Sustaining Culinary Heritage: Chef Anya Peters' Journey Through Food and Oral Histories

Explore the vibrant history of Caribbean food with Chef Anya Peters. Discover her journey of preserving culinary traditions and family histories.

Sustaining Culinary Heritage: Chef Anya Peters' Journey Through Food and Oral Histories

Photo Cred: Anya Peters

Chef and Oral Historian Anya Peters Spotlights Culinary Histories through Kit an' Kin

Chef Anya Peters identifies her culinary craft as she captures the oral histories of food culture and then recreates them within her start-up, Kit an’ Kin. Uncovering personal memories and tracing her history, Chef Peters recovers lost recipes only remembered within the spoken stories shared within her family. Recording and transcribing these personal stories, Chef Peters captures a historical narrative that would have been otherwise lost to time while preserving the oral tradition through which this culinary knowledge has been passed down.

Kit an' Kin means friends and family

Sharing these stories through Kit an’ Kin, Chef Peters actively preserves her heritage through the recreation of family recipes combined with telling stories to guests that she has recovered from her recordings and transcriptions. Kit an’ Kin, centered in their Brooklyn-based culinary studio, specifically records Caribbean storytelling through the lens of food and reproduces generational recipes using traditional techniques. By recreating these meals, Chef Peters gives life to her stories and the stories she collects and honors.

As a first-generation Caribbean American growing up in New Jersey, Chef Peters remembers Sunday dinners with her grandmother the most. Not restricted to immediate family members, these dinners often brought together hundreds from the community, her grandmother serving up her version of callaloo and fresh fish. Chef Peters pulls from these childhood memories into her culinary practice, remembering her father and grandmother in the kitchen – Chef Peters grew up in the kitchen, surrounded by the aromas and flavors of the Caribbean.

As a first-generation Caribbean American, I don't stick to 'authentic' traditions but rather reproduce certain dishes from what I learned from my Trinidadian and Jamaican parents in New Jersey. But my meals are as 'authentic' to me.

After high school, she pursued her passions professionally, from her family home to the culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America. One of her courses, Anthropology of Food, particularly resonated with her, where she examined how different communities produced and prepared dishes and how other communities document their foods. Seeing how different communities recorded their stories within food histories, both within the ingredients themselves and their preparation, she found gaps within the food histories of her family and her entire Caribbean heritage.

As most older generations of families passed down their food history through oral tradition, showing their children how to spice and season or tell if produce is ripe, Peters realized that, without transcription, this history was at risk of being lost. As newer generations are growing up with different culinary experiences, she found a need to document the recipes by recording conversations with her relatives and listening to them share their processes.

By documenting these stories, I can learn more about the person behind the dish and their relationship to food. I can record the way they cook and their techniques while sharing their voices within the recording – oral stories that are often lost. I'm learning about their childhoods, how their grandmothers used to cook, and what they used to eat. And at the same time, I'm learning how to cook from them, how much oil to use, and how much seasoning to use.

However, through her anthropology of food course, Chef Peters found that the stories shared with the meal preparation examine more than the food itself but the interconnectedness of how we relate to one another.

My main inspiration for my meals stems from remembering my grandma's Sunday suppers – from ackee and saltfish to callaloo. I want my guests to feel like they are being served at my grandma's Sunday suppers with me, telling them stories of her growing up in Jamaica.

Celebrating Caribbean foodways through multimedia

Founding Kit an’ Kin in 2017, Peters began to share her culinary heritage through private catering and food delivery of Caribbean classics. However, over the years, Kit an’ Kin has evolved into a space for stories of home through multimedia production shot through her home in the tri-state area and the Caribbean.

As a community leader in cultural preservation, Chef Peters became a Mangrove Flatbush Central Exchange Fellow, receiving funding and access to community resources in Brooklyn. Through Mangrove, Chef Peters has begun to document the Caribbean diaspora within Flatbush, Brooklyn, collaborating with Brooklyn businesses and other community leaders.

From collecting oral histories of her local community in Brooklyn to tracing back the historical narratives of her own generational line, Chef Peters intertwines culinary practice and food history. Her methodology for documenting these community stories and her family’s oral histories allows her to preserve food narratives and share knowledge with future generations.

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