Hollywood may have the Golden Globes and the Oscars but the food world has the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) and James Beard awards. Every year those of us who spend our days creating prose around such topics as heirloom radishes and the virtues of coconut water anxiously await the release of the current year’s nominations. Who will be nominated, a mentor? friend? or even quite possibly ourselves. When this year’s IACP Food Writing nominations were announced I quickly scanned the list while making mental notes to myself. “That’s a surprise”, “Of course he got another nomination”, “That’s one I’ve never heard of”. But this year there was one particular title that had me fist pumping the air and shouting out “YES!” at the top of my lungs along with a “Its about damn time”. That title would be “High on the Hog” by the incomparable Dr. Jessica B. Harris. Dr. Harris is an educator, writer, speaker, lover of great food and world traveler. A professor at Queens College, CUNY. Founder of the Institute for the Study of Culinary Cultures at Dillard University, lauded by the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. A national treasure whose work has spanned over three decades.
I recently had the great pleasure of breaking bread with Dr. Harris, not a regular occurrence for this freelancer who spends her days taking care of two young children, one husband, one home in constant need of repair, and a hairless guinea pig (Don’t even ask!). The dinner was more social than professional and I didn’t say too much, I just wanted some of her poise, sophistication, and brilliance to rub off on me. High on the Hog is Dr. Harris’s 12th book, a single tome that has brought many of her other works full circle. Anyone who knows anything about food from the African Diaspora knows of Dr. Harris’s work and everyone has a favorite title, mine is “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons”.
When I first received my copy of High on the Hog nearly a year ago it took me only four hours to finish it. I sat in my favorite chair uninterrupted, drinking in every word as if my life depended on it. She has managed to take a food history that is so rich and present it in a way that is palatable for all to understand. If you ever wished you could take a course on the history of African-American food or the influence that the foods from the Diaspora have on the cuisine of today, look no further, because this book is it. Dr. Harris calls the book a personal look at a particular culinary journey, she states that surely other works will follow. I have no doubt that she is right but none will be like this. If you haven’t read it already do yourself the best favor ever and pick up a copy. From the Dan-Topka Market, Cotonou, Bernin (West Africa) to the modern tables of today prepare to be appreciative and amazed.
Congratulations Dr. Harris on your nomination!