Adrian Miller wrote the book on soul food -- one plate at a time
The Lincoln Hills exhibit at History Colorado features a display of artifacts from the heyday of Five Points as the hub of African-American life in the Rocky Mountain West. A directory of black-owned businesses includes a mouth-watering number of soul-food restaurants; you won't find nearly as many in this city today. But you will find Adrian Miller, attorney, politico and certified barbecue judge who just wrote the book on soul food not just in Colorado, but across the country.
The name is not We Shall Overeat, he jokes, but Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. But he did plenty of eating as he researched the book. Miller, who grew up in suburban Denver and usually just ate soul food on the holidays, didn't originally set out to write such a comprehensive take; barbecue was his big obsession until he stumbled across John Egerton's 1993 Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History and learned from the author that "the comprehensive history of black achievement in American cookery still waits to be written."
Not anymore - at least, not the part of that history that concentrates on soul food. Miller's book is a mouth-watering tome - 22 recipes! - that not only titillates the palate, but feeds the brain with science, geography and history. To research the work, Miller spent twelve months eating his way through this country's soul-food restaurants - 150 in 35 cities (he nicknamed the period "the year of living dangerously" - and also doing years of study, reading everything from early cookbooks to more traditional academic volumes.
The first printing of the book, published by the University of North Carolina press, has basically sold out, even though the release day is officially August 15. (You can find copies at the Tattered Cover.) Miller will celebrate the release with a book-signing at soul food-eating party at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library on Saturday, August 17, then go on a short five-city tour to promote the book; he's also signed up for interviews on radio shows across the country.
Which he'll do from Denver, which is not exactly soul-food central -- even though a 1910 ad for Mrs. M.J. Franklin's Home Cooking Restaurant - "everything neat and clean" -- is the first illustration in the book. Why are soul-food restaurants so few and far between? "Most people don't know what soul food is, and to the extent they do know, it has a horrible reputation," says Miller. "Which is hilarious, considering what people are eating in other places."
Read all about the healthy turn that soul food has taken, as well as much more in Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time; Miller will be signing and talking about the book on August 27 at the Tattered Cover on Colfax.
Come back to Cafe Society tomorrow to see Miller's list of Denver's five best soul-food restaurants. And yes, there are at least five soul-food restaurants in town...
A version of this story appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly newsletter on Denver's drinking and dining scene that arrives in e-mail inboxes every Wednesday afternoon. Find out how to sign up here.
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