Baking is about soul searching and power as well as eating, says American food writer Jerrelle Guy21st Mar 18 | Lifestyle
She's the blogger and baker extraordinaire, who will help you dig deep through food. Ella Walker finds out how.
You may not have heard of food writer and stylist Jerrelle Guy yet, but once you see it, you’ll want to jump right into her debut cookbook, Black Girl Baking.
Packed with recipes that are both decadent and vegan-friendly – from banana bread to a fudgy flourless brownie pie – the US-based baker, born in South Florida, grew up watching the Food Network (“It was my Saturday morning cartoon”), studied gastronomy at Boston University, and writes recipes alongside her partner, Eric, on their blog Chocolate For Basil.
Here, the 27-year-old tells us about her love of food, why it’s about far more than flavours on a plate, and a thing or two about ‘honey buns’…
Why did you want to write Black Girl Baking?
“Because it was my reality, and I wanted to share what I’d learned about myself, food, African American food-ways and my spirituality. It just felt right and honest, and a creative way to tell my story. I also hadn’t heard a lot of people talking about baking or blackness the way I was experiencing it.”
What was inspiring you when you sat down to piece the book together?
“I was inspired by #blackgirlmagic and was thinking about merging the food world with this virtual movement that honoured the natural beauty of black women as they exist, without comparison, in the social landscape. I thought it was fitting, especially during a time when blackness was feeling so undervalued; to stand up boldly and claim myself and my body in an unapologetic and loving way felt necessary. Black women have so much to bring to the table – and have historically built the table American food rests on – and those contributions should be acknowledged and celebrated.”
How do you think conversations and expectations around what we eat need to change?
“As someone who chose veganism at a young age for all the wrong reasons, I’m at a place now where I think it’s best if we all just eat more intuitively and practice listening to our own bodies. We also need to talk about food in a way that makes it inclusive, flexible and freeing, instead of another space where women are limited and required to shrink or define themselves with extra labels. All this starts with how we speak to ourselves. Not being ashamed of what we eat, how much we eat and how much we love and celebrate food, trusting our gut. It can take a lot of work, but awareness of our own food shaming is a good first step.”
What do you want people to take from the book?
“I’d like for them to be adventurous in the kitchen, make mistakes with self-compassion, explore, get lost and find themselves, and be inspired to do their own soul-searching through cooking and experimentation, without getting caught up in perfection. For me, baking should be more about the process and about enjoying the solo journey in the kitchen; everyone’s response to your masterpiece can be the icing, but the real work happens in solitude – you gotta do the dirty work on your own.”
What have you discovered about yourself through your own cooking-related soul-searching?
“That I hate rules. That I have brought a lot of my history and pieces of my grandma and mom and dad with me into things I do subconsciously; that I get bored quickly making the same things over and over again. That I bring a lot of the methods I learned in art school into almost everything I do, especially baking. That if I am resourceful, everything I need is right here with me in my memories, creativity, rhythm and body.”
How would you describe your style in the kitchen?
“Pretty loose, partly chaotic, but also methodical, messy, creative, imperfect – and I use my bare hands as often as possible.”
What flits through your mind when you bake?
“It’s usually clearer when I’m in the kitchen than it ever is throughout the day. I am inspired thinking about building up to the end result. I think about the flavours building too, and the way things feel, and then how happy and free I am, and how my life is so fun and relaxing – like its own cooking show. Ha!”
What makes the process of baking powerful for you?
“It puts me in touch with the rawest part of myself. Baking also makes me feel rich and fancy because, since I was a little girl, I associated fresh baked things with abundance.”
What is your earliest food memory?
“Sitting on my mom’s lap while she fed me a ‘yolky egg sandwich’ — two pieces of white bread sandwiching a fried, peppered egg with lots of ketchup. She’d put the sandwich on a plate and then cut into it with the side of her fork. Anticipation would build up as she’d alternate between feeding me and feeding herself, and as she’d get closer to the centre of the sandwich where the egg yolk was nestled. Eventually she’d burst it open and it would ooze out everywhere, then she’d sop it up with the ketchup-stained bread and give me the good bite.”
What would you say to people who find the thought of baking stressful?
“Focus on the process and get lost in that. Whatever you make will taste exactly like how you are feeling when you make it, so stop feeling stressed and stiff and just let yourself feel good.”
Finally, what are honey buns and why are they so great? (We don’t get them in the UK!)
“YES! Honey Buns! They are these saccharine, enriched breads that are coiled into a spiral, deep fried, icing-soaked and vacuum-packed. They’re as soft as sponges and melt in your mouth when you bite into them. They were a huge part of my childhood. We’d buy them for a dollar or 75 cents along with pickled eggs, hot sausages, and hot Cheetos from the ‘corner store lady’, who was basically an entrepreneur woman who lived on the end of the block and sold snacks she’d buy in bulk and sell cheaper than the actual corner store. They were our dessert after all those salty snacks.”
Black Girl Baking by Jerrelle Guy is published by Page Street Publishing, priced £16.99. Available now.
© Press Association 2018