Black Food, the latest book from popular Black vegan chef Bryant Terry, who’s based in Oakland, comes out today, October 19. Which is good book news to begin with, though this is no everyday cookbook. First of all, the author isn’t just Bryant Terry, but a chorus of more than 100 Black voices in the food world. It’s also not only a cookbook, but also a detailed collection of essays, poetry, art, and recipes. And it’s not even just one book — it’s just the first in an entire new imprint from Emeryville’s Ten Speed Press, where Terry has signed on as editor-in-chief and plans to feature BIPOC authors for years to come. Altogether, Black Food is an ambitious account of Black food across continents and past and present. As Terry promises in the intro, this book “contains multitudes.”
Bay Area eaters already know Bryant Terry as both the chef-in-residence at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and the author of five cookbooks, from Afro-Vegan to Vegetable Kingdom. He also has a master’s in history, and this book does border on academic, digging into the culinary history of the African diaspora. But it’s also as varied as the profusion of voices it contains, from restaurant chefs to food writers to other creatives. Bay locals may recognize a few familiar characters: writer Stephen Satterfield of Whetstone magazine and the High on the Hog Netflix series; Keba Konte, founder of Red Bay Coffee; and chef Selasie Dotse, currently baking at Copas, who’s spoken up about the anti-blackness problem in fine dining. And contributors hail from near and far, past and present — including chef Nina Compton of Compere Lapin in New Orleans and great cookbook luminary Edna Lewis, and even an appearance from late novelist Toni Morrison.
If you’re looking for a traditional collection of recipes, maybe try one of Terry’s other books, though there are 65 recipes mixed in across more than 300 pages, representing Black food from around the world. Organized by theme, not by course or ingredient, chapters on “Motherland” and “Migrations” flow into dedicated sections for women and queer contributors. The recipes know no bounds: There are African foods like Sierra Leone sweet potato leaves and Somali lamb stew, and American southern classics such as fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits. Elsewhere across the diaspora, there are Jamaican-style ackee patties and Mexican okra tamales. And more modern fare from Brooklyn to Oakland, with plenty of vegan options and a good pour of cocktails. Recipes seem to be presented exactly as intended, without much compromise or flourish: The patties call for a long list of 27 ingredients, while plantain crisps rely on just three — and one of them is “cold water.”
Local designer George McCalman, also behind the Wise Sons cookbook, envisioned and patched together the wide range of art, which includes original works and illustrations alongside delicious photos of finished dishes. Notably, graphic artist Emory Douglas, who was a member of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, contributed a powerful black-and-red spread. And Bryant Terry also kicked in playlists, which are free for all on Spotify. There’s truly a lot to unpack here, so for deeper dives on the future of the 4 Color Books imprint, check out this recent audio story in the NYTimes, and for more details on the author, here’s a Q&A in the SF Chronicle. But in the meantime, pick up a copy of Black Food, maybe bake some biscuits, maybe fire up a playlist, and start sifting through the pages.
Photos reprinted with permission from Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora edited by Bryant Terry, copyright © 2021. Published by 4 Color Books, an imprint of Ten Speed Press and Penguin Random House.