There is an archive of cookbooks written by African-Americans about their food — some with recipes for soul food — and often written with a mass audience in mind. Journalist Toni Tipton-Martin chronicled 150 of them, spanning two centuries, in "The Jemima Code" (University of Texas Press).
This year, along with chef JJ Johnson and co-writer Veronica Chambers, Smalls co-authored "Between Harlem and Heaven" (Flatiron Books), which explores the style of Afro-Asian-American food he and Johnson served at Harlem restaurants the Cecil and Minton's, both of which have been relaunched without their involvement.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Calif., Tanya Holland has spent a decade honing her own brand of modernized soul food at her restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen. Her first cookbook, "New Soul Cooking" (Harry N. Abrams), debuted in 2003, and a second one, named for her venue, was published in 2014 (Chronicle Books) and, due to renewed demand, will be reprinted this year. She is frustrated that soul food isn't afforded the same respect as other cuisines and that her contributions — like Hall, she is a French-trained chef and former "Top Chef" contestant — have gone relatively unacknowledged.
"Basically, Carla is writing a book that I tried to write in both of my books," Holland said. "It's just she does have a larger platform than any of us."
Food writer Nicole Taylor sees Hall as "the most visible black person in food right now," and is cautiously hopeful that visibility will enable her cookbook to "be something to open the floodgates" for others. In 2015, when Taylor's "The Up South Cookbook" (Countryman Press) was published, it was, according to New Republic, one of seven culinary books by black women to be published that year, Tipton-Martin's among them.
Despite the fact that food media seem to be expressing increased interest in African-American chefs and their work, Taylor pointed out that the annual number of notable new releases on related material has dwindled. This year, Atlanta chef Todd Richards wrote "Soul" (Oxmoor House) because he also "wanted to present soul food in the modern context," he said, and to show it is a technique-driven cuisine. Vegan blogger Jenne Claiborne wrote "Sweet Potato Soul" (Harmony), part of a growing subgenre. Smithsonian Books has published the Museum of African-American History and Culture's "Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook," co-written by Harris.
More is on the way. Miller's next book, "Black Smoke," which will examine African-American barbecue culture, is in the works, and Tipton-Martin's cookbook follow-up to "The Jemima Code" is on deck for 2020. "Alexander Smalls' African-American Cooking: Essential Recipes for Southern Classics" is due out next winter.