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MoAD’s New Chef-in-Residence Wants to Put Black Women Front and Center

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Headshot of Jocelyn Jackson posing in front of a colorful blue patterned wallpaper.
People's Kitchen Collective co-founder Jocelyn Jackson is stepping the chef-in-residence position at the Museum of the African Disapora previously held by Bryant Terry. (Molly DeCoudreaux)

The first time I met Jocelyn Jackson, back in 2015, the chef and food activist Bryant Terry was emceeing an Oakland food event where he introduced the organization that Jackson co-founded — People’s Kitchen Collective — as the Bay Area food movement’s “house band.” In other words, the group wasn’t always the headliner, but it often worked behind the scenes whenever there was an event or initiative at the intersection of food, art and social justice. One week Jackson and her collaborators might sling vegan tacos at an anti-colonialist cookbook event. Another week you’d find them in West Oakland giving away a free hot breakfast to anyone who wanted one.

All of which is to say: Jackson has been deeply involved in the Bay Area food world for a long time. Or, as she says about the scene, “There is no stranger in this room. … We know each other. We’ve been there for each other — for years.”

So there’s some poetry to the fact that Jackson is now stepping into one of the Bay Area food movement’s most prominent, unique positions: At the start of this year, she became the Museum of the African Diaspora’s second ever chef-in-residence — a role that Terry himself essentially created and held for seven years.

I spoke to Jackson by phone a couple of weeks into her new gig. Here are five things you can expect from the chef’s tenure at MoAD:

1. MoAD’s chef-in-residence program will continue to be one of a kind.

If you’ve never heard of any other museum having a “chef-in-residence,” that’s because programs like MoAD’s, which focus on the ways that food, art and culture intersect in the Black diaspora, don’t really exist anywhere else — certainly not in such a comprehensive way. Jackson isn’t becoming the museum’s “chef” in the traditional sense of running a restaurant on its premises. Instead, like Terry before her, she’ll run a whole slate of food-related cultural programming all year round (more on the specifics of that programming in a minute).

Artistically arranged of food whose shape resembles the continent of Africa.
A plate of food served by the People’s Kitchen Collective at one of MoAD’s Diaspora Dinners held in 2015. (Fox Nakai)

“The Museum of the African Diaspora is about reflecting the beauty and wholeness of our people,” Jackson says. “It would be remiss to overlook that food is part of our artistry — it’s part of the way that our people find survival and celebration.”

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“It’s not static when you’re doing a chef-in-residence,” she continues. “It’s not just something that you simply attend. It’s something that you do. I love that.”

2. Black women will be front and center.

The tagline for Jackson’s Instagram page reads, “healing food experiences for Blk womxn.” Providing those kinds of culturally specific experiences — at group retreats, one-on-one sessions and more — has been the main focus of the chef’s company, Justus Kitchen. It makes sense, then, that under Jackson’s stewardship, MoAD’s chef-in-residence program would make the experiences of Black women an even bigger priority.

“It is front of mind in every choice,” Jackson says. “Within my own experience, it is essential to make choices from the perspective of Black womanhood in everything I do. When Black women get free, we all get free.”

Jackson says she isn’t quite ready to announce too many of the specifics in terms of how this focus will play out in terms of MoAD’s actual programming. But, just to cite one example, Jackson plans to continue the chef-in-residence program’s longstanding tradition of hosting “Diaspora Dinners” — big, celebratory meals at the museum, usually featuring a prominent guest chef. And this year the events will highlight two Black women in the food industry.

Jackson also has a partnership in the works with San Francisco’s Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, including what she describes as some “beautiful projects” with elders in the community. “Every elder is a library. I don’t want them to pass from this earth without sharing whatever they feel compelled to share with us,” Jackson says.

Three smiling women dressed in all white sit at a table outdoors, awaiting the start of a meal.
MoAD board member Jill Cowan and friends at the Black Food Summit, held in September of 2022. (Tinashe Chidarikire)

3. The Black Food Summit will live on.

The capstone of Terry’s seven-year tenure at MoAD was the Black Food Summit, a gathering of amazing Black talent from all over the country, across all sectors of the food world — chefs, cookbook authors, photographers, food stylists and more — who came together for two days of workshops, rejuvenation and mutual support. The event was created to advance Terry’s vision of creating a pipeline that would allow Black chefs, writers and artists to land the kinds of prestigious gigs that they’ve been shut out of historically.

Thankfully, the summit will live on. As Jackson notes, Terry himself will continue to have an advisory role at the museum, and “it makes all the sense in the world” for her to carry on the tradition that he started. Most likely, the first Black Food Summit under Jackson’s stewardship will happen sometime in 2024.

4. Art and artists will get an even bigger spotlight during Jackson’s tenure.

MoAD is, of course, a museum first and foremost, and most visitors come to see the art. In that respect, Jackson makes for an ideal chef-in-residence: She’s a practicing artist herself, known for exploring both food and social justice in her work. A notable recent example: an art installation in which Jackson imagined the “fixed price menu” of a meal that Philando Castile and Jeronimo Yanez — the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Castile in 2016 — might have shared.

For that piece, part of Ava DuVernay’s Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP), Jackson says, “I was doing quilting. I was doing writing. I was doing sculpture. I could say in that moment, ‘I’ve been training for decades for this.’ As an attorney, as an environmental educator, as an artist — it’s like I got these credentials on purpose in reverse.”

The same could be said for Jackson’s new role as MoAD’s chef-in-residence. If anything, she says, her own art background means she’ll place even more of a focus on collaborating with the artists whose work is being featured at the museum, whether that be in terms of new art installations or conversations in which the artists talk about the food connections in their work.

An abundant plate of food, including greens, beans and mac and cheese.
Dinner at the Black Food Summit. (Tinashe Chidarikire)

5. Social justice will be the focus of everything she does at the museum.

It’s not lost on Jackson that she’s stepping into the role at a political moment when it’s become clear, as she puts it, that the long-term changes many hoped for during the widespread protests against police violence in 2020 haven’t really happened. “There was a boomerang effect, and lasting change has not occurred,” she says.

At the same time, Jackson says that her position at MoAD is something of an oasis. “I get to luxuriate in the environment of an organization that’s made by and for Black folks. I get to be calm and peaceful and authentic within that space.”

She recognizes that the art world at large isn’t like that. It wasn’t lost on her that the viral incident a couple of weeks ago in which a San Francisco gallery owner sprayed an unhoused woman with a hose was also a reflection of the art world.

So how can an institution like MoAD play a role in changing that? “How do we present ourselves as warriors for justice? Artists are first responders,” Jackson says, referencing the term coined by Oakland-based artist Ashara Ekundayo. “Anyone in this industry of art has that shared responsibility.”

For Jackson, that mindset has to inform all of her chef-in-residence programming. “There’s nothing that isn’t related to social justice,” she says.

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Jocelyn Jackson’s first public event as MoAD’s chef-in-residence will be a conversation with Bryant Terry, her predecessor in the role. The free event will take place at the museum (685 Mission St. in San Francisco) on Feb. 11 at 2 p.m.

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