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The Bay Area’s Black Women Chefs Are All About Intergenerational Uplift

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Headshots of three Black women chefs lined up side by side.
MoAD's Diaspora Dinner is headlined by multiple generations of Black women chefs in the Bay Area. From left to right: Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, Jocelyn Jackson and Sarah Kirnon.

The food industry isn’t always known for being the most collegial or supportive place — not in this era of #MeToo and the toxic, cutthroat kitchen cultures that undergird some of our most highly regarded restaurants. With a double whammy of misogyny and institutional racism, Black women chefs often find themselves in an especially vulnerable position.

But a handful of the Bay Area’s most prominent Black women chefs are trying to flip the script on that narrative. Toward that end, they’ll come together in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood on Wednesday, June 7, for the Museum of the African Diaspora’s annual “Diaspora Dinner” — a blowout meal that celebrates Black women, foods from across the African diaspora and, especially, a spirit of intergenerational mentorship and collaboration.

Curated by MoAD chef-in-residence Jocelyn Jackson, the dinner will showcase that spirit through about as star-studded a lineup of culinary heavy hitters as you’re likely to find at any Bay Area food event. Representing Gen Z is Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, the young Oakland chef whose recently released debut cookbook, Flavor + Us, is the main occasion for the gathering. At just 19 years old, Bisseret Martinez, who came to prominence as a finalist on the first season of Top Chef Junior, has interned at some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants, including Bay Area spots like Chez Panisse, Reem’s and Mister Jiu’s.

The rest of the event lineup consists of veteran chefs that Bisseret Martinez herself has looked up to as mentors in the food industry. She’ll be joined on the stage by Carla Hall, one of Top Chef’s most beloved contestants, for a conversation that will include reflections on their shared experiences in the world of televised cooking competitions — a genre that hasn’t always treated its non-white contestants very kindly.

Hand pies displayed on a wooden board.
Savory hand pies from Bisseret Martinez’s new cookbook, ‘Flavor + Us.’ (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

Meanwhile, the meal itself will be prepared by Sarah Kirnon, who, as chef of the now-shuttered Afro-Caribbean restaurant Miss Ollie’s, is a legendary figure in the Oakland food scene — an “icon,” as Bisseret Martinez puts it. Kirnon will cook a multi-course meal of Black diasporic dishes inspired by recipes from Flavor + Us. Think roast lemon pepper chicken, jerk eggplant, sweet plantains, hibiscus punch and strawberry tres leches cake.


Jackson, the evening’s host, has herself been deeply involved in the Bay Area food scene — and food activism — for many, many years.

“It really does feel like a foundational part of the Black community is a support across generations. There’s a real awareness that none of us do anything alone,” Jackson says. “We learn from the generation ahead of us — not only things about the world and how to navigate it, but also about how to flavor our foods. There are standards!”

That kind of intergenerational support is one of the central themes of Bisseret Martinez’s cookbook, which documents the recipes and flavors that the young chef learned from the folks who came before her, whether it be her grandmother’s favorite way to prepare rice or a steaming technique that she picked up at Mister Jiu’s.

In fact, she says, she owes much of her career to events like the Diaspora Dinner. Years ago, she first met Bryant Terry, MoAD’s first chef-in-residence, at an earlier iteration of the event. He wound up becoming her mentor and published Flavor + Us under his BIPOC-focused imprint.

“That’s something I can never repay,” Bisseret Martinez says. “If those events hadn’t happened, I’d be in a very different situation right now.”

The Diaspora Dinner will be held at the Bayview neighborhood’s new Southeast Community Center on Wednesday, June 7, from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are $325 for MoAD members (for the general public, a $400 ticket price includes MoAD membership). COVID safety protocols will be in place: Guests will be asked to wear masks when not eating or drinking.

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