• Celebrating the Cuisines and Cultures of Africa
  • Celebrating the Cuisines and Cultures of Africa

    There is no disputing the influence of the cuisines and cultures of Africa on American foodways, brought by the millions of enslaved people, who grew crops and created meals that drew on the traditions of their homelands utilizing only the ingredients available—or allowed. It was under those circumstances that Black farmers and cooks created the foundation for many iconic southern dishes and helped pave the way for future generations.

    The Culinary Institute of America acknowledges these Africans and their descendants. We pay tribute to them and pledge to ensure that their knowledge and contributions live on by educating our students about the cultures and foodways of the African continent and its diaspora in the Americas.

    1619–1865: Beginnings

    Countless enslaved people toiled in the fields and kitchens under unspeakable conditions and shaped American cuisine. James Hemings and Hercules Posey were two of the earliest recognized chefs. Less widely known were sisters-in-law Edith Hern Fossett and Frances Gillette Hern, both of whom, like Hemings, served in Thomas Jefferson’s kitchen, and were trained in French techniques. Philadelphia’s Robert Bogle founded the Guild of Caterers and set the groundwork for that branch of the hospitality industry.

    1865–1975: Middle Years

    Others followed Bogle’s lead and created a generation of modern caterers and restaurateurs, including Thomas Downing, whose oyster cellar was a destination for people of power and means. George Washington Carver promoted crop rotation and other organic innovations, becoming the “Father of Sustainable Agriculture.” Jefferson Evans ’47, often referred to as the Jackie Robinson of the culinary arts, graduated from The New Haven Restaurant Institute (now the CIA), and later joined the college’s faculty. In addition, Lena Richard, one of the first television chefs; Tulsa’s Cleora Butler, who began cooking at just 10 years old; Sylvia Woods, the Queen of Soul Food; Freda DeKnight, the first food editor at Ebony magazine; Edna Lewis, the Grand Dame of Southern Cooking; and Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine, all changed the trajectory of American cooking.

    Continuing the Legacy

    The descendants of the early enslaved Africans and the Africans who choose to emigrate to the U.S. today continue to enrich the American table with their ingredients, culinary practices, and knowledge—among them Darryl Evans, the first African American chef to compete in the International Culinary Olympics in Germany in the late 1980s/early 1990s; Patrick Clark, the first Black chef to win the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Award; Joe Randall, the Dean of Southern Cuisine; Marcus Samuelsson, celebrated chef and restaurateur; Nina Compton ’01, one of Food & Wine magazine’s 2017 Best New Chefs and the 2018 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: South; Mashama Bailey, the 2019 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast; and Mariya Russell, the first Black female chef to be awarded a Michelin star.

    “When it comes to food, there’s more that connects us than separates us.”

    —Jessica B. Harris, author, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America

    Looking Ahead

    In addition to creating outstanding food, a growing number of chefs of African and African American descent—including many notable CIA graduates—are shining a light on African cuisine and culture and steering important conversations to help build a more inclusive and equitable industry.


    Eric Adjepong

    Chef Adjepong, MPH, is a culinary and public health expert, Top Chef Season 16 finalist, and Top Chef Season 17 All-Star, who takes inspiration from the West-African food he grew up eating as a first-generation Ghanian-American. Adjepong is passionate about sharing the amazing food of the African diaspora with the world through his work.

    Zoe Adjonyoh

    In 2010, Adjonyoh made a pot of her groundnut soup, otherwise known as “peanut butter stew” during the UK’s Hackney WickED art festival and sold it outside her flat. Since then, she has grown Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen into a multifaceted business that seeks to lead the African food revolution by sharing it with those outside of Africa and immigrant communities.

    Selassie Atadika

    Chef Atadika is the chef and founder of Midunu in Accra, Ghana, and is a founding member of Trio Toque, the first nomadic restaurant in Dakar, Senegal. After spending decades doing humanitarian work, this mostly self-taught chef is now a leader of New African Cuisine, seeking to promote African flavors and ingredients in a sustainable way.

    Michael Elégbèdé ’13

    Chef Elégbèdé was born in Nigeria and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 13. After 13 years in the U.S., part of which was spent earning his degree at The Culinary Institute of America, he moved back to Nigeria where he traveled the country to better understand Nigerian food culture before he founded ÌTÀN Test Kitchen where he uses his diverse experience to reimagine Nigerian cuisine. He was recognized as a 2022 La Liste Awards Young Talent of the Year.

    JJ Johnson ’07

    Joseph “JJ” Johnson is a James Beard Award-winning chef best known for his barrier-breaking cuisines connecting the foodways of West Africa and Asia to the Americas. JJ’s signature style of combining culturally relevant ingredients with his classically trained cooking and global point of view was inspired by the Caribbean tastes he grew up with, combined with inspiration from his travels Recognized by Eater, as one of the New Guard of Power in NYC Dining, JJ’s brand of creating cultural connections through food is a hallmark of his hospitality group Ingrained Hospitality Concepts, LLC. His restaurant Field Trip, a casual rice bowl shop located in Harlem that highlights rice traditions from around the world with globally inspired flavors and techniques. He was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and published his award-winning first cookbook, Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day, in 2018. He serves on the James Beard Impact Programs Advisory Committee and sits on the junior board of the Food Bank for New York City.

    Kevin Mitchell ’96

    Kevin Mitchell, CEC, is an author, culinary historian, chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, and adjunct instructor at The Culinary Institute of America. He was the first African American Chef Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College, and he uses his culinary and historical expertise to share the history of cuisine of South Carolina and its roots in African and Indigenous culture. He is the co-author of Taste the State: South Carolina’s Signature Foods, Recipes, and Their Stories and a Culinary Ambassador for the state of South Carolina.

    Kwame Onwuachi ’13

    Chef Kwame Onwuachi is a James-Beard-Award-winning chef, a Top Chef competitor and judge, and an author. Named the James Beard Rising Star Chef, Esquire’s Chef of the Year, and one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2019, Onwuachi opened five restaurants before he turned 30 including the acclaimed Kith/Kin Afro-Caribbean restaurant. He is the author of Notes from a Young Black Chef, and its companion cookbook, My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef. Chef Onwuachi created the Kwame Onwuachi ’13 Scholarship Fund at the CIA to support the next generation of chefs pursuing their dreams.

    Matthew Raiford ’98

    A descendant of the Freshwater Gullah Geechie of Coastal Georgia, Chef Matthew Raiford, celebrates his culture with his cooking as well as his work with Gillard Farms, which has been in his family for seven generations. Raiford uses his experience with the farm and his culinary training as well as his knowledge as a certified ecological horticulturalist to create an authentic farm-to-fork experience that honors his roots. He is the author of the celebrated cookbook Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth Generation Farmer. In addition to being a CIA alum, Matthew holds a certificate in ecological horticulture from University of California Santa Cruz and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. He served as director of culinary at the College of Coastal Georgia and was executive chef of Little St. Simons Island and Haute Catering, in Washington, DC, at the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Tia Raiford ’98

    A self-proclaimed first-generation Northerner, Tia’s exploration of food began at a young age, as she cooked alongside her mother and grandmother. Though she grew up in Connecticut, far from her grandparents’ 120-acre watermelon farm, their culture, food, and sense of community fueled her commitment to educating people on the importance of health and the connection between food and the human experience. She has cooked in some of the country’s top kitchens, including Oceana and Gramercy Tavern, and was senior executive chef at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Along with Matthew, she created Strong Roots 9 in 2021, with a dedication to pioneering a return to the holistic practices of their forefathers.

    Alexander Smalls

    Chef Smalls is a titan of the culinary industry as the co-owner of multiple renowned and award-winning restaurants such as the Cecil, New York City’s first Afro-Asian American restaurant. He is likewise a James Beard Award-winning author, and has traveled the world learning about the foodways of the African diaspora. His opened Alkebulan, the first African food hall in Dubai, which features 11 African restaurant concepts and which he hopes to replicate throughout the world. He is also an acclaimed opera singer and won both a Grammy Award and a Tony Award as part of the cast recording of the Houston Grand Opera’s rendition of Porgy and Bess.

    Pierre Thiam

    Pierre Thiam is a celebrated chef, restaurateur, award-wining cookbook author, entrepreneur, and environmental activist. Born and raised in Senegal, he is known for his innovative cooking style; at once modern and eclectic, yet rooted in the rich culinary traditions of West Africa. He is the founder of Yolélé, which distributes African food products around the world, including fonio, a climate-friendly and nutritious ancient grain from the Sahel region of West Africa. He is the chef and owner of critically acclaimed Harlem, New York restaurant, Teranga, which serves fast-casual West African fare directly sourced from farmers in the region. Chef Thiam is the author of three cookbooks including, The Fonio Cookboook. He has won numerous awards and accolades for his cooking and advocacy. He is on the board of directors for two global nonprofits—IDEO.org and SOS Sahel.

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