You can barely turn on the television without running into a cooking show—from Master Chef to Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef to Iron Chef. There are currently more than a couple of dozen shows on several networks featuring some of the best chefs and cooks in the world.
But before there was a Gordon Ramsey or a Marcus Samuelsson, there was Hercules and James Hemings. Hercules was the main chef for George Washington and he trained in Philadelphia with New York tavern owner and culinary expert Samuel Frances. Hemings (related to famed Jefferson concubine Sally), learned French cuisine in Paris.
These two were among a group of legendary plantation cooks and chefs mainly in Virginia, who people traveled far and wide to sample their offerings. An article in the Smithsonian magazine breaks down the awesome contributions of enslaved Africans to the current cuisine of the south.
When you think of southern food or soul food, it is a mash up of West Africa, Native American and European dishes. Gumbo and jambalaya are a spin-offs of the Nigerian Jolof rice and West African stews. Rice traveled on the slave ships and if you eat any dish with rice from America, it’s roots are African.
Just about everything associated with southern cooking came from the mind and hands of an enslaved African.