In celebration of Women's History Month and in conjunction with the second broadcast of Southern Passion Lounge in Paris - the Internet radio show that brings you the best of food, wine, and music in Paris - today's blog post features several women of the African Diaspora who have left or are currently leaving their mark on the world of professional gastronomy in the French capital.
Graphic for 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris
At the age of 60, Agnes Moody ran the "Corn Kitchen," a principal feature at the U.S. Agriculture Department's building on the Champs de Mars during the 1900 Universal Exposition. The purpose of the exhibit was to promote the use of American corn and cornmeal for cooking and subsequently boost U.S. exports of the grain. Numerous papers across the U.S. touted Mrs. Moody's cooking skills and her popularity among visitors to the expo—as an example, the Virginian Pilot described her as the "presiding genius" at the kitchen and the Minneapolis Journal reported that she was "entertained and fed by royalty." Though she was cast in the role of an "Aunty," similar to Aunt Jemima, she was an accomplished woman who one of the charter members of the National Association of Colored Women, John Brown's Women's Relief Corps, and other organizations. She was awarded a gold medal by the U.S. Agriculture Department for her service.
Cover of Rougui Dia Biography
Rougui Dia is the 21st-century "Black Pearl" of Paris. Born of Senegalese parents in Paris' 12th arrondissement, she began preparing for a culinary career at age 15. Until January 2013, she was the head chef at Le 144, a restaurant operated by the venerated caviar house Petrossian. The dishes served during her tenure at Le 144 were not Russian or Armenian as you might deduce from the name of the caviar house, but rather were a union of the finest French cuisine with select elements from the Senegalese kitchen. Stimulating the palates of the restaurant's clientele with new taste sensations from Senegal was one of Dia’s primary goals. Dia will take over the kitchen of Le Vraymonde, the restaurant of the new Buddha Bar hotel that is scheduled to open during the first trimester of 2013 at 4, rue d’Anjou in the 8th arrondissement.
Babette de Rozières
Hailing from Guadeloupe, Babette de Rozières has enjoyed long-standing success as a restaurant owner, cookbook author, and culinary personality on French television. In the beginning, she worked in various posts in public television and radio and cooked part time at some of the most prestigious hotels in Paris. She purchased her first restaurant in 1978 and has never looked back. She has co-hosted various television shows since 1988 and won an international award for her first cookbook—a four-volume set on Antillean cooking—in 2004. Her latest endeavors include opening a new restaurant called La Case de Babette in les Yvelines (an administrative department in the greater Paris area) and writing her autobiography.
Image from The Wine Profilers Web site
Melba Allen left the US for Europe after her studies at the University of Houston and fell in love with the wine and food culture in France. Obtaining a diploma from the prestigious Université-du-vin, Suze la Rousse in the Rhone Valley and certificates from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Program of London, she began buying and selling wines internationally, judging wine tasting competitions, and writing on-line articles for magazines such as Elle and Vin & Cuisine. She currently trains wine professionals for restaurants and wine shops, lectures on Wine Science and Business and Wine Tourism at the Institut Européen de Management International (IEMI) in Paris, and is the communications coordinator for The Wine Profilers—a program to help wine lovers better understand the choices they make when selecting a wine.
Sharon Leslie Morgan
Image courtesy of Sharon Leslie Morgan
Chicago-born Sharon Leslie Morgan made her cooking debut in Paris when she and former Haynes' barman Bennie Luke teamed up in 1999 to create a weekly event called "Soul on Sunday" at Haynes' restaurant (now closed). The concept began as a brunch, but evolved into a late-afternoon-and-evening diner-spectacle (dinner show). There was prearranged entertainment, but weekly open-mike sessions added variety to the program. When "Soul on Sunday" came to an end, Morgan and Luke began looking for another venue to provide down-home food and lively entertainment to African Americans in Paris. They opened Bojangles Restaurant and Bar at 47, rue Rodier in the 9th arrondissement on January 3, 2001. On opening night there was not a vacant seat to be found. Live jazz piano, trumpet, and singing heightened the enjoyment of the copious portions of spicy pumpkin soup, grilled T-bone steak, Caribbean-style fried fish, and side dishes that were served. Bojangles was a center for great food and fun until it closed in 2003. Memories live on through the open Facebook group called Bojangles Paris Online.
Image from Jezebel's Web site
Charleston, South Carolina-native Alberta Wright is one of a few African Americans who dared to open a restaurant in Paris. She operated a branch of her New York eatery Jezebel (now closed) in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area from 1990-1994. Also called Jezebel's, it was one of the chic places to dine in Paris during its heyday. Celebrities such as Madonna, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves St.-Laurent, and Valentino gave parties there. Wright (whose nickname is Jezebel) opened the restaurant on a whim, and soon discovered how difficult the Paris market could be. Read a full account of her experience here.
Monique Y. Wells
Photo by Kim Powell
As the author of Food for the Soul, a cookbook sponsored for publication in French by master chef Alain Ducasse, I have continually sought to include gourmet activities in the Discover Paris! repertoire of walks and services. In November 2003, we organized the first Afro-centric culinary excursion in Paris, focusing on foods and beverages that comprise the traditional French meal and featuring African-American culinary professionals who lived and worked in France at the time. Discover Paris! co-hosted Paris - A Culinary Delight with EthnoTravel.com, a company dedicated to promoting multicultural travel. I led the excursion to explore cheese, bread, and coffee; Melba Allen (mentioned above) shared her expertise about wine and provided a tasting at a local vineyard; and Chef Klancy Miller led the group on a pastry and chocolate walk. African-American chef Percy Taylor welcomed the group for a special dinner at his restaurant Percy's Place (now closed), complete with musical entertainment. A few months later, Allen, Miller, and I were featured on Al Roker's Food Network television show Recipe for Success.
Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
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