Thursday, October 25, 2012

Angela Davis in Paris

Angela Davis first came to Paris in 1962 during the summer prior to her sophomore year at Brandeis University. She and a friend sublet a chambre de bonne (maid's quarters) on the top floor of a building that she describes as being so close to the Eiffel Tower that "you could see the elevator rising and falling" from the tiny window of the room. On July 5th of that year, she was present at a demonstration held at Place de la Sorbonne in celebration of Algeria’s newly-won independence. She reported that the French police broke up the gathering with high power water hoses, saying that "they were as vicious as the redneck cops in Birmingham who met the Freedom Riders with their dogs and hoses."

Angela Davis during her junior year at Brandeis in the 1960s
Image from

For her junior year abroad in 1963-64, Davis returned to Paris and lived with a family in a building in the 16th arrondissement, very near the Arc de Triomphe. Her program was organized by Hamilton College and housed at Reid Hall, but she took classes at the Sorbonne because of her advanced level of French. In her autobiography, she remarks that she always felt as though she was in church when she was at the Sorbonne. She frequented the Théâtre de la Huchette on rue de la Huchette as part of her theater course - the only one that was organized by Hamilton.

Years later, after her prison ordeal, Davis returned to Paris. On May 16, 1975, Bernard Pivot interviewed her, Gaston Monnerville, and two other writers for his televised literary talk show, Apostrophes. (The French translation of Davis' autobiography had recently been published and Monnerville's biography had just been published as well.)

Angela Davis and Bernard Pivot on Apostrophes
Screenshot from video

Angela Davis on Apostrophes
Screenshot from video

Davis and Monnerville held opposite views on racism, which they discussed on camera before a studio audience. Click here to view the first seven minutes of the broadcast (in French).

Gaston Monnerville on Apostrophes
Screenshot from video

The encounter is described in Alice Kaplan's book Dreaming in French. Kaplan says that as Monnerville "talked about the universal values of the French Republic, Angela Davis looked at him with an absolute interest and curiosity, with respect."


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you liked this article, share it with your friends and colleagues by clicking on one or more of the social media buttons below!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chef Dwight Evans in Paris - Part 2

A few weeks ago, Chef Dwight Evans was in Paris to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his graduation from the esteemed professional cooking school Grégoire Ferrandi. We met at a bistrot in Paris’ 5th arrondissement and he filled me in on all that has come to pass since he left Paris in 2002.

Chef Dwight Evans
© Discover Paris!
Almost immediately after returning to Muncie, Indiana, Evans went to work for Crystal Cruises. He sailed around the world during the year that he worked with the company, calling in ports in Italy (which he had planned to visit when he was preparing to leave Paris), Hawaii, Japan, China, Singapore, Greece, and Turkey.

After his second contract with the cruise line expired, Evans went to Chicago and opened a restaurant called Café Soul on the South Side at 66th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. It was a unique establishment in that Evans served both traditional soul food and bistrot food such as frog legs and osso buco. The restaurant was very well received, and Evans served celebrity clients such as Herman Rush and Willie Mays there in addition to neighborhood residents.

From Café Soul, Evans accepted the position of executive chef for Covenant Village of Northbrook, a retirement community in Northbrook, Illinois. Food service at Covenant Village is operated by the French conglomerate Sodexo, which affords Evans fringe benefits (long vacations, 401K plan) that most U.S. chefs only dream about. From this position, he is rapidly making himself known in the Chicago culinary community.
Evans is the first African-American 1st vice president of Chicago Chefs of Cuisine, the oldest chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF). He is expected to become president of the Chicago chapter in the near future. He is also a member of the World Association of Chefs Society and the Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of Chicago; the latter organization requires a referral to be considered for admission. Evans is particularly proud to be a member of the Escoffier Society because he considers Escoffier to be the author of “the culinary bible” of our time.

Being a great chef is not all that Evans aspires to. He also wants to be a great businessman in the culinary field, modeling the likes of master French chef Alain Ducasse. He envisions being the proprietor of a restaurant group and creating a line of products to be sold under his name. He wants to leave an epicurean legacy – a thriving business that will provide employment for communities around the Midwest and beyond as well as a solid economic base for his family. To this end, he is actively working on creating the Chef Dwight Evans brand.

Amongst his activities in this arena are signing with a publisher for his book entitled From the Ghetto to Gourmet…I Refuse to Lose, the completion of a pilot for a cooking show entitled “Fine Dining with Chef Evans,” and fulfilling the role of celebrity chef and spokesperson for Moo and Oink – a meat, chicken, and barbecue sauce company in the Chicago area. He was named one of America’s top African-American chefs by Ebony Magazine in 2009 and was the Illinois contender for Best Chef of the American Culinary Federation’s Central Regional Conference in 2011.

Giving back to the community is near and dear to Evans’ heart. He participated in the “Real Men Cook” event in Chicago in 2011 with his son Davonte and is active in other non-profit organizations such as Chefs in the Classroom, No Kid Left Hungry, and Taste of Chicago. His master project is the creation of his own non-profit organization called “G to G,” which he plans to launch in conjunction with the publication of his book From the Ghetto to Gourmet.

I asked Evans if he plans to stay in Chicago once these dreams are realized. His response: “Just because I was born in America doesn’t mean that I’m going to die on American soil!”

Evans' recent visit to Paris has turbo-charged his desire to explore the culinary cultures of other lands – Italy and Japan are two places that he mentioned more than once during our conversation. He wants to do something bigger than work in the U.S. and something bigger than what he accomplished in school in France and with Crystal Cruise Line. He is open to the entire world and believes wholeheartedly that he can achieve greatness anywhere on the planet!


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you liked this article, share it with your friends and colleagues by clicking on one or more of the social media buttons below!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chef Dwight Evans in Paris - Part 1

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of his graduation from the esteemed professional cooking school Grégoire Ferrandi, Chef Dwight Evans returned to Paris to see classmates and visit “old stomping grounds.” I had the good fortune of being able to set up a rendezvous with him before he filled his schedule and he granted me an interview. During our chat, I reminded him that I interviewed him ten years ago when he was preparing to leave Paris and return to the U.S. to "seek his culinary fortune."

This week's blog presents my write up from that first interview in 2002. I'll post the discussion of our 2012 interview next week.


The throngs of people filling their baskets at the street market outside the café on rue Mouffetard were just one of the many signs that Paris was returning to normal after summer vacation. Inside, I chatted with Dwight Evans, who, ironically, was preparing to leave Paris to return to Indiana.

Chef Dwight Evans in 2002
© Discover Paris!

Though he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, Evans considers himself a native of Muncie, Indiana. He is what you might call a “self-made man”, having chosen cooking as a profession at a very early age. Starting as a dishwasher at the age of 13, he worked his way up to the position of cook, then sous-chef in restaurants in Muncie and in Indianapolis. His grandmother was his greatest inspiration, and his respect and love for her cooking is stronger now than ever. Evans recalls that at the tender age of 12, his grandmother told him that his greens were “the best she ever tasted”. That single phrase gave him the determination and the belief in himself to succeed as a chef.

Evans comes from a family where all the men cook, and cook well. But he is the first of his clan to venture into the kitchen professionally. After gaining invaluable experience in many local restaurants, he found that he had reached the proverbial “glass ceiling” in the field – he was overqualified to be a sous-chef, but underqualified to be a chef. He was advised to go back to school to obtain a degree. And after talking things over with his family, Evans did just that.

Having left high school to take care of his family, he began by obtaining his G.E.D., then went on to study at Ball State University. He subsequently enrolled at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, where he enhanced the knowledge and skills that he already possessed with instruction from some of America’s finest culinary professionals. He sites John Kacala, Certified Executive Chef and professor of the Garde Manger course (the art and preparation of cold food) at the university, as one of the people who influenced him most during his two-year tenure at Johnson and Wales.

When I asked Kacala to comment on Evans’ performance in school, he said “Dwight is a team player with a good head on his shoulders…There is no doubt in my mind that he is an up and coming force in the culinary and hospitality field.”

Yet another esteemed culinary professional, Michel Bouit of the central region of the American Culinary Federation, was instrumental in encouraging Evans to strive for greater heights. He suggested that Evans undertake instruction in Paris, which is considered by many to be the culinary capital of the world. Again, Evans was ready to challenge himself, and soon found himself enrolled at the Ecole Superièure de Cuisine Française in the heart of the city. After completing the program, he had the great fortune to work as an intern at the Michelin-star restaurant, the Jules Verne.

The take-home lesson from Evans’ experience at the Jules Verne was discipline. As you might expect in a Michelin-star restaurant, everything ran like clockwork in the kitchen. The brigade ran like a well-oiled machine. While Evans found that the kitchen staff viewed some of the dining preferences of the clients less than “appropriate” (for example, ordering beef cooked well done as opposed to rare), he said that their professionalism was beyond reproach. He hopes to run his own kitchen with such a well-trained staff someday.

When I asked Evans how he feels about cooking, he responded by saying that being a chef is “like being a magician”. Though everyone has different tastes and preferences, a chef has to know how to please everyone despite these differences. Finding the formula, or recipe, for each individual dish on a menu that is pleasing to the majority of people is like magic for him. He also said that when everything comes together in the kitchen as it should, he gets an adrenaline rush from the realization that he has succeeded yet again at satisfying his “audience”, the customers in the dining room.

Who are Evans’ culinary heroes? Escoffier, who devised the brigade system of the restaurant kitchen and wrote what Evans considers to be the culinary bible of our time. Emeril, who is also a Johnson and Wales alumnus and who also went to Paris to further develop his culinary skills. Bocuse, who Evans looks upon as a modern-day Escoffier. And Ducasse, who is not only a consummate chef, but an excellent business man. Evans hopes to emulate Ducasse by succeeding at both the art and the business of cooking.

While French cuisine has definite appeal, Evans does not plan to specialize in it. Or, for that matter, in any other kind of cuisine. He does not want to “pigeon-hole” himself, but rather wants to experiment with all kinds of cuisine. Though he has returned to the U.S., thoughts of another culinary excursion to a foreign country are already coursing through his head. Evans has his sights set on Italy, and if the contacts that he made during his Paris sojourn develop, then he may soon find himself applying for another visa.

I asked Evans how he managed to deal with the language barrier while taking such an intensive course at the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française. He laughed and said that his course was for foreigners, and was thus held in English. But he did have to learn French nonetheless, and he was just starting to get the hang of it when he had to leave. To combat homesickness, he said that he found a home-away-from-home at the pan-African soul food restaurant, Bojangles*. The owner, Chicagoan Sharon Morgan, was happy to meet another African-American from the Midwest who shares her passion for cooking. She even asked Evans to be guest chef at the restaurant, something that he was happy to do.

Bojangles restaurant
© Discover Paris!

Interestingly, it was Evans’ professor at the Ecole Supérieure who gave Evans the name of a contact who introduced him to Morgan. Thus haute cuisine and soul food were both part of Evans’ culinary experience in Paris.

*Bojangles closed its doors in March 2003.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you liked this article, share it with your friends and colleagues by clicking on one or more of the social media buttons below!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Black Paris Profiles™: Cheryl Ann Bolden

Cheryl Ann Bolden is an artist / curator and the creator of Precious Cargo – A Traveling Museum Dedicated to the African Diaspora. A world traveler, she has studied medicine in China and weaving and textile arts in Western Australia. She has lived in Paris since 1997 and has visited several nations to present expositions of Precious Cargo.

Cheryl talking
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Ann Bolden

Cheryl believes that being an artist is a way of life – an attitude. She studied classical ballet as a child and remembers having a vivid imagination and “speaking with spirits” at a young age. However, she did not pursue formal study in art until after her medical studies in China in 1981. She began her training in Australia and then studied at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C. She learned art history as a guide at the Phillips Collection (the U.S.’ first museum of modern art) and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.


Black Paris Profiles is now available on Kindle.  Only excerpts are available on this blog.
To get your copy of Black Paris Profiles, click HERE.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you liked this article, share it with your friends and colleagues by clicking on one or more of the social media buttons below!