Cooking, Conversation, and Culture: A Cooking Demo at Red Rooster

On Wednesday, I hosted a cooking demo for one of my biggest fans, Elizabeth Johnson, her family and two law students from Ethiopia. Elizabeth is a member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, one of the largest spiritual institutions in Harlem.

The day started off with a tour of Red Rooster. I shared stories on the many inspirations for the Rooster's aesthetic. We spoke of Harlem as a center for African American culture and the art from the bookcase to the bathroom captures much of Harlem's history.

After the tour, the excited group moved downstairs where I prepared two of my signature dishes: Lamb Hash and Swedish Meatballs. As I cooked the conversation flowed to cover many aspects of the richness of African American food-ways. It was great conversation since it turned into an interactive discussion between our guests. We noted that much of African American culture and history is reflected in the food. By learning the history of traditional dishes we can uncover the history of people's migrations, the influences of colonization and mixing of cultures, as well as people's ways of life. For example, did you know that Kitfo, a traditional Ethiopian dish made of steak tartare (raw) and spices, was first eaten by warriors so as not to give away their location to their enemies by lighting a fire?

Later on in the demo, the conversation turned to focus on health and soul food. One participant noted that seasonal organic farm to table eating, which has become very popular in the past several years, has its roots in Southern traditions. By holding up and learning about these traditions we can pull from them to create new ways to eat which fit our modern lifestyles.

The cooking demo and conversation was an exciting blend of culture, history, food, and storytelling. During their time at the Rooster, Elizabeth and her family shared so much more than just a good meal. I was honored to host them and I look forward to hosting many other cooking demonstrations in the future.

If you want to learn more about Harlem's history or the richness of African American food, next time you stop into the Rooster, check out the personal photographs in the bathroom or the art on the walls. Each installation tells a story. When it comes time to order, be sure to try the Lamb Hash or the Swedish Meatballs. Much like the artwork, each dish tells a story and is an insight into my Swedish and Ethiopian background.

Check out our photos from the event below.

Photos: Nicole Lewis