Scroll To Top
Women

A Black History Moment: Edna Lewis- The Grand Dame of Southern Cooking

A Black History Moment: Edna Lewis- The Grand Dame of Southern Cooking

Edna Lewis became a chef at a time when female chefs, let alone black female chefs, were few and far between. Known throughout Manhattan  as the Grand  Dame of Southern Cooking , Lewis turned New York’s Cafe Nicholson into an artist’s mecca that served  20th Century luminaries like Truman Capote, Greta  Garbo,  Lillian Hellman, Marlene Dietrich and Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  Her landmark 1976 book, THE TASTE OF COUNTRY COOKING,  was one of the first cookbooks by an African-American woman to reach a wide audience,  sparking a nationwide interest in  Southern country-style cooking , and in 2003 Lewis wrote THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING with her culinary companion Scott Peacock. 

The Grand Dame of Southern Cooking
Edna Lewis (1916- 2006)
 
Edna Lewis became a chef at a time when female chefs, let alone black female chefs, were few and far between. Known throughout Manhattan  as the Grand  Dame of Southern Cooking , Lewis turned New York’s Cafe Nicholson into an artist’s mecca that served  20th Century luminaries like Truman Capote, Greta  Garbo,  Lillian Hellman, Marlene Dietrich and Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
 
“We had everybody that was anybody....The night that William Faulkner came in I went over to him and said, ‘Welcome, thank you for coming.” And he said, ‘Oh, everything’s delicious. Did you study in Paris?’ I liked that better than anything.  I said, ‘no, I’ve never been out of the States, ’” Lewis recalled.
 
Her landmark 1976 book, THE TASTE OF COUNTRY COOKING,  was one of the first cookbooks by an African-American woman to reach a wide audience,  sparking a nationwide interest in  Southern country-style cooking , and in 2003 Lewis wrote THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING with her culinary companion Scott Peacock. 
 
Born in Freetown, Virginia, a farming community founded after the Civil War by freed slaves, among them her grandfather, Lewis never graduated from high school. However, her books are an encyclopedia  of recipes and stories chronicling her Southern culture's bygone rural folkways and foodways,
 
"Breakfast was about the best part of the day," Lewis wrote. "There was an almost mysterious feeling about passing through the night and awakening to a new day. ... If it was a particularly beautiful morning it was expressed in the grace. Spring would bring our first and just about only fish — shad. It would always be served for breakfast, soaked in saltwater for an hour or so, rolled in seasoned cornmeal, and fried carefully in home-rendered lard with a slice of smoked shoulder for added flavor."
 
In 1995, the James Beard Foundation gave Lewis its first Living Legend Award. In 1998, Saver magazine placed Lewis at No. 9 on its list of 100 favorite things, calling her its ‘favorite Southern cook and national treasure.” And in 1999 Lewis received the Southern Food  Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award and was named a grande dame of Les Dames d’Escofier International, an organization of female culinary professionals from around the world.
 
Lewis’s  last job as a chef  was at Brooklyn's venerable Gage & Tollner before she retired  in 1992. Lewis  lived in Atlanta until her recent death on February 13, 2006

Lewis's culinary  legacy , however, lives on in all chefs, and one of her greatest admirers is in our midst.
 

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

author avatar

Pride Staff