The soul food, literally “food for the soul”, does not refer directly to a territory or a nationality, but refers to a more global concept, of the order of the felt – somewhere on the border of the sensitive and the culinary experience . Carried by iconic dishes such as the fried chicken (fried chicken thighs seasoned with a mixture of Cajun spices), the mac and cheese (these macaroni au gratin in the oven with melted cheese) or the cornbread (a pan-baked cornbread borrowed from the Native Americans), the cuisine of black Americans has come to establish itself as one of the main markers of North American culinary culture.
Comforting cuisine, steeped in history and feelings, which now finds an echo in France as more and more restaurants, such as Gumbo Yaya, Mama Jackson or New Soul Food are claiming this lineage. Originally poor and rustic, the cuisine soul food was shaped at the end of the XVIIe century by the black slaves of the American plantations of the southern United States.
Enslaved chefs who cooked for their masters
By adapting to the remains of food left by their masters and drawing inspiration from recipes from West African countries from which they were deported, the latter have been able to give birth to a rich and dense cuisine – at the crossroads of cultures and influences. Widely popularized by “blaxploitation” and a whole fringe of the American black cultural industry in the mid-1970s, it has since been valued by a growing number of African-American chefs and historians.
To better understand this cuisine with its complex ramifications, we can dive into the four episodes of Lion’s Share: How African American Cuisine Changed America. This new documentary series from Netflix, which will be broadcast in France from May 26, follows the peregrinations of Stephen Satterfield, African-American author and founder of the culinary media Whetstone Magazine, launched in the footsteps of the origins of soul food.
In the first episode which takes him to Benin – territory of the former kingdom of Dahomey and the main embarkation point for North American slaves – where his ancestors came from, Stephen Satterfield scours the villages and markets at the discovery of food, know-how and gestures that still form the basis of this cuisine today.
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