With a menu by 2019 Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi, Top Chef’s Eric Adjepong, JJ Johnson, and more, you can attend this year’s event, which will fundraise for the country’s first-ever exhibition that illustrates the impact African-Americans have had on American food.

By Oset Babür
Updated April 29, 2019
Quest Love Marcus Samuelsson Peter Kim Museum of Food and Drink
Credit: Courtesy of MOFAD

The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is known for curating unique, edible exhibitions that illustrate ties between cuisine and culture, and on May 15th, guests at their annual spring gala will get a first taste of the country’s first exhibition that illustrates the profound impact that African-Americans have had on American cuisine.

“I think the thing that is most crucial, which is actually inherent even in the title of the exhibition, is that African-American food is American food,” says Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who serves as the lead curator for Africa to America. “It is the bedrock of American food. That’s the thing that people don’t always see, and this exhibit is designed to make that clear in a number of ways.” Harris says that she believes the exhibit will both educate and surprise visitors who may not be aware of the depth, profound manner, and length of time in which African-Americans have been connected with much of American food.

The exhibition, which will open in 2020 contingent upon MOFAD reaching its fundraising goal, is divided into four primary threads: culinary arts, which will be told through the story of James Hemings, America’s first celebrity chef; brewing and distilling, through the journey of master distiller Nathan “Nearest” Green; commerce, which highlights Lillian Harris Dean’s work in showcasing Harlem’s cuisine in the early twentieth century; and agriculture.

Museum of Food and Drink
Credit: Courtesy of MOFAD

“African-Americans have been involved in major ways with all of these topics or themes,” says Harris. “In terms of agriculture, it’s rice. Most people who are not in the culinary world, and many who are, don’t get just how involved African-Americans were in agriculture, particularly early on in the agriculture of rice and the rice culture of South Carolina, which was South Carolina’s wealth. All of those beautiful houses were built on the backs of African-American labor in rice fields.”

According to Peter Kim, MOFAD’s executive director, the exhibition will tour cities around the country after its initial six-month run in Williamsburg, with the ultimate goal of finding a permanent home.

“This is an exhibition theme that has been on all of our minds at MOFAD for a while now,” says Kim. “And, this is a national story.”

At the gala, guests will have the opportunity to interact with some of the exhibition’s artifacts and contents that Harris and the rest of the MOFAD team has been developing and acquiring since 2017. “Through food and drink, we’ll be taking people on a journey from Africa to America,” says Kim. The first part of the evening will be a West African reception hosted by six chefs––including Top Chef season 16 finalist Eric Adjepong and Le Song’s Oliver Palazzo––who are either West African-born or still have close ties with the region. Each chef will prepare a dish that highlights ingredients like okra, peanuts, and black eyed peas, all of which were initially introduced to the United States by way of Africa.

Museum of Food and Drink
Credit: Courtesy of MOFAD

Afterwards, a seated dinner will take guests into America through five courses representing a few of the contributions African-Americans have made to American cuisine. “We have an homage to Edna Lewis, as a farm-to-table pioneer, we have JJ Johnston telling the story of rice, Jessica Craig doing a dessert inspired by the shoebox lunch, and we have Kwame Onwuachi doing a dish that will tell the story of James Hemings,” Kim says. “We also wanted to include barbecue as a national culinary treasure at the event, so we have the great fortune to have one of the elder statesmen of whole-hog barbecue, Ed Mitchell, as well as James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott. They’ll be presenting their own personal stories.”

2019, Harris says, with its shifting national narratives and political tumult, is a year in which it is especially critical to understand the inextricable ties between African-American and American culture. “The story ironically has never really been told, and there’s no better time than now,” she says.

Tickets are available for purchase here.