In 2012, the Chicago Tribune posed a simple yet thought-provoking question to its readers: “Where are the Black chefs?”

The article took a largely unpublicized topic and started peeling back the layers, examining the representation of Black Chefs in the culinary industry. The findings were fascinating: while minority enrollment in culinary schools across the country was on the rise, Black chefs were still underrepresented at top level positions and in popular restaurants. But why? The potential causes ranged from a lack of Black mentors and role models to an assumption that African American foodies just didn’t do gourmet.

We revisit this article to ask a familiar question: Where are the Black chefs? Helping us explore the issue further, we reached out to leading Black chefs and bloggers in the culinary world to give us their first-hand insights. We received candid replies, incredible life stories and a better understanding of a complex issue that is worth chewing over more. The question of Black representation in the world of food sits in a complex marinade of facts, opposing perceptions, exposure and an age-old question about the relevance of color. With this in mind, we invite you to join us as we explore the diversity of the Black experience in the food industry.

We interviewed 15 culinary insiders, from Celebrity Chefs, Healthy Cooks and Connoisseurs of Cuisine to Family Foodies and Self-taught Cooks.

Celebrity Chef Maxcel Hardy

Who inspired your generation of chefs, and what effect did they have on you personally?

I was inspired by a few chefs at my high school; we had a culinary program there [Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida] with chefs who have worked in Palm Beach and throughout the country. Also, my uncle [inspired me]. Seeing his career blossom and getting to work with him throughout college and culinary school was just amazing. And my brother, 20, is in culinary school now at Johnson & Wales University.

Based on your experiences, why do you feel there is an underrepresentation of African Americans in the food industry?

I wrote my college essay on that– [the food industry] is dominated by everyone else, it was never a big to-do [if you were an African American]. You could just do it for a hobby, but through history a lot of African Americans were chefs, [even] chefs for presidents. It was never publicized; it was always kind of a hidden thing. [African Americans] went back into community and started opening restaurants. There wasn’t a lot of culinary schools 25 years ago, but since then, African Americans have taken advantage of that opportunity.

What do you think it will take to both raise the profile and increase African Americans’ representation in the field?

Going back into the inner cities, teaching kids healthy eating and what the food industry is all about– giving these opportunities and showing them that this is really something they can get into and blossom with it. Now we’re working with a charter school in Harlem [Opportunity Charter School] and teaching them how to cook in the culinary school, showing them that this is something they can really do and it’s cool to be a chef. It changes the demographic within our culture, moving away from fatty foods and encouraging healthier options.

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