Edna Lewis was called the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking so many times, the words are literally etched into her gravestone. No one disputes that honor, but it did make us think: Miss Lewis grew up with such a particular version of Southern cuisine in central Virginia; we wanted to know more about that region. Francis Lam called on the culinary historian Jessica B. Harris to tell us more about it.


"Never forget that African-Americans who were in service cooked. They cooked not only African-American meals, but they cooked they cooked things that were eaten by the families to whom they were in service. Therefore, they had a much wider culinary repertoire than people might otherwise think. Because these were things which were cooked, maybe, for the people for whom they were working, but then equally would cook at home again for themselves and for their families."

- Jessica Harris, discussing the infusion of diverse cuisines in African-American Southern cooking

"I think the food that Miss Edna grew up with - because she certainly lived in an agricultural, seasonally inflected universe - was very local. We talk about the kind of cooking that she did which was very, for want of a better term, sophisticated. Sophisticated in its simplicity. I think the thing that we don't always recognize or acknowledge is the sophistication of Miss Edna's food is that it's simple and simply, beautifully done. It is about the manner in which it is cooked. It's about the ingredients which are cooked. It is about all of that."

- Jessica Harris on the style of Edna Lewis's food

Francis Lam

Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.