Author and food historian Adrian Miller has been gobbling up national recognition for his recent books about soul food and the African-American chefs who served American presidents. His most recent accolade was an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Outstanding Literary Work, Non-Fiction, for his 2017 book The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas.
The Image Awards presentations were held on Sunday, January 14, and Monday, January 15, in Pasadena, California. While Miller didn't win in his category (the award went posthumously to Dick Gregory for Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies), he says that attending the ceremonies was a great experience and a good way to spread the word about the book. "I'm certainly hoping for more circulation — especially within the African-American community," the author adds.
The literature awards were presented on Sunday night in a non-televised ceremony; that was followed by a second, televised event for the high-profile awards. Miller attended both nights and rubbed elbows with such celebrities as actor Keith David (Greenleaf), author and former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and sports-show hosts Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. While he fully enjoyed the red-carpet experience (even crowd-sourcing his shirt and tie choices to his Facebook friends), Miller says that the response to The President's Kitchen Cabinet was more gratifying.
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"The coolest thing that's happening right now is that descendants of some of the cooks [in the book] are reaching out to me," Miller explains. "They're so grateful that I'm telling their stories — which would otherwise just sink into obscurity."
The author's first book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, earned a James Beard Award in 2014, which he calls "a watershed moment" for himself and for advancement of African-American culinary contributions. Recognition for the book, he says, has helped foster "culinary justice and many frank conversations about the contributions of African-Americans. The only thing that's being asked is acknowledgement that this is a shared cuisine."
Despite the critical success of his books, acknowledgment of African American cooks' contributions to this country's cuisine has a long way to go, Miller says, pointing to the recent popularity of such dishes as Nashville hot chicken, which was invented at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, a black-owned business that seldom gets recognition amid the newer, trendier chicken purveyors.
So Miller is continuing to spread the word about his books and the undeniable impact of African-Americans on the country's culinary history through speaking engagements and special dinners. He's booked every weekend through February, with a few Denver appearances. This Saturday, January 20, Miller will be at Post Oak Hall (6195 West 44th Avenue in Wheat Ridge), showing how to make Texas-style chili and sharing the history of Pedernales River chili, a recipe from Lyndon Johnson's family cook, Zephyr Wright. See Post Oak Hall's Facebook page for details.