OCC Patron, Jessica B. Harris, honoured with James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award 2020
1st April 2020
The James Beard Foundation recently named Jessica B. Harris as the recipient of the 2020 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. Widely regarded as America’s highest honour in the food world, it is bestowed upon ‘a person in the industry whose body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America.’
Following in the footsteps of icon Leah Chase, Jessica is only the second African American woman to receive the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award since its formation in 1991. Previous winners include M.F.K. Fisher, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Chuck Williams and Robert Mondavi.
Jessica is an author, editor, and translator of eighteen books. Her twelve works on food document the foodways of the African Diaspora – a topic on which she is an internationally recognised authority – and include Hot Stuff: A Cookbook in Praise of the Piquant; Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking; Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim; and High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America. Her other works include My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir and the forthcoming Vintage Postcards from the African World, a work presenting images of the foodways and celebrations of the African Atlantic World.
On learning of her award, Jessica commented: “I am humbled, honored, and more than a little astonished to receive this singular award. I am mindful that while my name is on it, it is also meant for those African Americans in the hospitality world in the past who labored unheralded, un-thanked, and for too many centuries unpaid or underpaid. I hope that this extraordinary honor heralds the beginning of a new era when all Americans can sit down and fully participate at the nation’s table and none of us are strangers at the feast.”
A culinary historian, Harris lectures internationally, is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and served on numerous boards for many professional culinary, publishing, and editorial organizations. In almost five decades as a journalist, Harris has written extensively about the cultures of Africa and its diaspora for publications including Essence (where she was travel editor from 1977-1980), Cooking Light, Garden & Gun, Eating Well, Food & Wine, Saveur, The New York Times, and German Vogue, and has made television appearances on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Sara Moulton’s Cooking Live, and B. Smith with Style, among others. Within the hospitality industry she has served as a consultant for national and international organizations ranging from Kraft Foods to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, where her research and writings were essential to the development of the museum’s Sweet Home Café project, and is currently the lead curator for the Museum of Food and Drink’s exhibition, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table. A native of New York City, Harris is Professor Emerita at Queens College/CUNY in New York City, where she was a professor for fifty years. Harris is the first African American woman to have addressed a graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America.