Celebration of Black History Month

Journey Through Food

InsideHFS Jan 2017 BHM poster

With the arrival of February’s Black History Month, Campus Executive Chef Tracey MacRae and the chefs of UW Dining will be offering regional dishes of the African diaspora. While the dishes are delicious and diverse, there is another aspect to featuring menus inspired by recipes originating in Africa. As indicated in the title of the program, the month provides a journey through food. Chef Tracey finds that food can be a gateway to expanding our range of experience and also a way of finding commonality. For Chef Tracey, food is the great connector. 

“When you want to learn something about a culture, you learn about the food, you listen to the music, and those are things that are immediately connected because we can all relate to those things,” said Chef Tracey, who has been a part of UW Dining since 2002. “Being relatable in terms of food is really important. Last year [during Black History Month], I had a couple of Eastern Indian students come to me and say how much the African food was similar to their mothers’ food because it was a lot of stews, spices, flatbreads. To me, that is the immediate connection.”

For this year’s recipes, Chef Tracey gathered recommendations from students, included some of her past favorites and did some research to seek out new dishes. The Caribbean week from last year was replaced with West Africa, partly because there is now the new Caribbean Island Bowls at the Husky Den. Once again Journey Through Food is sponsored by HFS, the Residential Community Student Association and the Black Student Commission. 

Here’s a preview of the foods: 

Week 1: This year, Black History Month begins with West Africa (Feb. 1 and 2), whose foods are influenced by proximity to the equator and the trade winds. Think ginger, chilies, peppers, tomatoes and herbs. Worth trying: Chicken Jollof (a one-pot, slow-cooked with rice dish), Salatu Niebi (black eyed pea salad), and fish cakes with spicy Pili Pili tartar sauce. A dish that is usually made with dried or smoked fish and beef, our version of Superkanja includes yams, chickpeas okra and greens. A popular dish from Gambia, this vegetarian version becomes part of the food heritage Chef Tracey and her team focuses on. 

Week 2: More spices from East Africa (Feb. 7, 8 and 9): Aromatic blends of garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, clove, and turmeric. For the second week, here’s an opportunity to try mesir wot (stewed lentils) with gomen (greens), kuku paka (chicken curry) with wali wa nazi (coconut rice), tsehbi sega (beef and lamb saute) with potato-carrot alicha and injera.

Week 3: Travel (gustatory-wise) to North Africa (Feb. 14, 15, 16) where inland desert meets the Mediterranean coast, a land of harissa, lemons, olive oil and fresh herbs. The dishes? Egyptian koshari (rice, pasta and lentils with spicy tomato sauce), charmoula chicken sandwich, savory kofta meatloaf with spicy harissa glaze or winter vegetable tagine.

Week 4:African North America (Feb. 21, 22, 23) provides traditional soul comfort foods. Catfish po’boy sandwich with remoulade and marinated tomatoes, red beans and rice with cornbread, tender smothered pork chops with buttermilk mashed potatoes, fried chicken with slow cooked greens and macaroni and cheese. . .don’t forget the sweet potato banana bread pudding with caramel drizzle for dessert.


InsideHFS JAN 2017 BHM dish

Thoughts about food: While enjoying these dishes, consider these thoughts from Chef Tracey: “Breaking bread with another human being is one of the most pleasurable things you can do,” she noted. “It unites us. And there is rare occasion when we can say that about anything. If we can share that with somebody else, maybe we can learn something about them.” 

She also lauds UW Dining chefs for their desire to stretch their cooking boundaries. In a message to them, she wrote, “I am deeply and moved and humbled by your dedication to the celebration of Black culture. Thank you. It means more than I can express.”

In addition to the scheduled meals at McMahon 8 and Local Point, themed dishes will also be served through the month at Cultivate and the District Market. Chef Torin Munro is featuring a day of celebration at the Athlete’s Table. And Chef Tracey will be offering a soul food/Southern American cooking demonstration at Local Point Thursday, February 16, 6 p.m. Students who attend the demo will quickly realize there’s nothing fast food about the cuisine. This is cooking where the step-by-step preparation process takes time, time to think about the point of cooking. For Chef, it’s that process that gives you pause to think more broadly about our food choices, our sources for food.

Journey Through Food is about awareness. A dish goes through a creation process, and if you become aware of that process, of the steps that lead from the food sourcing to the blending of ingredients to the enjoyment of a meal, then you can have a better appreciation of our relationship to food.  For Chef Tracey, that makes for a “pretty cool” journey.