A Letter to My Fellow Black Chefs.

AuthorMitchell, Malcolm James

Dear Chef:

I wrestled with writing this letter. I worried that if I stirred up the pot of inequities that exist in the hospitality industry, it might affect my comfortable position within my chosen profession. Roughly 80 percent of the people that patronize my brand don't look like me, so being vocal might help my colleagues but hinder my own financial well-being. But I feel my moral currency is much more valuable.

My journey began at seventeen, when I served in the U.S. Navy in intelligence communications. I fought in the Gulf War across two operations, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for freedom and equality for a country that was supposed to protect me. But history will show when service members say they fought for this country they fought for white ideology.

My culinary journey spans twenty-five years of trials and triumphs, but mostly anguish. Like many chefs, I started cooking with my mother, an amazing cook from the land of Gullah cuisine. And although creating delectable dishes brewed in my soul, I couldn't turn my passion into profit.

As you fight for position, it becomes clear: The deck is stacked against you and across generations. As African Americans, we were stripped of dignity; our resolve was diluted and our memories of regal legacy removed. Emotional holes were created, leaving us hungry and in survival mode. Seeds of self-hatred were planted.

Chef, your struggle for equity in this industry is a direct legacy of slavery, and the classic "BS" quote about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is self-reliance rhetoric steeped in white privilege. It's hard to pull yourself up by bootstraps when barefooted.

The wounds of slavery still bleed in U.S. soil, and the gritty truth of who we are has fallen on deaf ears. We tilled the land. Planted seeds. Harvested fruit and vegetables. Milked the cows and butchered livestock. Pickled the vegetables for winter and cured the meats. We fished the waters. Cooked the food while setting the table. We served the food and cleaned the dishes.

Our people did all these tasks, by force and for free. The United States' hospitality industry was created off our backs. And after 400-plus years of being the creators of a multi-billion-dollar industry, we still don't have a seat at the table. Are we now the modern-day slave, when our contributions to this industry are invisible and the fruits of our ancestors' labors are denied to us? Those that find this question extreme have not walked a day in my...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT