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In 'For the Culture,' chef and writer Klancy Miller created the book she wanted to read

The cover of "For the Culture" by Klancy Miller. (William Morrow Group)
The cover of "For the Culture" by Klancy Miller. (William Morrow Group)

When Klancy Miller graduated from college, she didn’t know which direction she wanted to take her career in. So she did a little bit of everything.

She studied pastry in France, apprenticed in restaurants, became a supper club host, worked as a restaurant publicist, founded a magazine and wrote a cookbook.

Klancy Miller is the author of “For the Culture.” (Katie McCurdy)

But even after all that, she felt like something was missing.

It was a book she wished she had when she was younger and didn’t see many Black women featured in the food scene. So she wrote “For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women and Femmes in Food: Interviews, Inspiration and Recipes.” The New York Times named it one of the best cookbooks of 2023. The book comprises recipes, interviews and stories from Black women and femmes in the culinary world.

“I knew about B. Smith, probably the only Black woman in food who I knew about and who I saw on my TV screen and whose magazine my mom subscribed to,” Miller says. “I kind of just wanted to write a book that would include people who I wish I had known about way back when.”

Book excerpt: ‘For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women and Femmes in Food: Interviews, Inspirations and Recipes’

By Klancy Miller

WHEN I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WANTED TO DO…But I was curious about food—having been raised by two restaurant lovers and avid cooks. I got a job in a nonprofit, set aside time to explore my other interests (filmmaking, acting, cooking), and began apprenticing at Fork restaurant in Philadelphia on the weekends to try to figure out what kind of work I’d be passionate about. Amped up by my restaurant gig, I decided to go to culinary school in Paris to become a pastry chef. At the time, I didn’t know about the many options available under the big umbrella of food and hospitality. Over the course of several years, I would try on different roles, from baker to supper-club host to restaurant publicist to ghostwriter to cookbook author.

I didn’t have a ton of information to guide me. But it didn’t have to be that way. Looking back, I wish I’d had more sisterly insights to accompany me on my path. I didn’t have this when I was coming up, so I’m giving it to you now, with the hope that it’ll help guide future generations that are beginning their paths in the food and hospitality space.

I founded the magazine For the Culture because Black women have shaped cuisine in the United States and in many countries, and our stories about our expertise in food do not receive enough attention or admiration. The goal was to create a publication that centers the narratives of Black women and femmes in food and hospitality.

My intention in creating this book is similar, though with a slightly different motivation. I wanted to make it for my twenty-one-year-old self—a person interested in food but completely unaware of all the ways to participate in this space and equally unaware of the Black women and femmes, past and present, doing phenomenal and awe-inspiring work in food, wine, and hospitality. I wanted to ask the questions that a beginner might ask (“How did you begin?”). I also wanted to ask questions about things I am still learning about (“How do you build a team?” “How do you negotiate compensation?” “How do you build community?” “How do you take care of your mental health?”).

What you’ll find in this book are interviews with sixty-six women and femmes about their careers in food and their lives in general, recipes contributed by the interviewees, and profiles of our culinary matriarch ancestors—the women on whose shoulders we stand and who serve as a collective North Star. My feeling is that if you know and care about Julia Child, you should be equally familiar with Edna Lewis, B. Smith, Lena Richard, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, and Leah Chase.

The women and femmes in this book are some of the most generous, brilliant, inquisitive, transparent, hilarious, adventurous, and hardworking people I have encountered. They carry on a rich, sacred tradition that Black women have been at the center of—stewarding the land, educating people about what they cook or imbibe, cooking meals that bring people together and allow our humanity and love to be shared. I hope you will be inspired and energized by their stories and the gems of wisdom they share.

Single-layer carrot cake

By Vallery Lomas

This is one of the most popular recipes on my blog, Foodie in New York. It’s adapted from my dad’s favorite three-layer carrot cake with all of its deliciousnss and none of the fuss. Be sure to use freshly grated carrots (not the store-bought pre-shredded ones); they add moisture to the cake.

Makes 8-10 Servings.

Ingredients

CAKE

  • Baking spray with flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)


FROSTING

  • 4 ounces full-fat cream cheese (1/2 package), softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
  • 2–3 teaspoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash of salt


Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 8- or 9-inch-square cake pan with baking spray and, if desired, line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon until combined. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and oil, mixing well. Whisk in the milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt until combined.

Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until combined. Fold in the carrots and, if using, the pecans and raisins.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until your kitchen smells like carrot cake and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 55 minutes. Set the cake aside on a rack to cool to room temperature.

While the cake cools, make the frosting: In a large bowl, whisk the softened cream cheese to loosen it. (If you forgot to take it out of the fridge in time, zap it in the microwave for 10 or 20 seconds.) Add the powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons milk, vanilla, and salt, and whisk until smooth. If it’s too thick, add another teaspoon of milk. If it’s too thin, whisk in a little more powdered sugar.

Spread the frosting on the cooled cake in an even layer. Cut the cake into squares just before serving. It will keep in a cake dome at room temperature for a few hours or in the refrigerator, covered, for up to four days.

Excerpted from the book ‘For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women and Femmes in Food: Interviews, Inspiration, and Recipes by Klancy Miller. Copyright © 2023 by Klancy Miller. Photography © 2023 by Kelly Marshall. From Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.