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.
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.