Here is our list of most influential black chefs and personalities in the food industry, starting with James and Peter Hemings (known as America’s first black celebrity chefs) and followed by modern chef figures that are acting for changing the future of food.
James and Peter Hemings
James and Peter Hemings are the first chefs to be considered as a celebrity during the 18th century. “Each time you eat a handful of french fries, say a thank you to James Hemings. And if you wash them down with a cold beer, say a toast to his younger brother, Peter. Born into slavery before the Revolutionary War, the brothers were two of the young nation’s pre-eminent chefs of the 18th century. And Peter going on to become the country’s first master brewer.” (Nick Charles for NBC News). Jefferson was appointed United States Minister to France in 1784. James Hemings, as his cook, learned the art of French cooking there as a teenager. Back in America, James negotiated a deal with Jefferson: If he taught someone else to cook, he would be freed. And that someone was Peter Hemings, Jame’s younger brother. “James Hemings is a pivotal figure because he is one of the earliest examples of an American chef given classical French training, and then fusing that with the dishes of Virginia”, said Adrian Miller, culinary historian and author of “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time” (which garnered a James Beard Foundation Book Award in 2014).
Carla Hall first won over the audience with her participation in the cooking contest and emission Top Chef. Besides, she brightens the mornings of millions as a Culinary Contributor to “Good Morning America”. In 2020, she will be judging on Crazy Delicious (Netflix) and BakeAway Camp (Food Network), among others. Carla believes food connects us all, and she strives to communicate this through her work, her cooking, and her daily interactions. Her motto in the kitchen: always cook with love. She wrote two cookbooks: “Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World” and “Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You”. Born in Nashville, TN, Carla grew up surrounded by soul food. She graduated from Howard University’s Business School and worked as an accountant for two years before deciding to switch gears to work as a runway model. It was during that time, as she traveled (and ate) her way through Europe for a few years, that she truly realized her deep-rooted passion for food could be her career path. Today, she is a trained chef who has worked in several professional restaurant kitchens in and around the Washington D.C. area, as well as an accomplished television personality and author.
Jason Howard is a two-star Michelin, best known for his creative menu and cooking techniques. Now based in London and specialized in modern Caribbean cuisine, Jason combines his love of native Caribbean ingredients with his classical French training, gained as sous-chef to Helene Darroze at the two Michelin-starred Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. His innovative creations have won high acclaim from industry experts and through social channels. Indeed, he appeared first as International Guest Chef at the Jamaica Observer Food Awards, then later in Masterchef: The Professionals for the 2015 edition. Jason has also set up the Culinary Caribbean Collective, showcasing the best professional talent and food from the Caribbean. His Instagram has a huge following, is very educational, and a great source of inspiration for innovative cooking techniques! (Great British Chefs)
Haile Thomas is 19 years old, an international speaker, wellness & compassion activist, vegan food & lifestyle content creator. On top of this, she was the youngest to graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach (at age 16). Besides, she is the founder and CEO of the non-profit HAPPY (Healthy, Active, Positive, Purposeful, Youth). She founded HAPPY when she was 12 years old. The goals of the organization are to redefine youth empowerment through holistic education. The second aspect is to address the need for free and affordable plant-based nutrition and wellness education in underserved/at-risk communities. The young activist has personally engaged over 89,000 people since beginning her activism in 2010. After her family successfully reversed her father’s type-2 diabetes with healthy eating and lifestyle choices, she was inspired to pursue this passion. All of Haile’s programs, projects, and initiatives are geared towards engaging, educating, motivating, and empowering young people to prioritize self-care and nurture introspection to cultivate healthy and purpose-filled lives (Haile Thomas).
Here is a food activist to keep a close eye on. Bryant Terry is a James Beard Award-Winning chef, educator, and author. He is renowned for his activism to create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. Since 2015, he has been the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. He creates here public programming at the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art, culture, and the African Diaspora. In regard to his work, Bryant’s mentor Alice Waters says “Bryant Terry knows that good food should be an everyday right and not a privilege.” San Francisco Magazine included Bryant among 11 Smartest People in the Bay Area Food Scene. Moreover, Fast Company named him one of 9 People Who Are Changing the Future of Food.
Ashtin Berry is a food and beverage activist, sommelier, and beverage consultant. She is committed to creating racially equitable spaces within the hospitality industry. Using her background in sociology from the University of Chicago, Berry’s focuses on creating intersectional models that use language and food curation as tools for creating safer and more inclusive spaces. Berry’s experiences include headlining Bacardi’s inaugural Women in Leadership Tour and speaking at several conferences such as S.H.E. Summit. Top industry publications, including The Washington Post, Bon Appetit, ChefsFeed, and Food & Wine, featured Berry’s work. In 2018, she was named in The Observers 55ppl in Night Life Power List. She was one of the youngest on the list and the only woman of color featured. She also won the title of Imbibe Bartender of the Year in 2019. Her venture with fellow Co-Founder Kisira Hill, Radical Xchange, just debuted their inaugural event, Resistance Served, in February. The event was the first of its kind bridging a pathway between hospitality disciplines and the contributions of African Americans.
Omari McQueen is the youngest award-winning vegan chef in the UK and the CEO and founder of Dipalicious. Omari started Dipalicious at eight years old, after posting a YouTube channel where he filmed himself making his very own vegan pizza. He felt that the dough was too dry, and didn’t know if Heinz Tomato sauce was vegan. So he created his first dip: The Caribbean kick was born. After getting good reviews from his family, he decided to create 2 more dips for selling. Omari now has a selection of dips, snacks, juice packs, and seasonings. They serve for his very own bus-converted pop-up restaurant and his balanced pre-prepared vegan meals for children. He decided to learn to be a chef before he became a vegan. It was only when he chose to make food that everyone could eat, that he discovered veganism after coming across a Peta video on YouTube. Then, he became very determined to know more about veganism and decided he would become vegan and teach other children about the food that they eat. Omari has gone from strength to strength and practices different cooking skills and meals daily. He researches the benefits of everything he cooks and works out the benefits of what he eats. Omari now teaches other children to cook at the workshops he runs from home.
Jenné Claiborne is a dairy-free food blogger, cookbook author, recipe developer, and mom. Going by the moniker Sweet Potato Soul, Jenné embraces her Southern roots and puts a plant-based twist on all of her favorite staples. In 2010, Jenné Claiborne began a vegan cooking blog for fun. Ten years later, Sweet Potato Soul has evolved into a multifaceted media brand. In addition to publishing her first cookbook in 2018, she also hosts a highly successful YouTube channel. Nearly 500,000 subscribers tune in for her highly accessible plant-based recipes. As she looks toward the year ahead, Claiborne has some pretty lofty goals— for both herself and her brand. But her strategy for success is starting small— because as she learned from the rise of her business, sometimes the tiniest steps ultimately add up a bigger impact than we ever expected.
Michael W. Twitty
Michael W. Twitty is an African-American Jewish writer, culinary historian, and educator. He is the author of The Cooking Gene, published by HarperCollins/Amistad, which won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Book of the Year as well as the category for writing. In 2010, he launched Afroculinaria, a culinary history blog that covers African and African-American foodways. In 2010, Twitty worked with the D. Landreth Seed Company to compile the African American Heritage Collection of heirloom seeds for the company’s 225th anniversary. The collection features roughly 30 plants, including the long-handled dipper gourd and the fish pepper, showcasing how instrumental they were to African-American survival and independence. In 2011, he began his “Cooking Gene” project, which would form the basis for his 2017 book The Cooking Gene. He is writing another book slated to come out in 2020, titled Kosher Soul. Twitty founded and oversees the Southern Discomfort Tour: A journey through the American South designed to raise awareness about the impact of racism on Southern cuisine.
Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim the ancestral connection to the land. As co-Executive Director, Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs. It includes farmer training for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for communities living under food apartheid and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Indeed, Leah has been farming since 1996, holds an MA in Science Education and a BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University, and is a Manye (Queen Mother) in Vodun. The work of Leah and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Grist 50, and the James Beard Award, among others. Her book “Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land” is a love song for the land and her people.
Nyesha J. Arrington
Chef Nyesha J. Arrington has been in love with cooking since she was a little girl, cooking alongside her Korean grandmother. Born in Southern California to a multi-cultural family, Arrington was early introduced to diverse foods such as bulgogi, octopus, and homemade kimchi. These first culinary experiences definitively shaped Arrington’s palate development and her ideas in cooking. By integrating flavors and techniques from around the world, Arrington has been able to create a style that is both personal and unparalleled. After graduating from the prestigious Culinary School at the Art Institute of California in LA, Arrington met Josiah Citrin, chef, and owner of the 2 Michelin Star Mélisse restaurant in Santa Monica (CA), who became her mentor. Furthermore, Arrington’s resume includes work with legendary French chef Joel Robuchon at his Michelin and Mobil award-winning Las Vegas restaurants, L’Atelier and The Mansion. Arrington is celebrated for her advocacy of using farm-fresh, locally, and responsibly sourced ingredients. Also, she is confident enough to use products from around the world, as the best way to draw global inspiration. Chef Arrington has started her own business ventures including a recent dinner installation called “Food is Art” and hosting cooking demonstrations and events nationwide. She is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and sustainable farming, as well as numerous community organizations.