What We Do, Why It Matters
The James Hemings Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to illuminating the significant contributions of James Hemings; and countless under acknowledged culinary masters of African descent throughout American history. Our work helps to expand an understanding of Black American food history & culinary arts beyond the “soul food” catchall category to reveal the breadth and depth of it’s impact on the creation of American cuisine at large. JHS work benefits all Americans as seek to restore our too often untold but shared food history and culture the myriad ways that culture (wisdom, nutritional knowledge, health & wellbeing… survival!) are all exchanged through our understanding and appreciation of food and drink.
Join JHS in:
- Remembering / Acknowledging …countless unknown and the few known African-heritage food foundation forebears who came before us — to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for our very existence as well as so many delicious edibles taken for granted today…
- Showcasing a new generation of African American chefs and culinary professionals;
- Creating new career opportunities and connections.
Help JHS Develop Program Initiatives:
The Living Library, Educational Programs and Culinary Scholarships:
- Our Living Library: An culinary history archive full of informative information, rich historical narratives, pod casts, historic events and recipes that teaches about America’s lost history of food and drink.
- Culinary Conversations Series & Family Recipe Archive Project: An educational program designed to preserve and foster culinary wisdom transfer across generations. Help us bring JHS programs to schools, youth and local community centers and cultural institutions.
- “Chefs Abroad” Program: Help provide young and emerging black culinary professionals with educational opportunities to expand their experience with overseas internships. (Not unlike James Hemings himself nearly three centuries ago.)
Did you Know ?
America’s first classically trained Chef de Cuisine was an enslaved black man owned by Thomas Jefferson? By his late teens, James Hemings (1765 – 1801) was well versed in in colonial Virginian cookery — via the famed Monticello kitchen and it’s accomplished cooks (although historically under-acknowledged ).
James Hemings a Culinary Master
When Thomas Jefferson was appointed Trade Minister to Paris, he took the talented James along for the express purpose of learning the French culinary arts.
James started his training immediately, apprenticing (and excelling!) in the best kitchens in 18th century France. Upon completing his training with the master pastry chefs, he took over the kitchen at Jefferson’s private residence on the Champs Elysée, Hotel Langeac, America’s first diplomatic Embassy. He made elaborate, extravagant meals for Royalty and the most discerning palates in France.James was the first American Chef de Cuisine, who had created his unique signature style of half Virginian and half French haute cuisine, while in Paris and built upon that when he returned to America where he planned and prepared stately dinners at Jefferson’s many residences (Philadelphia, New York…)
The famous Hamilton-Jefferson (“The Room Where it Happened”) dinner and many other critical foreign and domestic diplomatic affairs were conducted over meals created and cooked by this unsung master chef. James Hemings’ culinary contributions, as well as the genius of generations of African American cooks that came before after him, have been almost entirely unknown — and nearly lost. Until now…
“The James Hemings Foundation serves to shed light on and acknowledge centuries-old African American cookery and cuisine that is to date, sparsely documented and credited. Inventive, groundbreaking cooks like James Hemings, who introduced and helped to popularize many iconic, all-American dishes like ice cream and macaroni and cheese, have been overshadowed for generations by slavery’s and subsequent, systemic biases and cumulative injustices. For centuries they have been “ghosts in the kitchen.”
~ Chef Ashbell McElveen, Founder, JHS
“The culinary legacy of descendants of enslaved people — that of most African Americans today — is intrinsic to every single aspect of American foodways, yet not part of the “Nation of Immigrants” narrative — nor most of this nation’s recorded history.”
~ Tonya Hopkins, a.k.a. “The Food Griot”, JHS Co-Founder & Culinary Scholar
Donate to JHS:
It Takes a Village Creating the James Hemings Foundation would not be possible without the generous support of donors and sponsors. Forward-thinking individuals and organizations that celebrate diversity are encouraged to provide support in the form of cash contributions, in-kind product donations, other resources and services. It takes collective work and responsibility to realize the events, programs and opportunities offered by JHS.
Food purveyors, wine producers and distributors, local farmers and produce suppliers, food and beverage brands, quality of life products and services, are among the sponsor categories that can benefit from an association with JHS….