Klancy Miller was tired of waiting for a mainstream food publication to focus on Black women's stories. So the writer, Le Cordon Bleu–trained pastry chef, and author of the 2016 cookbook Cooking Solo decided to create one: For the Culture, the first food magazine solely focused on and created by Black women.
Currently, the magazine's first issue is set to publish this fall, but Miller and volunteers are already developing For the Culture's concept online and in person. There's a Patreon, featuring additional content for members. The London-based chef Zoe Adjonyoh hosts a weekly Instagram live interview series, and Jenelle Kellam and Keia Mastrianni organized a bake sale to raise money to support the magazine, which so far has been solely financed through crowdfunding that began earlier this year.
When she's not working on the magazine or writing, Miller cooks. Sometimes it's for a group, like the reiki brunches she co-hosts with Davis Thompson-Moss (they're hoping to bring back an outdoor, socially-distanced version sometime in the near future); oftentimes it's just for herself. Miller has been sharing the pleasures of preparing a meal for one for years — see #cookingsolo posts on Instagram.
We discussed the joy of a single-serving strawberry shortcake, For the Culture, and pre- and post-protest meals during what Miller calls "this very special and odd year."
This interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.
Rebecca Firkser: Cooking Solo is subtitled "the fun of cooking for yourself," something I think many needed to be reminded of these past few months. Why were you drawn to finding joy in cooking for one?
Klancy Miller: When I went to live in Paris for culinary school, it was the first time that I lived completely on my own. It was an empowering experience and also really fun. As a culinary student, I was seeing the city through rose-tinted glasses. I was in Paris, I was having a ball.
I did go out to eat a lot when I first got there, but I started to realize it was taking a toll on my budget. I caught a cold and I very much wanted chicken noodle soup. You can't really find the kind of chicken noodle soup that I wanted — it's not a staple there — so I made my own, and that was one of the first memorable things I made just for myself.
I would just buy stuff and experiment. That's how my cooking solo journey began, and I never thought of it as a chore. It was always, for me, an opportunity to kind of play with the foods I bought and follow my curiosity. Like, 'Oh, I've never done anything with gooseberries.' Whatever random thing that I saw at the market became an opportunity to create. These experiences were definitely part of what fueled my decision to write Cooking Solo.
I had actually wanted to write a memoir cookbook about my time in Paris. I put together a book proposal for it, which got roundly rejected. But I still wanted to write a book. At the time (I think was 2012 or 2013), there were more single people than ever before; I saw a need and thought, I can help fulfill this need.
RF: In the book's introduction, you talk about Paris as an extension of the classroom — shopping at different markets for ingredients, letting availability dictate what you eat, shopping for the day, not the week. Have you had to alter that way of shopping and cooking for the past few months?
KM: One of the reasons why I shopped daily in Paris, was that I had a tiny refrigerator. It didn't make sense to buy a ton of food; but I also think it's more fun to do it that way.
The past three months have been a journey. In the beginning I feel like I did three big grocery runs, and was like, 'Okay, I think I'm set.' And then a week or two into the lockdown, I spoke to a friend in California who was like, 'You're gonna need more food. We might be in this for a long time.' So I went back to the grocery store and bought even more. I really was buying nonsense. It was shopping driven by panic.
RF: Has your cooking changed now that we're slowly easing up on that panic?
KM: I feel like I'm cooking with fresh herbs more. Once the weather started to turn and we were given the thumbs up — or I mentally accepted that it's actually okay — to go outside, I started walking to Fort Greene (I live in Bed Stuy). That would be my daily exercise, still is. I was like, instead of ordering delivery from the Greene Grape, I could just shop there myself. I feel like my cooking has gotten slightly more playful because of quarantine.
RF: We're so excited to feature your strawberry shortcake recipe. And I saw that you recently posted it on Instagram with a twist, macerating the berries in St. Germain.
KM: I haven't tried that many twists [besides St. Germain], but you could put vanilla bean in the whipped cream — that would be a nice little addition if you happen to have a pod. If you have access to them and your budget allows — because they are pricey — Harry's Berries are freaking amazing. They're like nature's candy. And at first I was like, this is absurd, $16 for strawberries! But then one day I was like, f**k it, I'm gonna try it out. And they're amazing.
RF: For the Culture is "a magazine celebrating Black women in food and wine," the first publication of its kind. Why did you decide to launch this project?
KM: I was asked a few years ago to guest-edit a Black issue of a food magazine, which I found intriguing. It didn't end up going through, but it kickstarted some ideas of my own, and I began reaching out to people. I was also being introduced to a lot of people who had great ideas, so I just thought, 'I really want to do this.' A friend of mine said, 'You should just do it yourself.' I realized at a certain point, if I don't do this, somebody else will, and I might not like the way they do it. So I'd rather do it myself.
I don't see a lot of representation of Black women in food or in wine. There's not a lot of Black people, period, who are focal points in food media. But even less so for Black women. I feel like we're often contemplating or looking at things, when it comes to mainstream media, from a white perspective. There are other perspectives and I am really interested in what it would be like to have Black women telling food stories, creating images of food and wine and other beverages. What does that even look like? I also felt like I could use a new challenge professionally.
RF: You ran a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo at the beginning of this year to raise money for the magazine. Why did you decide to go the route of crowdfunding?
KM: Well, I didn't have enough money to start it myself. I don't think you should use all your personal resources to start a business, unless you have immense wealth. I definitely think it's good to find investors. I'd seen other independent magazines launch through crowdfunding like Whetstone and Cherry Bombe.
I thought this would be a way to build an audience for the magazine. The whole point of a crowdfunding campaign is to hype it up. I specifically chose Indiegogo because Kickstarter scares me, the fact that it's all-or-nothing. In the case of For The Culture, the goal was $40,000 and the campaign reached $38,000 and change. So, had that been on Kickstarter, I would have been $2,000 short — I wouldn't have gotten the money and I would still be depressed today. The beautiful thing is people ended up Venmo-ing after the campaign ended, so it actually did reach the full $40,000.
RF: For the Culture's goal is to highlight what Black women are creating in food and beverages now, as well as acknowledge and celebrate those who came before you. So many food publications seem focused on looking ahead, finding the next trend. Can you talk about why this magazine aims to pay homage to the past, as well as focus on the present and future?
KM: First of all, it's possible to do very valuable work and have it not be trending. I feel like newsworthiness doesn't have to be related to 'it just happened' or 'it's about to happen.'
I also think, on an educational level, that people need to know about certain individuals, and their influence on history. And some of these people are dead, like Edna Lewis, Leah Chase, B. Smith. Edna Lewis' legacy is layered and multi-dimensional but one huge thing: She was talking about farm-to-table before it became trendy, among many other things. B. Smith, for so many Black women, even Black women who aren't into food and wine, is legendary and a role model. Even though she's no longer here, that doesn't diminish her legacy.
RF: Your first issue's theme was "it's personal." Why was it important to you to focus on the personal stories of Black women?
KM: In a way, this whole project is personal for me. I see it as a project to celebrate, highlight, and see Black women — that is personal. That comes from a personal place of feeling unseen and unappreciated or under-appreciated which, unfortunately, is a theme for Black women. Definitely in this country and other parts of the world as well, so I feel like it's deeply personal to not be seen. It is deeply personal to be undervalued.
Once the pandemic hit, it became clear, through the data, that Black and brown people are being disproportionately affected, at least here in the U.S. I wanted to highlight some of those stories, so I adjusted the call for submissions.
RF: We're seeing a lot of people in the food industry participating in bake sales as a mode of fundraising right now. @bakersagainstracism garnered a great deal of attention in June, as have Natasha Pickowicz's Planned Parenthood bake sales over the past few years. Can you talk about your thoughts on the concept of "protesting" with baked goods?
KM: There's a great history and tradition of that. There's Georgia Gilmore, who I had the honor of writing about last year for The New York Times. During the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, she sold baked goods and meals to help fund the boycott, which of course required cars and gas and insurance. She not only cooked and baked and sold the food she made, she organized other Black women to do the same. So there is Georgia Gilmore, but there was actually a whole community of women doing exactly what Georgia Gilmore did. And they are women who, through their cooking and baking and food sales, supported a boycott that lasted 381 days.
I think it's really amazing that people now, in this moment, are calling on and building on that tradition. There's so many roles for all of us to play right now, and not everybody is going to be an organizer. Not everybody is going to be out in the streets. We all can do different things. A bake sale is a really wonderful example of something simple that has the potential to be really powerful when a lot of people come together and do it for various causes.
RF: You've been physically protesting too, and posted a couple pre- and post-protest meals on Instagram, with captions about the importance of taking time to rest and nourish oneself to fuel activism. Why did you want to share these moments?
KM: Full transparency: For at least one of them — I don't know if I'd posted about food for a while — I thought I should just post something I'm eating. So there is that social media thing when I'm like, content! But, it's very invigorating to go to a protest; under pre-pandemic circumstances, they're cathartic. It feels like you're getting rage out. It feels like you're connecting with other people to voice your anger.
During this period though, it feels even more emotional, and frankly even more exhausting. I think it's amazing that there are people organizing and out in these streets every single day, but I personally realized that I need a break. And also, that there is a pandemic going on. Even though the protesters I've seen have been incredibly responsible, in terms of wearing masks, it is a whole bunch of people gathering during a pandemic.
After I go to a protest, I make sure I remain symptom-free for the next several days and then I'll decide if I want to go to another protest. It is exhausting because of what we're protesting. The fact that this is even happening: It's not just George Floyd, it is Breonna Taylor, it is Tony McDade, it is Ahmaud Arbery, it is Nina Pop — the list goes on and on and on. To really contemplate that, especially as a Black person — it's just truly messed up. And we're in a pandemic.
So, that's all to say that I think you have to take a beat after a protest. Take a minute. That minute could be a few days, a week, a couple weeks, but do check in with yourself. Rest, do whatever it is you need to do to refuel. And that is also the message I wanted to share with those photos. There are many ways for us to be active. And while we're being active, we have to be thoughtful about our physical, emotional, and mental selves — to take care of ourselves and each other.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: A New Food Magazine 'to Celebrate, Highlight & See Black Women'