Food & Folklore: Tracing the Intersections of Food, Identity, and Global Trade

Chef Francis organizes conversations over the table about the links between food, identity, and belonging at Food & Folklore.

Chef Francis organizes conversations over the table about the links between food, identity, and belonging at Food & Folklore

Photo Cred: Chef Tamika Francis

Chef Francis draws on her unique background in geography and the culinary arts to create her food business, Food & Folklore. After following a career in public health, she gravitated to a career in food entrepreneurship, following a long lineage of grandmothers in Kingston, Jamaica. Each with their different ways of preparing traditional Jamaican delicacies, Chef Francis embodies her generational culinary expertise while exploring new food techniques and flavors.

'What does home taste like for you?'

Within Food and Folklore, Chef Francis initially asks, “What does home taste like for you?” While guests often can share their memories of home through food, she eventually draws connections between each guest’s history, drawing attention to major geographical international trade routes.

I start my meals by describing how there are more similarities across their food traditions, either how they consume, what they consume, or when they consume particular ingredients or flavor profiles. I want to show there is almost always a similarity across human beings. It's almost as if we all have the same grandma - she's a different age and race but the same person.

Concentrating on the international farm-to-table

By focusing on how food is produced, distributed, and consumed, she hopes to organize dinners to allow diners to actively participate in a profound understanding of food production. Fascinated by geography, Chef Francis teaches the history of the human ability to grow and preserve foods while showcasing oral generational food traditions.

Curry is symbolic in my home life; it's a meal that any homemaker could make for many people without lots of money. It's made almost always in a Dutch pot. It tastes like history. I say it tastes like being resourceful. Just homely and rooted in tradition and history.

Her passion for this niche within the food industry began with her childhood memories on her family’s property in the rural countryside. Her first memories of food revolve around the farmland, where all produce and animals were raised and slaughtered on the property.

My first distinctive memory of the connection between farming and the celebration of cultural identity was in the rural region of Jamaica. Because I lived in an urban area, it was the first time I saw food produced from start to finish, seeing how food becomes food. I watched my grandpa and family members slaughter a goat and saw my grandma sitting below the coffee trees and cleaning the meat for eating. By the end of the evening, we had curried goat, chicken, and rice.

From these memories of seeing the process of producing meat and constructing a meal, she found these processes central to food creation. Although many chefs are concerned with the meal’s preparation, focusing on cooking techniques, Chef Francis sheds light on the connection between food production from seed to plate.

The Fundamentals of Plantain Cookery

Chef Francis leads her virtual students to understand how bananas and plantains became iconic cultural dishes, from tostones, patacones, aloco, and bannann to maduros, through The Fundamentals of Plantain Cookery.

Working with Fairtrade banana farmers in the Eastern Caribbean, Chef Francis showcases how these trade routes reach the US and worldwide. With her unique perspective as a chef and global trade geographer, she traces the interconnectedness between cultures centering on the plantain.

Documenting oral histories to capture food traditions

Chef Francis gains inspiration for her courses from cookbooks, oral transcriptions, and historical artifacts. However, it is only through travel that she can reach local regions and communities to capture the stories that have yet to be well-documented. Her courses act as living artifacts illuminating the wealth and variety of oral food histories by tracing back through generations of food histories.

Many folks from formerly oppressed cultures will use food to express their identity. Identity comes out within food as people pass on their traditions orally because they can't document their histories. But our food represents where we're from and shows the colonized history of the land.

Chef Francis unlocks the visceral histories that tell the personal and political story of trade routes. She connects food traditions to the land by following international trade routes and political power struggles.

Encouraging conversations from her guests’ lived experiences, Chef Francis hopes to bring attention to international trade and politics in the food space. However, through Food & Folklore, guests can identify more parallels between people in food preparation, ingredients, and meal types. While her courses allow moments to reflect on our differences, Chef Francis teaches us to see our similarities.

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