Growing up, my kitchen was my safe space. Cooking and baking were my ways to clear my head and maybe solve a irl problem, or two. Focusing on the actual process of making cookies, muffins, or whatever I was doing brought on a calming feeling that I can’t really express — it still does to this day. It’s a feeling I got while reading Klancy Miller’s For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women & Femmes in Food. Comprised of 66 interviews, 47 recipes from interviewees, and 5 essays honoring culinary matriarchs through the decades, this book can be seen as not only a spotlight celebrating Black women and femmes in food and wine but also, a personal love letter. 

If the title of this book sounds familiar, that’s because in 2021, Miller launched the annual magazine, For the Culture: A Magazine Celebrating Black Women and Femmes in Food and Wine. Her book is an adaptation of this magazine and it’s refreshing to see a book full of diverse voices, especially the personal essays on Edna Lewis, B. Smith, Lena Richard, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, and Leah Chase.

“I wanted to pay homage to black women and femmes who are no longer alive,” said Miller. “But who are very influential to so many people in the culinary world.” 

It’s about keeping their legacy alive.

A little bit on Klancy Miller.

Throughout her profession, Miller has appeared in outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, and Food52. In 2022, she was honored as an IACP Trailblazer Award winner. But before that, the constant thing in Miller’s life was her interest in food and the industry. 

“I like it. I like to cook it. I like to eat it. I like to photograph it. I like to gather over it,” she said. Miller even said that if she was a food she’d be a cake when I asked her (and a strawberry or a mango if she were an ingredient).

Raised by two restaurant lovers and avid cooks, Miller was always curious about food. In the introduction, Miller notes that after college she worked in a nonprofit, explored her other interests, and began apprenticing at Fork restaurant in Philadelphia on the weekends to figure out her passions. She went to culinary school in Paris to become a pastry chef, and then a baker. She was a supper-club host, a restaurant publicist, a ghostwriter, and a cookbook author. Being so integrated into the industry, Miller wished she had more insight.

That’s the purpose of For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women & Femmes in Food.

A book full of insight.

Miller goes out of her way to gather everything you’d need if you’re interested in food and want to make it a part of your career. She writes that this book is for her 21-year-old self, someone who despite being interested in food is “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.”

Where there’s food, there’s community. That’s what drew me into the book. Yes, there are recipes involved, but the interviews offer insight into the industry from how they approach their finances to negotiating things for their work to mental health — it’s almost like getting advice from an older sibling, parent, or friend.

“I’m always cautious about offering advice,” said New York Times Columnist, cookbook author, food stylist, and recipe developer Yewande Komolafe in her interview with Miller. “I think that the best advice I could give someone is to listen to their self, and listen to what they truly want to do. Learn to just hear yourself and quiet the voices around you.”

When it comes to financial advice, the common theme is to ask for what you deserve.

“Ask for what you want. Set clear boundaries. Know where you’re willing to flex and honor that,” advised cookbook author, food stylist, photographer, and recipe developer Jerrelle Guy in her interview.

Miller has the ability to keep her readers hooked throughout the pages, which are written in Q&A style. It’s like you’re reading a conversation. “The book is not meant to be exhaustive,” she emphasized during our call, “the book is meant to center the experiences and expertise of black women and femmes and food, but it is not meant to be exhaustive by any means.”

It’s just raw. The interviews are so candid and there seems to be no filter between Miller and the interviewees — a comfortability that goes beyond the pages to the reader. The use of portraits illustrated by Sarah Madden and recipes following some of the interviews amplifies the reading experience. For example, chef, TV personality, cookbook author, and actress Carla Hall is best known for judging Food Network baking championship shows, ABC’s The Chew, and Top Chef. But there’s a lot that goes into being a TV personality — obviously, you’re putting yourself out there for the world to see. She noted that she looks at her job like social media.

“You shouldn’t be taking something that you don’t think is right for you,” she said in her interview. “If they don’t like what you’re doing, that’s not your right thing. And you have to be willing to give up that thing that’s not right for you in order to find the thing that’s right for you.”

This all sparked after she decided to go gray, but ABC executives questioned her. Thus began the fear that she may lose her job. Hair is already a huge conversation in the professional industry and it still baffles me that the color of one's natural hair was flagged.

There is so much knowledge scattered across the 305 pages that keeps you in awe. It’s refreshing to see big names share stories of their upcoming and even note some of their struggles and what they learned from them.