Lawyer/politico and certified barbecue judge has added another accolade to his resume: His first book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, is a finalist for the James Beard award; the winners will be named the first weekend in May. But first, on April 3, he'll be at one of his favorite soul-food restaurants in Denver when Slow Food Denver hosts "An Evening at Cora Faye's with Adrian Miller, Soul-Food Scholar."
"We're going to eat, and we're going to talk about where soul food is going," promises Miller. And where is it going? See also: Adrian Miller nabs James Beard finalist spot
"The creative energy is in two big trends," he says. "The biggest one is the vegan/vegetarian direction. It's really a homecoming, not a departure."
The dishes that are often thought of as soul food were special occasion dishes, he points out, "but there's a strong vegetarian tradition. You don't have to have fried stuff all the time. Dark, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, legumes, fish...it's all there. You just need to be mindful of how you're preparing these things."
The second trend? Upscale soul food, "so upscale they don't call it soul food," Miller says. "They call it Southern, whatever."
But Southern and soul food are not the same thing. "When I toured the South, those Southerners, they'd say there is no difference," he says. "Chitlins is the dividing line."
Miller decided to write his book to explore the history of soul food and dispel soul food's negative reputation. "The dominant thing you hear is that soul food is going to kill you," he says. "I did it in a way that comes with knowledge, but in a way that was not heavy-handed. I told the story of African-American culture through food."
Even so, he adds, "I didn't know if anyone was going to dig it but me."
But dig it they did. The book is already in its third printing, "so that was cool," he says, and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association chose it for one of four honors this year.
When the Beard finalists were announced earlier this month, "I was listening to the live stream, I listened to all the journalism categories, and then the livestream froze on my phone," Miller recalls. "The only way I knew something had happened was my phone started buzzing and ringing."
And it continues to ring.
One of those calls was for the dinner at Cora Faye's, which will be served family-style with "heaping platters of all that goodness": fried chicken, catfish, collard greens, black-eyed peas, candied yams, cornbread, hush puppies, sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, all part of the soul-food canon, and all in keeping with Miller's goal.
"We need to push for a more comprehensive view of soul food," he says. "It doesn't need a warning label -- it just needs love."
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Tickets are going fast to the April 3 event at Cora Faye's; find more details here.