Bryant Terry wants less fake meat, more black-eyed peas.
Illustration: Maanvi Kapur
This week, the Oakland chef and author Bryant Terry celebrated the release of Black Food. An expansive, rich, and beautifully designed tome about Black food culture edited by Terry, it’s the first book published under his 4 Color Books imprint. Terry, who is also the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora, has said that his new imprint is a way to formalize, as he puts it, the mentoring he’d done for years. “I want to build a list that makes the argument that Black food is diverse and it isn’t monolithic and it’s constantly evolving,” he says, pointing to an upcoming project with Scarr Pimental, of New York’s Scarr Pizza. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a pizza manifesto written by a Black person. I think it’s going to be beautifully disruptive.”
Wednesday, October 13
I drank some ginger tea. At the beginning of the week, I grate fresh ginger into a big pot, and boil it with water and a little agave nectar. I keep it in the fridge, because I sip on it a little bit in the morning, just to wake up the system.
I also had an Urban Remedy organic glow juice, which is cucumber, celery, lemon, spinach, kale, E3 Live (which comes from blue-green algae), and parsley. I’ve drank those off and on over the years and part of this is convenience, because there’s an Urban Remedy across the street from the Museum of the African Diaspora. I don’t drink a lot of sweet fruit juices, but I do like green juices. Sometimes I have smoothies that I make at home, but as of recently, I’ve been doing CrossFit, and there’s also an Urban Remedy right next to the gym, too. That’s what’s going on there.
Made a pot of BLK & Bold “Smooth Operator” dark-roast coffee with Califia Farms almond milk. I typically only drink Red Bay Coffee. I’ve known Keba, the founder, for a couple decades now, and Red Bay has been wildly supportive of me and all the work that I do. So I’m very loyal to them. But BLK & Bold company is another Black-owned coffee company, and they had sent me some samples. The coffee was there and convenient and I popped it in the French press. It’s pretty good, so I was sipping on it all week. Stepping out of my comfort zone.
One of the main missions of Red Bay is summed up by something Keba told me early on. I love the way he put it. He always talked about coffee being Africa’s gift to the world, and recognizing that in third-wave coffee culture here in the States, a lot of the fancy cafés where coffee is fetishized are often very white and affluent spaces. The vibe is often unwelcoming to a lot of folks of color, specifically Black folks. I love the fact that he talks about the reality of the supply chain and who’s growing coffee, who’s harvesting it, who’s transporting it in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. It’s Black and brown people. It’s important that we’re not only a part of that, but actually owning businesses and being able to generate wealth and pass it down to our families in this industry that is based on one of our indigenous crops.
Had a small bowl of my wife’s homemade lentil soup with kabocha squash. The thing about my wife is she isn’t a trained chef, she didn’t go to culinary school. She learned the foundation of her cooking from her grandmother, who’s from Hong Kong. They spent a lot of time together when she was growing up. Now, she’s adept at cooking Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Burmese, and Japanese food. She’s really proficient in a lot of different Asian cuisines. She just has this very intuitive cooking style. I always talk about her being a jazz chef, because she might look at a recipe to get a sense of the structure, but then she plays within that and freestyles. This was one of those situations. We had some lentils, some kabocha squash, and she made something really good. The kids are eating pretty well over here, for sure.
Alo Exposed aloe vera juice and Forager cashew yogurt with frozen raspberries. Let me tell you my thoughts about vegan yogurts. There’s Anita’s yogurt, which is coconut-milk based, and everything else just pales in comparison to hers. It’s so delicious and clean and flavorful, from eating it straight to actually folding it into dishes and using it as a component to bring in creaminess. The challenging thing is that I can only get it when I’m on the East Coast, because they don’t distribute out here. So I’ve tried a number of other ones, from soy to coconut, that are non-dairy industrial brands. I’ll put it like this: Most often, I don’t enjoy them. But that Forager cashew yogurt? I mean, it’s fine. I’m not going to say it’s the best yogurt I’ve ever had. If we were to put it in line behind Anita’s, I don’t know if it would come right behind Anita’s, but it’s great with fresh fruit and some granola or some nuts.
Warmed-up brown rice, Wildwood marinated tofu, radish kimchi, and sautéed kale from our raised garden. It’s one of the quick and easy go-to dishes. We always have some type of brown rice in the refrigerator, because we’re eating it practically every day.
Rustic bread with almond butter and ginger-fig jam from our tree. We have a number of fruit trees on our property — fig, persimmon, Meyer lemon — and some passion-fruit vines. The cool thing is that our neighbors directly to the left of us have a pear tree, apple tree, and I believe a nectarine tree, so we have a lot of fruits to barter. Our family also has a place up in Napa Valley that’s a former fruit orchard, and it has everything from fig trees to sour oranges to cherries to blackberry bushes to apples, table grapes, and wine grapes. There’s been a lot of fun diversity of fruits in our life over the past year.
Valrhona Noir guanaja dark chocolate and two handfuls of trail mix.
For dinner, we had the tteokbokki arrabbiata from The Korean Vegan by Joanne Lee Molinaro. There’s so much buzz about Joanne’s book and my oldest daughter has become a militant vegan over the past two years, so we’re always following her lead. She read the whole book in one night, and the next day it was marked up with all the little Post-it notes about all the recipes she wanted to make. She’s at a point now where a lot of the effort we were putting in to teach her cooking early on is paying off, because she can make full meals. We supported her in taking her to go shopping for the ingredients and then doing a little prep with her, but she made this and it was delicious.
I think those little moments are important. I often cite one of the most powerful moments with my maternal grandmother, which was her letting me put the lids and the rings on canning jars when she was doing her canning, pickling, and preserving. It was just a simple task. I’m sure it was her exploiting my labor for that moment, but it’s one of those things where I felt included, and it built the foundation for me to continue in the kitchen.
Thursday, October 14
Black coffee, a protein shake, and another one of those Urban Remedy Glow juices.
Made a bowl of radish and cabbage kimchi, half an avocado, diced heirloom tomato, and Lifelight tempeh bacon. I try to incorporate some type of fermented foods into my diet every day, whether it’s some kimchi or sauerkraut or kombucha. Kimchi is what I have most often. I like cabbage, but if I had to choose radish kimchi is what I’m going to have several times per week. Whether or not it’s desert-island food for me would depend on what island I’m on.
Tempeh is probably one of the healthier plant-based protein sources, but I think the issue is that a lot of people don’t know how to cook it. It’s this weird looking, pale block. I’m always trying to get people tips and tools about how to actually prepare it, and one of the ways I ease people in is to give them that tempeh bacon. I’m not into these meat analogs. I’ve always been kind of like, “yeah, get those away from me.” But tempeh bacon, specifically, is one of those things that I could eat every day.
Since culinary school, I’ve always felt like those meat analogs are just lazy. Textured vegetable protein or the whole ethos of deleting meat and adding tofu seemed very uncreative. I felt like it disincentivized people from actually thinking deeply about how to play with vegetables and fungi and making them shine.
Another small bowl of my wife’s homemade lentil soup with kabocha squash. It’s like I said, she knows how to cook.
Friday, October 15
More of my ginger tea.
I think my eating patterns over the past several days might look a little weird, and it’s because I am going to eat at a few fine-dining restaurants that have multi-course tasting menus. When I’m doing that, I’m largely trying to keep it light or fast throughout the day. Just to make sure that I’m ready to receive all the deliciousness for dinner, so it’s always a lot of coffee, tea, and green juices and smoothies.
We had dinner at Sorel in San Francisco with my good friend and mentor Mark Andrus, who is the bishop of the Episcopal church here in San Francisco. It’s one of his favorite spots and it’s near his home, so we’ve been there with him and his wife, Sheila, before. They wanted to take my wife and me out for dinner in celebration of my new book and imprint.
There’s sourdough focaccia; oyster mushroom with cucumber with leche de tigre and brokaw avocado; ravioli doppio with chestnut fiorita and honey-nut squash; maitake mushroom with cranberry beans and bok choy; and a coconut frozen yogurt with elderflower, yuzu, and white chocolate. Oh my gosh, everything was so good. But I have to say, it may not be that exciting, their sourdough focaccia was my favorite thing. I can’t even tell you. It’s some of the best bread I’ve ever had. It’s really delicious, so everything was mind-blowingly flavorful and satisfying, but the sourdough focaccia is always the winner when I go to that restaurant.
Saturday, October 16
Had my green juice, coffee, and a smoothie, plus a banana and trail mix.
I went to Palo Alto, where I was speaking at Ability Path’s 30th annual Author Luncheon. It was me and three other authors who were featured at the cocktail event this time. It was less of a lunch, more of a cocktail party. I’m not a big, big drinker, but I like mezcal, that’s kind of my go-to thing to sip on.
I had an Impossible slider when I was there. That was the first time I ever had one, and I’d been thinking about this whole thing with the meat analogs lately with the fake-meat burgers. Whatever. It was fine. I was like, Okay sure, I’m hanging out with friends, drinking, I’d eat this and it’d be fine. It’s okay.
It’s not like I’m hating on it. I don’t want to single out specific companies, but the lack of transparency from most of these companies is troubling. What’s frustrating to me is that, now, the restaurants that might have actually taken some time and effort to create some type of thoughtful plant-based burger offer those burgers instead. I’ve been to restaurants that, a decade ago, had some awesome house=made plant-based burgers, and now they just sell the big company brands.
We went to Ettan in Palo Alto for dinner. It was near the hotel we were staying at, and so my wife and I walked over and had dinner.
I’ve been hearing about this restaurant for a while. It’s a Cal-Indian restaurant with a Michelin star? I’m like, Count me in. I’m very picky about South Asian food, in general, because when I lived in New York I spent a lot of time in Queens eating good Indian food with my then-girlfriend, who was from Kerala. She would take me to eat a lot of really good Indian food and she made a lot, too.
We had the vada pav with Tender Jack the pumpkin soup with turmeric, coconut, and sage; the black-pepper cauliflower. We also had Japanese eggplant with stewed black-eyed peas, red plums, and mint. Dessert was passion fruit with lychee milk ice, berries, and meringue. I’m really choosy about my Indian food, but I knew that this place would deliver, and they did. It was delicious.
Sunday, October 17
We stayed in Palo Alto because I had another event out in Napa, and had breakfast downstairs at Nobu. I got the miso soup and avocado toast with cherry tomatoes, cilantro oil, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
The event was the annual harvest dinner at Flowers Winery, with a menu inspired by Black Food. The savory food was prepared by the Buss Down, and pastry chef Selasie Dotse prepared a dessert buffet. There was a smoked collard-greens salad with black-eyed peas and pickled onions, pickled beets, and jerk eggplant with a white-bean spread, charred Brussels sprouts, and roasted carrots.
Black-eyed peas, collards, and sweet potatoes: Those are my ancestral, spiritual foods that ground me and make me feel like I know who I am. Growing up in Memphis, I had family with roots in the rural South. We had farms in Mississippi and Tennessee and Arkansas. My grandparents grew up in the rural South and then came to Memphis. They brought with them that agrarian knowledge from living on farms, and the desire to grow their food or have their connection to the whole process from seed to table.
When I think about foods like black-eyed peas and collard greens and sweet potatoes, there’s that deep connection through real memories, and there’s a lot of history and this connection that I feel because they are ancestral foods. They are foods that are eaten throughout West and Central Africa and among other parts of the African diaspora, so I feel like it’s my responsibility to consume the foods that my ancestors ate and to uplift them.
I talk about them being superfoods, because I feel like it’s this way that we love to fetishize whatever superfoods are from far-off lands. Like quinoa, goji berries, and all these things that, obviously, have nutrient density and can be part of a healthful diet, but I talk about collard greens and all the anti-cancer properties and nutrients and micronutrients and I think it’s important for Black people to see these as our superfoods. That’s a Black superfood. Not that it’s only ours to claim, but it’s one of the staples of our traditional food ways and traditions, and a way of pushing back against these reductive stereotypes about Black food just being the unhealthiest food.
When people talk about soul food, what they’re thinking and imagining is the food that Black people eat. I think they really see that as some comprehensive look at the food, without understanding that that’s a particular subset. It’s a part of a larger, more complex, diverse cuisine and culinary tradition. I feel like it’s important to push back against those reductive ways of framing our food and to show that they’re nutrient-rich and flavorful and the type of food that any physician or dietitian or nutritionist would say we all should be eating.
Monday, October 18
During the day, I kept it to coffee and a green juice because I had a big meal ahead of myself: Dinner at SingleThread, the restaurant and inn in Healdsburg.
I have never gone there, and it is one of those places where it’s hard to get reservations. It’s a process of preparing for the release of the tickets at the beginning of the month and being at the ready. So this is the first time we’ve been there. I had known about the chef, because we’re on the same publishing imprint. But this was my first time eating there.
It’s a big menu, you know. We started with a marigold, melon, and citrus tea. There was strawberry and tomatoes with cashew paste, black sesame, and olive oil; nagaimo with savoy cabbage, faro verde, and huckleberry; farm grapes with burnt honey, ginger, and puffed amaranth; wagashi with thyme and gravenstein apples, plus so much more.
Late-night, we snacked on white-truffle potato chips. I have to say it was one of the best meals that we’ve had in a long time. They treated us well, and were very kind because they were aware that my wife and I were celebrating the publication of Black Food, and it just felt good to be pampered for one night.