The New Guard of the Food World

Bryant Terry on the reinvention of food media and Rahanna Bisseret Martinez on fostering a love of cooking

“One thing I got over in 2020 was this embarrassment about my prior work. Because every new book I get, the book before it — ‘oh, it sucks! Oh my god. I don’t even want to look at that; don’t even bring that book around me anymore. I should have done this differently. I could have left that out.’ And now the way that I think about my body of work, I’m very proud of what I’ve done. And I really just see it as me practicing in public, and not being embarrassed about that.” — Bryant Terry

“With television, we often see historic people who pioneered in that industry as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin — who I grew up watching — and then recently I learned about Lena Richard, who had a cooking show a few years before that. I was just thinking about how amazing that was, and how it could have really impacted the food television industry if we had people like Lena Richard all those years ago, showcasing Black food and the techniques, and how groundbreaking that can be.” — Rahanna Bisseret Martinez

Last month, the first book from a newly minted publisher was released; that book is Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. It’s edited by Bryant Terry, who also is the editor-in-chief of 4 Color Books, the aforementioned publisher. Terry is well-known for his veganism and his wonderful recipes — many of them Afro-Asian — that put vegetables on a pedestal. Black Food is a different kind of triumph, however — a loving ode to Black culinary ingenuity and culture in general.

One of the contributors to Black Food is Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, who is perhaps best known for being a finalist on Top Chef Jr., but who I think will soon be best known for being an incredibly smart, talented, joyful contribution to the world of food — at just 17 years old. I got to talk to both Bryant and Rahanna for this week’s episode of Food with Mark Bittman, but separately, so please be sure to stay tuned in after the first interview.

The recipes featured in the episode are below. Please listen, subscribe, and review! And remember to call us on 833-FOODPOD (833-366-3763) OR email us at bittmanpod@gmail.com with all your food-related questions.

Thank you, as always. — Mark

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Nicole Taylor’s Cocoa-Orange Fish

Makes: 6 servings
Time: About 45 minutes

Cocoa powder transforms both savory and sweet dishes. Its luxurious earthiness adds depth to proteins, like the fish in this recipe. Be sure to use unsweetened cocoa powder; swapping out the benne seeds with sesame seeds and maple sugar with light brown sugar is fine. Any variety of hot chile flakes works here, too. Other fish fillets, such as wild Alaskan salmon or snapper, can be substituted for catfish. — Nicole Taylor

Ingredients

Cocoa Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons benne seeds

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried bird’s eye chile flakes

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 2 teaspoons maple sugar

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon caraway seeds

Fish:

  • 1 pound oranges (about 2 medium)

  • 2 pounds US-raised catfish fillets

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

TO MAKE THE RUB: In a large bowl, combine all of the rub ingredients and mix well. This seasoning can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container.

TO PREPARE THE FISH: Slice the oranges into 12 slices and set aside.

Instructions

1. Adjust the oven rack to the top position and preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Carefully rinse the fish and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Place the fish on a large sheet pan and liberally sprinkle both sides with the rub. Drizzle with the oil, then place the orange slices on top of the catfish fillets.

3. Place the sheet pan on the top rack and roast until the catfish is moist and gently flakes, about 8 minutes. (If using a thicker variety of fish such as salmon, the cooking time will be about 12 minutes.)

Nicole Taylor’s Cocoa Orange Fish
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Kia Damon’s Sweet Potato Grits

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother always had a pot of grits on the back of her stove. Sometimes they were fresh, ready to be paired with scrambled eggs and a piece of sausage. Other times, they were from a previous day with the weird film that formed a tint over the now clumpy and dry cornmeal. I’ve never known a day without grits while I was living with her, especially for breakfast and lunch.

It is a known fact that proper grits need only milk, salt, and a pat of butter. The late Edna Lewis said, “People should really leave grits alone,” but I see good grits as a beautiful creamy vehicle that, if handled responsibly, can result in some tempting combinations. The roasted sweet potato adds a sweet and earthy element to these grits and only ups the creamy, custardy mouthfeel.

I would definitely eat these grits with shrimp smothered in a bacon gravy, fried catfish, or mushrooms simmered in a red curry. You can also enjoy them as our ancestors intended, with just a simple pat of butter. — Kia Damon

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet potato (about 1 pound)

  • 3 cups unsalted chicken stock

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk

  • 1 cup white stone-ground grits

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • Kosher salt to taste

  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Once the oven is hot, wrap the sweet potato in tinfoil and place it on the middle rack. Cook for about 40 minutes until the sweet potato is completely soft and mushy to the touch. Set aside to cool.

3. Slowly heat the stock and milk in a large pot until the liquid begins to simmer.

4. Add the grits to a medium bowl and cover with cool water. Use your hands to stir around the grits so the chaff separates and rises to the top. Skim the chaff off the top, strain the grits through a fine-mesh strainer, and repeat this process two more times. Drain and discard the water.

5. Stir the grits into the milk mixture and use a whisk to make sure there aren’t any clumps. It’ll look like too much liquid at first, but the grits will expand into creamy goodness. Cook the grits, whisking them until they begin to thicken. It should take about 30 minutes. They should be thick and creamy with a little bite.

6. At this point, you want to add in your sweet potato. Remove the sweet potato from the skin and place the flesh in a bowl; you should have about 2 cups. I find that an immersion blender for this next part works best. Add the sweet potato to the grits and use the immersion blender to incorporate it all. The blender also yields creamier grits because it breaks up the grains even further.

7. Mix in the butter and season with salt and pepper.

Recipes from Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora

Kia Damon’s Sweet Potato Grits
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