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More Southern Food
January 13, 2009
Edna Lewis (1916-2006) was one of the best known and best loved Southern chefs of the 20th century. Born the granddaughter of former slaves in Freetown, Virginia, she was a sucessful chef and author (The Edna Lewis Cookbook (1972), The Taste of Country Cooking (1976) and In Pursuit of Flavor (1988).
Lewis moved to New York City from Virginia during the Depression. She met John Nicholson, an antiques dealer who in 1949 decided to open a restaurant on 58th Street, on the East Side of Manhattan called Café Nicholson. Lewis became the cook, winning over patrons with cheese soufflés and roast chicken. Café Nicholson became an instant success among bohemians and artists. The restaurant was frequented by William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Marlon Brando, Gloria Vanderbilt and Marlene Dietrich.
Lewis’ books had a profound influence on many Southern chefs, and her life was the subject of an excellent short film, Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie. The film follows her life among sub-alternate cultures such as growing-up in the former-slave community of Freetown to working as a typist for the Communist Party in pre-WWII New York City.
The film features interviews with chefs, writers and scholars about Lewis’ life and legacy, and is an excellent introduction to Southern food.
To see Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie, click here. You’ll be glad you did.