guy
Published: February 6, 2018
Summary: Author Jerrelle Guy is the founder of the popular food blog Chocolate for Basil and this book was a 2019 James Beard Award nominee. Guy wrote this book, inspired by the Black Girl Magic movement — celebrating the beauty, power and resilience of Black women — and has found that baking is a way to empower and center herself. With a Masters degree in gastronomy, Guy’s inaugural cookbook showcases her own food photography while also providing healthful twists on recipes with many vegan alternatives. (She also was the photographer for Toni Tipton’s Jubilee; see below.)
Length: 208 Pages

Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration
Author: Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko
Published: October 23, 2018
Summary: Popular TV celebrity chef, former Top Chef runner-up and Top Chef All Stars fan favorite, Carla Hall began as a model until she found her true calling in the culinary arts. In this book, she revisits her Nashville roots, and dispels the myth that all soul food is barbecue or macaroni and cheese. Her soul food is vegetable-centric and healthful, with recipes that are both delicious and nutritious.
Length: 336 pages

The Cooking Gene
Author: Michael Twitty
Published: August 1, 2017
Summary: While not strictly a cookbook, this award-winning author (The Cooking Gene won 2018 James Beard Awards for Best Food Writing and Book of the Year) speaks of race in the context of Southern cuisines and food culture, putting Southern food in the forefront of the American culinary tradition. While the race struggle is ever present, Twitty acknowledges the healing that takes place in embracing the discomfort of our country’s past, and declares that food is a powerful way to bring the formerly enslaved and slaveholders together around the table.
Length: 464 pages

The Dooky Chase Cookbook
Author: Leah Chase
Published: April 30, 1990
Summary: Leah Chase, the wife of jazz trumpeter Dooky Chase, and chef at the eponymous Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, passed away in 2019 at the age of 96. This is one of those books that will be appreciated not only by cooks, but also by culinary historians and those who follow politics and social movements. In the landmark New Orleans restaurant that was opened by the Chase family in 1941, she fed freedom riders, civil rights workers, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Nat King Cole, and The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., as well as Sarah Vaughn and James Baldwin. During the Jim Crow era she often brought together Black leaders of the civil rights movement with their white allies. A huge supporter of the arts, you’ll find her portrait in DC at the National Portrait Gallery, and her kitchen artifacts and chef’s jacket are displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Length: 224 pages

Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes
Author: Maya Angelou
Published: September 21, 2004
Summary: Best known for her work as a poet, screenwriter, dancer and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou made literary history with her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman) and notes that food always connected her to “memories, moments in time, places, and people.” She never considered herself a chef but a serious cook and said that cooking was a natural extension of her autobiography, because the author needs to tell the truth and if there is no integrity to the recipes, no one will trust them.
Length: 240 pages

In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean
Authors: Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen
Published (to be published): October 6, 2020
Summary: Be welcomed into the kitchen by eight East African countries and share their stories of family and culinary traditions through flavorful recipes. As writer Osayi Endolyn has said, “The seat of power in food—its soul and expertise—has always begun at home, at the hands of skilled women in their kitchens.” Here, as their stories are told by bestselling and award-winning author Julia Turshen, and specialty food producer, Hawa Hassan, we can read about, and cook alongside these women, as we learn about their diverse cooking traditions through the beautiful meals they prepare in the heart of the home.
Length: 288 pages

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking
Author: Toni Tipton Martin
Published: November 5, 2019
Summary: This James Beard Award winner (2020) for best cookbook of the year is already a classic. Known for looking at the history and depth of African American cuisine, Tipton Martin introduces us to Black cooks who established much of what’s now considered to be our national cuisine. With well-tested recipes and stories, she invites us to cook dishes alongside both enslaved chefs and upper-class entrepreneurs, in order to celebrate the roots of culturally diverse African American cooking. Stunning photography by Jerrelle Guy (mentioned above for Black Girl Baking).
Length: 320 pages

In Pursuit of Flavor: The Beloved Classic Cookbook from the Acclaimed Author of The Taste of Country Cooking
Author: Edna Lewis
Published: March 26, 2019 (reissue date)
Summary: In this book, which was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2003,  “the first lady of Southern Cooking” shares recipes from her childhood growing up in a Virginia farming community founded by her grandparents after Emancipation. With six illustrated chapters that take you from gardens to orchards, to the farmyard, to streams, oceans, and on to the cupboard, bread oven, and griddle, Lewis captures the spirit of the Southern farm-to-table tradition. With personal anecdotes, cooking insights, and notes on ingredients, she pioneered seasonal food as distinctly American and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the inaugural James Beard Living Legend and the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Lifetime Achievement awards, the Grande Dame des Dames d’Escoffier International Award, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Lifetime Achievement Award.
Length: 336 pages

Living Lively: 80 Plant-Based Recipes to Activate Your Power and Feed Your Potential
Author: Haile Thomas
Published: (to be published) July 28, 2020
Summary: Written by a superstar teen, who is also an inspiring activist and motivational speaker, this soon-to-be-released cookbook includes 80 plant-based recipes with a “7 points of power” manifesto to inspire the next generation of leaders toward self-reflection, critical thinking, and the unlearning of toxic ideas. The author is the youngest person (at age sixteen) to graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a certified health coach, part of a health journey she started at age eight when her father developed Type 2 diabetes. She has also been named a CNN Young Wonder, has forged partnerships with Williams-Sonoma and Nike, and founded the nonprofit HAPPY (Happy Active Positive Purposeful Youth).
Length: 304 pages

Melba’s American Comfort: 100 Recipes from My Heart to Your Kitchen
Author: Melba Wilson
Published: April 12, 2016
Summary: Melba Wilson says she was “born, bred, and buttered in Harlem.” She honed her culinary arts and customer service skillset at Sylvia’s Restaurant (see Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook), as well as Rosa Mexicano and Windows on the World, and went on to open her own legendary Harlem restaurant, Melba’s. This soul food ambassador has won accolades for her perfect fried chicken and waffles on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
Length: 256 pages

Mixtape Potluck: A Cookbook
Authors: Questlove, Ben Greenman and Lauren Schaefer
Published: October 15, 2019
Summary: Written by an American drummer, DJ, producer, designer, culinary entrepreneur, music educator, cofounder of The Roots and bandleader for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, this book not only provides a roadmap for what to cook but also recommends the music that will best accompany the food vibe. Questlove imagines the ultimate potluck dinner party, inviting entertainers, chefs and musicians, and asking them to bring their favorite recipes. He pairs each cook with the music he believes is representative of their energy, showing the lovely, interwoven relationship between music and food.
Length: 224 pages

Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir
Authors: Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein
Published: April 9, 2019
Summary: Kwame Onwauchi received the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef before even entering his thirties. This Culinary Institute of America graduate who grew up in the Bronx broke into the food world in a big way by working in acclaimed restaurants like Thomas Keller’s Per Se. While this isn’t a formal cookbook, it is an important book in which Onwachi candidly details the flaw-filled kitchens seen in the high-end restaurant world, speaks to the verbal abuse and racism he has endured, and resolves to try always to “extract the sense of urgency” without imparting “the poison of anger” he felt directed at him. (His acclaimed DC restaurant Kith and Kin recently shuttered due to Covid-19; this memoir is being adapted into an A24 film starring Lakeith Stanfield.)
Length: 288 pages

The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem
Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Published: October 18, 2016
Summary: This book from best-selling superstar chef, Marcus Samuelsson, is based on the multicultural recipes and Southern comfort food served at his iconic Harlem restaurant, The Red Rooster. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson’s cooking style is inspired by his upbringing and his eclectic Harlem neighborhood, emphasizing community and inclusivity.
Length: 384 pages

The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook
Author: Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN
Published: October 1, 2019
Summary: Maya Feller’s inspiration for this book came about because she felt there was a lot of misinformation about Southern food and what to eat while living with diabetes. She says, “patients are often blamed for having a diagnosis and subsequently chastised for eating — and, in the same breath, Southern food is hailed as wildly unhealthy.” To counteract that misnomer, she has created a cookbook that celebrates the goodness Southern cuisine has to offer, while also making it accessible for everyone–not just those who are living with diabetes. You’ll also get helpful nutritional data, prep tips, and substitution suggestions.
Length:172 pages

Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook
Author: Sylvia Woods
Published: June 23, 1999
Summary: If you’ve eaten in Harlem, chances are you’ve eaten at Sylvia’s Restaurant. The ‘Queen of Soulfood’ started her restaurant in the 1960s (it started as a luncheonette, and has grown to a restaurant that seats 450) located on the corner of a street now named “Sylvia P. Woods Way.”  In this cookbook, you’ll be able to recreate some favorites, drawing on a cook-off she held at her childhood home in Hemmingway, South Carolina at Jeremiah Church. Family and friends share their favorite dishes and recipes that were compiled to create this iconic collection.
Length: 288 pages

Consider purchasing books from these local, Black-owned bookstores:

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.