When I decided to write a piece about Hella Black Brunch, I knew I wanted to start in the kitchen.
Why, you ask?
First off, the food. So, duh.
Second, and more importantly, the entire menu is carefully crafted and passionately prepared by two Black women.
Dope, when considering this country’s sordid history of overlooking, and quite frankly, erasing Black women’s contributions to American cuisine.
Toni-Tipton Martin, author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, speaks to this erasure.
The Jemima Code illuminates how in the nineteenth century white women often took credit for their enslaved servants’ work when recording their own family food traditions. “You owned Sally, [so] you owned her recipe,” Tipton reported.
"You owned Sally, [so] you owned her recipe."
Thinking about agency and, of course, visibility, I reached out to Christina and Red, twin sisters and founders of The Pleasure Principle Dining Events -- oh, and also Hella Black Brunch’s resident chefs. We talked cooking technique, the origins of The Pleasure Principle, and how they see themselves fitting into the larger narrative of Black women in the kitchen.
Below is a little bit of what I learned.
April’s Hella Black Brunch: Resurrection was the first time Red and Christina cooked together professionally. Christina, who had enjoyed curating menus and preparing food for large gatherings of friends while living in Chicago and Barcelona, was a big fan of the idea of using food as a tool to foster community.
“I [always] wanted to design a concept around supper clubs. At the start and very heart, it was [an] idea for folks open to meeting other people around the table with really good food.”
“It makes sense that it would come about out of a casual get together where we were cooking for the homie.”
When thinking about what makes Christina and Red stand out as cooks, two things come to mind: care and culture. While both sisters have traveled extensively, learning different techniques from an array of chefs, they hold on to the fact that their lack of formal training is what makes them unique. Instead, they’re committed to making food that people will care about -- food that cares for their bodies.
“I believe in a reclamation of full self-sustenance and getting back to the culinary origins of Black cultural cooking, which is to plant, grow and harvest [food],” Red shares. “I have an interest in what it must be like to prepare food with care and technique. And have it be for family, for all, for whoever is here.”
When they’re putting together the menus for their catered meals, Red isn’t the only sister considering sustenance, especially when it comes to foods that we, as Black people, are familiar with. Christina is also intrigued with expanding folks’ palates to more nourishing foods.
“It is important to think about foods that are going to fortify us as a people,” Christina says. “And expose us to flavors that we haven’t considered and that are better for you in the long run. I’m always thinking about what is going to taste amazing that will leave no one wanting.”
Being that so much of their approach to food considers a re-examination of the origins of Black cooking, it's no surprise that both Christina and Red were aware of the tradition that they walk into as Black women in the kitchen. Red was particularly fascinated with the reclamation of the unique skill and approach to food that made Black cooking so spectacular in the first place.
“I think that a lot of the practices that are historically ours were taken away with some intention. Intention to cause harm over time.
And I’m interested in reclaiming those as best as I can, as a Black woman with privilege and the ability to navigate my kitchen a lot differently than my ancestors were able to.”
As Christina wrapped up our conversation, she echoed some of her sister’s sentiments, sharing deep gratitude for the innovation and sacrifices of the Black women cooks who came before her, and whose shoulders she surely stands on.