Food, Identity and Black Masculinity in African American Chef Memoirs Written in the Twenty-First Century
Varlı Karaarslan, Gül
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This dissertation analyzes Jeff Henderson’s Cooked: My Journey from Streets to the Stove (2008), Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef (2012), Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African American Culinary History (2017), and Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes from a Young Black Chef (2019) and examines their portrayal of the black chef. Written by African American chefs in the twenty-first century, the works provide an alternative reading of the intersections of food, identity, and black masculinity while narrating the culinary journeys of African American chefs. In their food memoirs, chefs give details of how they have developed a culinary interest and built their culinary careers upon their connection with food. In their works, the chefs redefine African and African American food and foodways as a significant element of black cultural identity. The chefs underline the significance of food culture in African American culture and define black cooks and chefs as leading figures who contribute to community-building. The memoirs also expose the racial and gendered discrimination the chefs have struggled with throughout their life and culinary journeys. The chefs critique the white hegemonic masculinity that defines the boundaries of ideal manhood in the mainstream culture and culinary masculinity in the kitchen culture. By focusing on the intersections of food studies and masculinity studies, this dissertation analyzes how African American chefs reconstruct African American food and foodways and the black male chef image. This study also examines how the chefs adopt narrative structures of autobiographical tradition in their memoirs to address the current issues concerning black subjectivity, black culinary culture, and black masculinity. In the contemporary period, black chefs as impactful social figures offer a progressive understanding of black culinary culture and black manhood with the black chef image portrayed in their life narratives.