Monday, April 9, 2012

The Jemima Code Exhibit & Reception at the James Beard House in NYC

"They whisper wisdom through prized recipes handed down by word of mouth and published in a few rare cookbooks."*

"When we embrace their gifts of dignity, courage, creativity and perseverance, we add warmth to our kitchens and our children are inspired."*

Last Sunday, along with my dear friend Debbie at Ready4Air I attended the IACP's Culinary Expo and Book & Blog Festival in Soho here in NYC. As a TV producer I am a veteran of these types of events so I am a little jaded.  However, we had great fun, the people were warm and welcoming and the food sampling was terrific.

The best part of this event was a chance meeting with immensely talented Jamie from Life's a Feast. Jamie, along with Deeba at Passionate About Baking are the creators of Mactweets blog and monthly challenge. After baking along virtually with them for over a year I was so excited to meet Jamie I hope I didn't break her with my bear hug.

As much as I enjoyed the IACP events, I am sure other bloggers will better cover them. The best part of the day was later attending the Jemima Code Exhibit & Reception at the James Beard House Greenhouse Gallery in the early evening.

"These wise servants nurtured spirits, salved wounds, created character, and delicious masterpieces from humble ingredients, often while working outside of the home."*

The Jemima Code exhibit features larger than life images of black women at work in the kitchens of slave and sharecropper cabins and shotgun houses through the South.

Debbie is a member of the James Beard Broadcast and New Media Committee. She invited me to join her afterwards at this event. First of all, what a treat just to visit the James Beard House. Second, the event was important, informative and delicious. You can read Debbie's account of this event here.

Toni Tipton-Martin & Deborah Mitchell

The day was special because it was so much more than looking at these amazing portraits.

"This pop-up exhibit honors the African American cooks who nourished generations of American families with meals prepared using fresh food from the garden, cooked with love at the fireside hearth. These wise servants nurtured spirits, salved wounds, created character and delicious masterpieces from humble ingredients, often while working outside of the home. They whisper wisdom through prized recipes handed down by word of mouth and published in a few prized cookbooks. We embrace their gifts of dignity, courage, creativity and perseverance." - The Jemima Code

 The woman they chose to highlight for this event was New Orleans Chef Lena Richard.

Lena was a graduate of the Fanny Farmer Cooking School in Boston, caterer, restaurant operator, teacher and self published cookbook author. The Lena Richard's Cookbook was published in 1939. Houghton Mifflin republished the book a year later. Sadly the title was changed to The New Orleans Cookbook and Lena's beautiful elegant photo was not included. A tough example of racism in publishing and of the time in general. 

Culinary Journalist, community activist and cookbook author Toni Tipton-Martin is the powerhouse behind The Jemima code. 

Toni collects vintage African American cookbooks and photographs and is parlaying her findings into a upcoming book.

Her community spirit was strongly present in this event. With the help of two professional chefs, hot and cold appetizers were prepared and served by high school students flown in from Texas who are aspiring to culinary careers.

The food served were all Lena's recipes including this delicious champagne cocktail.

I can't close this post without talking about how cool it was to be in the James Beard House itself located in his former home, a beautiful brownstone in the West village. To get into the back garden you have to walk through a huge beautiful kitchen. It was buzzing with activity when I was there . I was a bit intimidated so I chickened out on getting a photo.

Back Garden of the James Beard House in the West Village NYC

James Watching out from the Garden
The walls are covered with James Beard memorabilia like chef coats and menus.
Bow Ties and Cufflinks

Menu for the Four Seasons Restaurant NYC

Here is the upstairs dining room which also has painted portraits of JB.

Debbie has invited me back to attend one of the famous dinners there. I can't wait!

You can read more about the Jemima Code here.


  1. What a wonderful day for you and what a lovely tour you are giving your readers. I think what Toni Tipton-Martin is doing with the Jemima Code is a beautiful undertaking of not only love and respect for her craft but also for the very talented woman who came before her and whose lights should be shone brightly. Not only in the culinary/literary circles but everywhere.

  2. Lora
    Thank you for sharing this special day with me. Your post and photos bring the beautiful reception to life again. I am hoping that anyone in NYC who loves food and history will take the time to check out this very important exhibit. And thanks to Toni Tipton-Martin for sharing the Jemima Code.

  3. Wow. I love that these women are getting the tribute they finally deserve. They are so much a part of Americana and what would America look like without them?

  4. I wish I could have been carried along in your purse. What an event!

    Also, those bowties . . . man oh man did that guy have a sense of style.

  5. What a wonderful post. Oh to visit NYC again! And lucky you, not only did you get to meet so many great people, you met Jamie. How exciting! Btw, one of these days, I will get around to it (it's on my to-do list), I'll email you the pics of the day we caught up. Promise.

  6. wow What an exciting and fun event!

  7. Wow this sounds like such a great event! IACP was a little bit out of my price range this year...but maybe I should start saving for next year :P

  8. What a fabulous outing! How amazing to eat great food in James Beard's house. The exhibit looks fascinating, as well. I'll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy of Lena Richard's book. Gosh, I love Southern food.

  9. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. I was supposed to meet Jamie there, until everything happened. Would have been lovely to meet you too. What an amazing exhibit, and I can only imagine the food by that photo. Also loving your pink Easter Bunny eclairs with lime curd - so creative!


Thank you for your comments and feedback. I love hearing from you!