Meet the Chef On a Mission to Highlight the Diversity of Black Cooking

Award-winning chef Mashama Bailey uses food to help bridge cultural differences and bring people together.

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Mashama Bailey Cooking
Photo: Courtesy of Mashama Bailey

"Food is the great equalizer," says Mashama Bailey, executive chef and partner at The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, and coauthor (with John O. Morisano, her partner at the restaurant) of Black, White, and The Grey (Buy It, $16, amazon.com), about how a Black chef from Queens and a white entrepreneur from Staten Island opened a restaurant in the South. "You learn a lot about people from the food they like," she says.

Since moving to Savannah, Bailey has widened her own perspective on Southern food. "I had no idea how regional and nuanced it is, or what the climate does to the growing season," she says. "I've come to appreciate and embrace those differences."

One of her goals is to showcase the diversity of Black cooking. "There are a lot of stereotypes perpetuated through food. In Black culture, especially, those stereotypes involve preservatives, sugar, and salt," says Bailey. "But in Black homes, there's a lot of formal cooking too — dishes served while entertaining family and friends. It inspires me to see what people are making, and to turn a traditional dish into something both interesting and familiar." Here, Bailey discusses how food can help us understand one another. (

A misconception about Southern food is…

"That it's not healthy. And that there aren't a lot of vegetables in it. There are! Carrots, cucumbers, and winter squash. People don't associate those ingredients with Southern food."

At home, what do you cook for yourself?

"Pasta. It's quick and easy. Lately I've been into sandwiches. I have pickled cauliflower, smoked onion jam, grainy mustard, cheeses, and cold cuts. I am trying to create the ultimate sandwich."

Tell us about the ingredients in your pantry.

"I always have some sort of pickles. I like them in salads, or you can fold them into a creamy sauce to add some acidity. I also have sardines, smoked oysters, and anchovies. I always have dry beans in the house.

I like herbs. My favorite right now is bay leaf, which works well fresh or dried. I throw in five or six in just about everything I cook. They give a dish a subtle herbal note that's almost citrusy."

What message do you want your food to send?

"That ingredients can be interpreted in different ways. People think of tomatoes as Italian or okra as Southern. But when you go to different places, you see them used in ways that bridge the gap and start conversations. There's a diversity to my food that I hope people can connect to."

Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant

Price at time of publish: $28

Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant
Amazon
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