Netflix’s High on the Hog: The story of African American Food

Culture

NEW ORLEANS—Slavery’s impact is still felt today, as a major part of America’s cultural development, but where there is a difficult and painful history of the enslaved, there is also a story of how groups of people constructed new identities. American food has its roots in a melting pot of cultures and was transformed by the institution of slavery. Recently, Netflix released four-part limited series based on a book by Jessica B. Harris titled: High on the Hog. The series began streaming on May, 26th.

The diverse food in the Americas, with its fusion of cross-continental character, can trace its recipe back, well before the Columbian Exchange in the 15th and 16th centuries, when explorers transported food from the new world to the old world and vice versa. That transfusion of flavor for the modern American pallet was further defined with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

High on the Hog is a four-part series on Netflix about a gastronomy pilgrimage. It began with a book written in 2011 by renowned food historian Dr. Jessica Harris and Harris says, “the African American hand in the kitchen is foundational in the cooking of the United States. It’s as simple as that. If you look at New Orleans, New Orleans is a city with an immense depth of African culture and African American culture. It is one of the cultural linchpins of the African diaspora in this hemisphere.”

“I think what I wanted in 2011, was to have people look at what some of the histories of African Americans and African American food were. We are eating more and more of the world so, at some point, it’s logical, that we would look at our world of African American-ness and say, we need to be represented on that plate and stake our claim to the things that we have added to it. That is part of what the docuseries is about,” says Harris.

In the series, the audience is introduced to many dishes they may not have heard of, but they are also reintroduced to popular dishes and their unfamiliar origin. Dr. Harris makes an appearance in the first episode of the series in Benin, Africa. This episode sets the stage for what is both a compelling and emotional story.

Chef Serigne Mbaye was inspired by High on the Hog. After watching it he decided to adapt his series of fine dining dinners at Margaret Place in New Orleans, Louisiana to celebrate Juneteenth. In doing so, he cast a spotlight on some of his contemporary African American chefs in New Orleans.

“I’ve worked with Serigne for years. He’ll tell you that we started working together at Commander’s Palace. But at this particular moment, we are cooking our own food,” says private Chef Lloyd McKissick

“A lot of the dishes that exist in this world today come from Africa or come from some type of variant that was tasted in Africa. It’s like home and where the inspiration comes from for a lot of different types of food,” says Chef George Lopez.

Human sustenance is often, communal and a need for food, whether spiritual or culinary, is one of the most basic necessities that connects everyone.

“To be black, to be a chef, to be a woman, to be a lesbian, a mother, an aunt, to be human. Food brings everyone together from every walk of life,” says Chef Lashonda Cross

Jessica Harris is the author of twelve books documenting the culture and foodways of the African diaspora. She is also a resident of New Orleans and contributor of The Historic New Orleans Collection. During THNOC’s culinary symposia, Harris is a relished attendee who serves as co-organizer and featured speaker.

To purchase and read food historian, Jessica B. Harris’ book titled: High on the Hog, which the Netflix series is based on, click here.

Serigne Mbaye is a chef with a heritage from Senegal based in New Orleans. To find out more about his dinner series and to find out about the opportunity to book a future dinner click here.

To see the extraordinary food of the remarkable guest chefs at Darkar NOLA see below.

Private Chef Lloyd McKissick

Chef George Lopez

Chef Lashonda Cross

Chef Serigne Mbaye

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