I use storytelling, legends and folklore, photography, and videography as tools of engagement."
You earned an undergraduate degree in the arts. Can you tell us about your journey from artist to food scholar?
Historically many sons follow their fathers by working in the same guild and evolving a trade or business as, for example, "Barton & Son." I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA, in the footsteps of my father, Clifford, whose first career was as a jeweler and jewelry designer.
Yet, I was also influenced by my mother, who from about two/three years of age, brought me, and my older brother, Craig, into the kitchen as an alternate play center. This enabled her to watch us as she prepared our family’s meals, and taught us to us to enjoy cooking, as well as eating, Sylvia, my mom aspired to be a chef. She lived in the era when a woman -- and a Black woman at that -- would not be allowed in a professional kitchen. She earned her first degrees in nutrition and dietetics and worked in alcohol rehabilitation centers.
As teens, my brother and I took turns cooking dinner or cleaning the kitchen since both of our parents worked. Mom taught me recipe development, cost accounting, and culinary cultural history. I actually designed and executed six course degustation menus for my teen friends for less than $10/each with a film (35 mm, projector included as a library rental) projected in our backyard on a sheet. Later, I put those "entrepreneurial" skills to use, contributing to my college tuition, room and board working as a waiter and restaurant manager.
When I was offered a job as a cook, I shifted gears and bartered a culinary education as a work exchange at Peter Kump’s Cooking School (now the Institute for Culinary Education)."