Edna Lewis inspired a generation of young African American chefs and ensured traditional Southern foods and preparations would live forever.
Who Was Edna Lewis?
Ms. Lewis was born in 1916 in Freetown, Orange County, Virginia, one of eight children. Her grandfather, an emancipated slave, helped found the community, hence its name. The family lived on a farm that had been granted to her grandfather and central to the family’s life was food in all its phases: growing, foraging, harvesting and cooking. Without any modern cooking conveniences—everything was cooked over wood and, lacking measuring spoons, baking powder was measured on coins—food preparation called on creativity, resourcefulness and ingenuity.
At 16, after her father died, she left Freetown for Washington, D.C., and then New York City where her culinary journey got off to a rocky start with her first job ironing in a laundry. She had never ironed before and was fired after three hours. She may not have ironed but she had sewn, and quickly found work as a seamstress. She copied Christian Dior dresses for Dorcas Avedon (the wife of photographer Richard Avedon), made a dress for Marilyn Monroe and became well known for her African-inspired dresses.
In New York, after a series of jobs, she opened a restaurant, Café Nicholson, in Manhattan’s East Side. She became a local legend and cooked for many celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Truman Capote. In the late ’40s, female chefs were few and far between and black female chefs were a rarity, yet Edna Lewis became well known and beloved for her simple, but delicious Southern cooking.
Edna Lewis cookbooks: Ms. Lewis was the author of three seminal cookbooks that, to quote The New York Times, February, 2006, “revived the nearly forgotten genre of Clarinex while offering a glimpse into African-American farm life in the early 20th century.” Her cookbooks include: The Edna Lewis Cookbook (1972), The Taste of Country Cooking (1976) and In Pursuit of Flavor (1988).
Among her many awards are: “Who’s Who in American Cooking,” (Cook’s Magazine, 1986); “Dr. Edna Lewis is lauded as one of the great women of American cooking. A specialist in Southern Cooking, She has received an honorary Ph.D. in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University (Norfork), College of Culinary Arts May 26,1996”; “James Beard Living Legend Award” (their first such award, 1999), and being named “Grande Dame” (Les Dames d”Escoffier, 1999).
Dr. Edna Lewis died in 2006 at the age of 89.
Virginia Ali and her husband Ben founded the world famous Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. in 1958. The U Street Corridor of D.C., where Ben’s Chili Bowl is located, was known as “Black Broadway” because top performers would play sets in bars and theaters in the area, and they would usually eat and hang out at Ben’s. Such celebrities include Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bill Cosby. During the Civil Rights Movement, “The Bowl” was a hangout place for activists and even Martin Luther King, Jr. paid a couple of visits. Mrs. Ali has served on the Board of Directors for many organizations over the years including For Love of Children. She and her husband have been inducted into the D.C. Hall of Fame in 2002 for their landmark restaurant’s role in many important D.C. historical events. In 2004, Ben’s Chili Bowl received the “American Classic’s Restaurant Award” from the James Beard Foundation. On August 22, 2008, Ben’s Chili Bowl celebrated its 50th anniversary and Ben and Virginia were awarded the Key to the City by Mayor Adrian Fenty for their entrepreneurship and significant contribution to the spirit of U Street and history of Washington D.C.
Acclaimed Chef, Cookbook Author, Television Host, James Beard Nominee, and Philanthropist. All words that describe Chef Gerry Garvin, simply known as G. Garvin. Chef Garvin launched his culinary career in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, at the Ritz Carlton-Downtown as the youngest line cook in the gourmet dining room. He was soon chosen by the luxury brand to move to Palm Springs, California where he open the Ritz Carlton-Rancho Mirage and worked under Chef Jean Pierre Dubray.
With a promising career ahead, Chef Garvin relocated to Los Angeles, California, and took on a position as the dining room Sous Chef at Noa Noa. After spending 3 years there, he headed to the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills and later went on to become the Executive Chef of Morton’s and Kass Bah. After spending some time in Los Angeles, Garvin returned to Atlanta to work with the Buckhead Life Group at Veni Vidi Vici and Pricci. He later returned to Los Angeles and partnered with Keyshawn Johnson to open Reign Restaurant.
After a successful start at Reign, Chef Garvin opened his signature restaurant, G Garvin’s, where he continued to cater to and host high profile dinners for clients ranging from Former President Bill Clinton, to Halle Berry, to the Former Prime Minister of Israel.
Chef Garvin is also a notable author. His first cookbook, “Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin” released in October 2006. Its widespread success quickly prompted a second printing and won an American Literacy Award and a nomination for a NAACP Image Award. It was also chosen as a participant in the 2006 Library of Congress National Book Festival.
Garvin’s highly anticipated sophomore effort, “Make it Super Simple with G. Garvin”, a collection of recipes for super simple, healthful and delectable dishes, was released in February 2008. A third cookbook, “Dining In”, released in October 2008, and features all new, fine-dining recipes that provide even the most inexperienced cooks with recipes and guidance to create the most impressive gourmet meals at home. Garvin has mastered offering a one-size-fits-all approach to cooking with sophistication and simplicity, proving that even the most basic cooking palate can create flavorful dishes.
Chef Garvin expanded his brand, making a name for himself by appearing in the homes of millions, for 7 seasons on the TV One Network hit show, Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin (airing in the US and Brazil). His increasing popularity earned him a second series on the same network, entitled G. Garvin: The Road Tour. Eventually, the Food Network’s Cooking Channel tapped him to host the series, Road Trip with G Garvin.
As a serial entrepreneur, Garvin has developed and launched Low Country Restaurant in the Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport; Garvin’s Spices; a line of Gourmet Nuts; a series of oils and vinaigrettes; and a variety of gourmet cookies. He also develops recipes for notable clients like Kraft Foods, Tyson Foods, SodexoMAGIC and The Coca-Cola Company. Restaurant consulting, yet another aspect of the Chef’s business, allows restaurateurs to realize their vision by overseeing all aspects of new operations, polices and procedures, recipe development and the creation on menus, placement of Executive Chef’s and General Managers.
Garvin’s impressive resume and philanthropic efforts have warranted accolades such as the 2007 Man of the Year award by Women Moving Forward in Business and Third Best TV Chef by Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine in 2006, behind Jacques Pepin and Emeril Lagasse. Additionally, Garvin has been a popular guest on both The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Good Morning America.
To further his indelible mark on culinary history, Chef Garvin is touching and changes lives through his G. Garvin Foundation and its primary program, the G. Garvin Culinary Boot Camp, which is geared towards young adults ages 16-19. Through this seven-day camp, Garvin introduces young people to a new career choice, the culinary arts. His efforts aid in breaking down the diversity barriers within not only the culinary industry, but in society as a whole, where chefs of color are often categorized more often by race than profession.
Chef Jeff Henderson is an award-winning chef, bestselling author and popular public speaker — and an ex-offender, having served nearly a decade in prison for drugs. Having run kitchens as Executive Chef at the renowned Café Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, he has become one of the most inspirational African-American chefs in the country.
In 2001, Jeff made history in Las Vegas, when he became the first African-American named “Chef de Cuisine” at Caesars Palace. He eventually became an executive chef at several top restaurants including Café Bellagio, where he worked until 2006.
Jeff’s remarkable story of finding his passion for cooking during his 10 years of incarceration and turning his life around was captured in his New York Times Bestseller COOKED (William Morrow, February 2007). His story is now being turned into a major motion picture by the team that made The Pursuit of Happyness: Will Smith and his production company Overbrook Entertainment, Escape Artists and Columbia Pictures.
Jeff has received widespread national attention on numerous TV and radio programs and print publications, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The Montel Williams Show, CNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered, People and USA Today. As a passionate and powerful speaker, Jeff’s appearances are in high demand across the country through his company The Henderson Group.
Jeff currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and three children.