Activism is at the heart of everything Bryant Terry does. Whether it’s his cookbook writing, work as the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, or grassroots efforts with young people in New York City, he has made it his mission to educate the public about Black foodways.
His latest book, Black Food, is a ground-breaking collection of recipes, essays, poems, and artwork born through collaboration with more than 100 Black folks in the food space and published by his new imprint, 4 Color Books.
“When I say, ‘Black food’ that’s my shorthand for food of the African diaspora,” Terry says. “Often when people hear that term, they’re thinking about African-American cuisine, and when they think about African-American cuisine, I’ve noticed that there are very narrow ways that they’re imagining it. I simply want people to embrace it all.”
Terry began working on Black Food in the summer of 2020—in the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders and the subsequent uprisings. “People were at this point where enough was enough and that moment pushed me to think more deeply about how I can contribute,” he says. “We all can do something to give back.”
Food is often portrayed as a reprieve from the political, but Terry doesn’t believe that to be true. “I’ve had to complicate my own understanding of what activism means,” he says. “Things that I might have traditionally seen as apolitical like growing food at home, or making meals from scratch, or gathering people around the table. They are highly political—dare I say radical in an industrialized food system.”
Above all else, Terry wanted this book to be written without a focus on the white gaze and instead with a focus on Black folks being in conversation with one another. “I wanted the focus to be on our brilliance, our magic, our agency,” he says. “We’ll invite the world to listen in but we’re not trying to explain or justify. This is our love letter to our foodways and to each other, and I feel like we manifested that.”
Amidst the 100 Black voices featured in the book, Terry included a few recipes of his own, including one for a Grape-Tarragon Spritzer, which is also featured in his fourth book, Afro-Vegan. Grape and tarragon aren’t two flavors one would usually think to pair together, but in the book, Terry writes, “The anise-like flavor of tarragon syrup and sweet grape juice go well together in this refreshing, modern drink.”
“The anchor of the drink was the tarragon,” he says. “We had this beautiful herb garden, and I was playing around a lot with herbs at the time.” Meanwhile, Terry was also in the midst of research about wine production on the African continent. We hear much about the wines of Europe and Latin America, but very little about the wines produced in Africa. “I made the tarragon simple syrup and then inspired by the research I was doing, I decided to create this mocktail.”
It was important to him to include a mocktail in the spirit of inclusivity, and as a nod to one of the book’s contributors, chef Gregory Gourdet, who is very public about being sober and who Terry credits with teaching him a lot about the issue of addiction in the culinary world.
Terry recommends enjoying this drink with either some green plantain crisps or crispy cassava skillet cakes, both featured in the book. No matter what you choose to pair it with, Terry believes this drink is best enjoyed al fresca, getting a taste of some fresh air.
Grape-Tarragon Spritzer Recipe
Makes 1 cup
- 1 cup raw cane sugar
- ¼ cup packed minced tarragon
- ½ cup water
- 1½ pounds red seedless grapes (preferably organic)
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup tarragon syrup
- 4 cups sparkling water, chilled until almost frozen
- Sprigs of tarragon for garnish
1. To make the tarragon syrup: Combine the sugar, tarragon, and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir well until hot to the touch and the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. To make the spritzer: Put 8 ounces of the grapes on a large plate and freeze for at least 3 hours, until completely frozen.
3. Remove the remaining grapes from their stems. Put them in a blender and process until completely broken down. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a serving pitcher, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible (compost the solids). This should yield about 1¼ cups of juice.
4. Add the lemon juice and the tarragon syrup and mix well. Add the sparkling water and stir gently to combine.
5. To serve: Put a handful of frozen grapes in each glass, pour in the blended liquid, and garnish with a sprig of tarragon
Reprinted with permission from BLACK FOOD: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora edited by Bryant Terry, copyright © 2021. Published by 4 Color Books, an imprint of Ten Speed Press and Penguin Random House.