Black History Month

Influential POC in the Food Industry

Manjula Simon

As we come to the end of Black History Month it is important to recognise influential people of colour, especially black people and in the food industry. Whether you are reading this during BHM or not I hope this will encourage you to think about the food industry and how it is seemingly dominated by white people and educate you about the different influential people of colour within the food industry.

The food industry is such a huge sector and since it is such a prevalent aspect of society it has a lot of influence, hence why the lack of diversity is a prominent issue. There are so many different types of foods from various cultures around the world, so it only makes sense for the famous people within the food industry to be all different ethnicities and nationalities. Despite the lack of recognition there are many amazing, influential people in the food industry from different ethnic background.

Lewis was a woman, in a food industry dominated by men this makes her influence that much more significant

The first person I want to acknowledge is Edna Lewis who was an African American chef and she was hugely influential for Southern cooking and food. On top of that Lewis was a woman, in a food industry dominated by men this makes her influence that much more significant.

Lewis was born in Virginia in 1916 and in her late teens she moved to Washington DC. Edna then got married and moved to New York City and it was here where she began hosting dinner parties for her friends and eventually became a cook for Café Nicholson (which was opened by her friend John Nicholson).

Lewis became very well known for her Southern inspired dishes and after working at the Café for five years she then opened her own restaurant and wrote the ‘The Edna Lewis Cookbook’ and ‘The Taste of Country Cooking’; the second of the two being extremely successful within the United States and led to her being famous for her Southern and African American inspired recipes.

Another influential chef is Ainsley Harriott, and if you’re from the United Kingdom and watching cooking shows growing up you probably will recognise his name. Harriott is of Jamaican heritage and is one of the very few well known black chefs in the UK.

Harriott trained at a technical college and then got an apprenticeship and became a chef. Throughout his career he has been on various television shows, such as ‘Good Morning with Anne and Nick’ and ‘Ready Steady Cook’ as well as hosting multiple of his own mini television series’. In addition, this year Harriott was awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting and the culinary arts which shows the huge impact he has had in the food industry.

The last influential person in the food industry I am including is Martin Yan who is a Chinese American chef and although he is well-known in the China he is not in the rest of the world unlike a lot of white chefs.

Yan was born in Guangzhou but moved to Hong Kong in his early teenage years, and this is when he began cooking. In his later teenage years he worked in his uncle’s Chinese restaurant and got a diploma as well as a degree in food science.

Yan has not only opened his own restaurant’s, but he has also taught Chinese cooking and hosted his own television show ‘Yan Can Cook’ which became very successful. Much like with the Edna Lewis and Ainsley Harriott, he has had a great effect on the food industry, particularly for Asian cuisine.

These three POC have been massively influential in the food industry and sadly they are not as widely recognised as they should be due to how dominated the sector is by white people. This industry much like many others does not have enough diversity and hopefully through things like Black History Month will encourage people to become educated and learn about the incredible achievements POC have accomplished.

Manjula Simon

Featured image courtesy of Brett Jordan via Unsplash. Image license found here.

Article image one courtesy of Richard Kaby via Flickr. Image license found here.

Article image two courtesy of Marco Verch via Flickr. Image license found here.

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