Everything on your plate comes with a story. More likely than not, it’s a complicated tale, refined over generations and the result of hard work by people whose names might sound familiar but whose backstories will drop your jaw to the floor. Today’s Daily Dose explores the shifting stories of food and the innovators who made it happen. Dig in.
Isabelle Lee, Reporter
food fusion’s future
Elli Kriel runs the only kosher catering company in Dubai, and she’s pioneering a new fusion cuisine combining kosher and Emirati dishes. Kriel explores the commonalities between the two, opening a new way for kosher-practicing tourists to enjoy the dynamic city, which is welcoming Israelis for the first time after the UAE and Israel signed a treaty last year establishing diplomatic relations. She adds Emirati spice blends or traditional ingredients to her kosher staples. As one happy customer puts it, you can tell that the food is “prepared with love.”
New Orleans, Asheville, Nashville and Charleston attract all the foodie attention, but the fusion scene in Birmingham, Alabama, will challenge your preconceptions about Southern food. Chris Hastings, the man credited with the food boom, explains, “Thirty years ago, there was no cultural diversity here. Food was the leader in bringing all these great cultures to bear.” From the Caribbean to Vietnam to Ethiopia to Nepal, your taste buds can go on a world tour even in the heart of the Old South.
Jason Becton fell in love with Paris when he spent a semester there during college. Fast-forward nine years when Becton left an advertising job and enrolled in culinary school, where he met his now husband. Together, they brought a bit of France to Virginia, creating a thriving restaurant famous for its flaky pastry and community commitment.
While Becton is bringing French baking to Virginia, others are introducing Southern comfort food to Paris. Chef Joe Boley takes special pride in showing French diners that there is more to American cuisine than “Le Big Mac.” Next time you find yourself in Paris, add chicken and waffles to your list of must-try dishes — or better yet, rabbit and waffles.
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The ubiquitous food chain got its start in San Bernardino, California, as a fast-paced restaurant started by the McDonald brothers. But as the OZY and History Channel podcast The Food That Built Americareveals, it was the cunning and enterprising salesman Ray Kroc who took the innovative restaurant and turned it into the global franchise it is today — seizing control from the McDonalds along the way. While Kroc gets the credit, the brothers had started a successful franchise on their own predicated on the assumption that people wanted good, cheap hamburgers, and they wanted them fast. Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
KFC is almost as recognizable as McDonald’s, and the history behind the fast-food giant is just as wacky. The real Colonel Sanders became famous for his chicken while running a service station with his mistress (later his second wife) and would one day sell his fried chicken empire for $2 million. Another little-known fact? He has an FBI file due to his fondness for writing to J. Edgar Hoover. Tune into a forthcoming episode of The Food That Built America to learn how the colonel’s mythology is just as enigmatic as the spice blend that KFC uses on its finger-lickin’ chicken.
Simileoluwa Adebajo announced in a tweet that she had quit her job as a financial analyst to open San Francisco’s first Nigerian restaurant. Then something unexpected happened: She went viral. And that was only the start of a roller-coaster ride: Her restaurant, Eko Kitchen, was open for less than a year when the pandemic struck, and then a five-alarm fire destroyed it in July. Despite those setbacks, the business is up and running again, with pop-ups and catering. Adebajo is just one of the Nigerian pioneers bringing their West Africa cuisine to the American palate.
Chef Fatmata Binta is showcasing West African food in a whole new way: on the mat. She hosts 20 to 80 guests for a three-course feast at her signature event — held in the past in Accra, Ghana; Washington, D.C.; Berlin and beyond — complete with music and commentary about her ethnic Fulani culture. Binta’s nomadic restaurant is redefining the dining experience, and its mobility is the key to its success.
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What’s the difference between Southern food and soul food? In the 1940s, “soul” became synonymous with Black, when Black jazz musicians, fed up with white musicians co-opting their craft, started describing their music as soul. According to James Beard Award winner and author Adrian E. Miller, that was the moment Southern food became white and soul food became Black. Think you discovered kale recently? Think again: It was a staple for Black families in the South centuries before it landed in your smoothie.
2. Beyond Tikka Masala
After a reshuffling in the upper echelons of food writing, Indian writers have a louder voice than ever. Still, that doesn’t mean that they feel comfortable in the white spaces or that their work is even close to being done. If it wasn’t for writers like Madhur Jaffrey, you might never learn how the traditional dishes of tandoori chicken and naan only made their way to Delhi after the 1947 partition — when Hindu refugees from Pakistan carried lightweight tandoor ovens on their journeys.
Sugar’s bad for you, and the history behind it is even worse. In Jamaica in 1831, a Baptist preacher named Samuel Sharpe organized a nonviolent protest against slavery. But when the slave owners called in British reinforcements to protect their sugar plantations, Sharpe soon lost control of his followers, and what followed were weeks of guerrilla fighting, crop burning and executions (including that of Sharpe). The rebellion catalyzed the anti-slavery movement, and 18 months later, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Make sure to remember the heroic minister the next time you stir sugar into your coffee.
When Quaker Oats announced during last summer’s racial justice protests that it would rebrand Aunt Jemima, historian Sherry Williams worried that the real woman who inspired the brand, Nancy Green, would be forgotten, and with her, the contributions of powerful Black women. Williams discovered that Green, who was born into slavery before moving to Chicago to work for a prominent white family, came up with a pancake recipe that so impressed her employer that the Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company eventually caught wind of it. The company hired Green to represent the Aunt Jemima pancake mix at the 1893 World’s Fair and tour the country promoting the product until her death at age 89. While the image of Aunt Jemima slapped on syrup bottles was based on a racist caricature from minstrel shows, the real woman behind the label — who also founded the oldest Baptist church in Chicago, according to Williams — deserves a place in the history books.
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It took a chemical genius/opium addict to devise one of the world’s most popular beverages. And it took a pharmacist/promoter to get the globe hooked … though the fact that the original recipe contained coca leaf (the key ingredient in cocaine)didn’t hurt. The incredible true story of troubled chemist John Pemberton, who didn’t live to see his invention conquer the globe, and master salesman Asa Candler is a tale for the ages. Drink up.
The beloved toaster treat was originally called “Country Squares” — good thing they went back to the drawing board on the name. The creators of the sugary snack (or breakfast, no judgment) got their inspiration from Andy Warhol and his famous pop-art movement.
Cookie mogul Wally Amos couldn’t have built his empire without his friendships with the stars. Before he was a cookie connoisseur, he was an agent to Simon and Garfunkel and worked with Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. He partnered with Gaye and Helen Reddy to launch his cookie company, Famous Amos, in 1975. Unfortunately, the business was mismanaged and Amos ultimately lost control of the company and even his name and likeness. Keebler acquired the brand in the late 1990s and who better than Amos to promote it? The company hired him, even letting him tinker with the recipe.
4. Brother Against Brother
In the late 1800s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother, Will, ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, helping a number of patients who suffered from gastrointestinal problems caused by a poor diet. Their solution was a healthy breakfast: a flaky whole-grain cereal. Will, the more business-savvy brother, insisted they add sweeteners to the recipe and sell it to the public as a light breakfast treat. John, however, wanted to keep the focus on digestive health, and he refused. So Will started his own company, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes took off — causing a lifelong rift between the brothers.