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Episode #209

Food for Thought

Air date 09/21/10
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Jessica B. Harris, Susan Spicer

“I think there’s an awareness, a kind of awareness of food that was lost for a long time,” says Lynne Rossetto Kasper in Writers: Food for Thought. She shares the experiences of her culinary career with Susan Spicer, owner/chef of Bayona Restaurant, and food historian Jessica B. Harris. The host of NPR’s The Splendid Table adds “that we three are sitting here and what we represent is a big statement” about the way that food has permeated American culture.



“I think there’s an awareness, a kind of awareness of food that was lost for a long time,” says Lynne Rossetto Kasper in Writers: Food for Thought. She elaborates that it’s “the political side of food, the ethical side of food as well as the what-do-I-put-in-my-mouth and the health concerns.”

Kasper’s radio show The Splendid Table takes its name from her first book, which won a James Beard medal. At the Writers’ roundtable, she shares the experiences of her culinary career with Susan Spicer, owner/chef of Bayona Restaurant, and food historian Jessica B. Harris.

“That we three are sitting here and what we represent is a big statement,” according to Kasper. “That you could publish what Jessica has published and what she is doing, or that Susan could be doing what she’s doing and doing it to the depth and the breadth that she’s doing it” represents the way food has permeated our culture.

What Jessica B. Harris has done is write numerous books celebrating the foods of the African-Atlantic rim. She’s also written for most of the major food magazines includingGourmet, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, and Eating Well. In addition, she talks about the African diaspora on television and in lectures around the world. Dr. Harris teaches English and French literature at Queens College and is also the Ray Charles Chair in African American Material Culture with a specialty in food and folklore at Dillard University in New Orleans.

What Susan Spicer is doing is running Bayona, a celebrated restaurant she opened Creole cottage nearly twenty years ago. In 2002 Restaurant Magazine named Bayona one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. In 1993, Spicer won the James Beard medal as the Best Chef in the Southeast, and in 2007 she published Crescent City Cooking, her collection of recipes from New Orleans. She is also the co-owner of Wild Flour Breads and of Herbsaint Restaurant.

For all their success, none of these women set out to write books. Instead, they followed their passions. “I always loved food,” says Spicer. She had an “initial flirtation with culinary school” but her father “didn’t consider it a great career move.” She traveled, returned to New Orleans to take care of her ailing father, and at the age of twenty-six, began cooking in “a fancy French restaurant.” This spurred her on. “I was very excited about it.”

Growing up in a family “Italian on both sides,” Kasper says “I had always cooked.”  Food may have been one of her interests, but “when I was starting out, if you wanted to work in food, you were talking about being a home ec teacher or a dietician. Chef, never. And then along came Julia Child.” Although she doesn’t see herself as a writer, Kasper now has three books to her name. She developed a storyboarding technique as she condensed ten years of research into The Splendid Table. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I think I have always been a writer and never really known it,” says Jessica B. Harris. She experienced her food epiphany as a college student in France. “I grew up in a garlic-free household, so the taste of garlic in France was transformative.” During her job as travel editor for Essence Magazine, she noticed similarities in dishes and “that was the genesis of a book.” Many books later, she’s cemented her reputation as a culinary historian. “I am known for hunkering down next to little old ladies and little old men in the marketplace and going, ‘Okay, what’s in there?’”

Harris does most of her writing during summers on Martha’s Vineyard . She works for “three hours in the morning, takes a break, and then another three hours in the afternoon.” Her current project “is a history of African Americans and food,” and she plans to include only historical recipes.  In the future, she hopes to continue to “talk about the food of Africans in the diaspora” and document how cooking is “getting smart.”

Spicer would like to write another book someday. In the meantime, she’ll continue running her wonderful restaurant. “My philosophy was always just to concentrate on what I was doing at the present and then it always just seemed like opportunities would present themselves.”

Kasper thinks the local movement in food is interesting. “We are now in this economic situation,” she says. “And I think the upshot of this is going to be a fairly significant shift. I don’t mean everybody’s suddenly going to become a home cook, but I think people are looking so hard at where they’re spending their money and what they really need. This is going to change some patterns.”



Lynne Rossetto Kasper

The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food, William Morrow Cookbooks, 1992.

The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens, Scribner, 1999.

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show, Clarkson Potter, 2008.


Jessica B. Harris

Hot Stuff: A Cookbook in Praise of the Piquant, Ballantine Books, 1986.

Sky Juice and Flying Fish: Traditional Caribbean Cooking, Fireside, 1991.

Tasting Brazil: Regional Recipes and Reminiscences, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.

The World Beauty Book: How We Can All Look and Feel Wonderful Using the Natural Beauty Secrets of Women of Color, Harper Collins, 1995.

The Welcome Table: African-American Heritage Cooking, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

The Africa Cookbook, Simon & Schuster,  1998.

A Kwanzaa Keepsake: Celebrating the Holiday with New Traditions and Feasts, Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Iron Pots & Wooden Spoons: Africa's Gifts to New World Cooking, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Beyond Gumbo : Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim, Simon & Schuster, 2003.

On the Side: More Than 100 Recipes for the Sides, Salads, and Condiments That Make the Meal, Simon & Schuster, 2004.

The Martha's Vineyard Table, Chronicle Books, 2007.

High on the Hog, Bloomsbury USA, 2011


Susan Spicer

Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, Knopf, 2007.



Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Jessica B. Harris

Susan Spicer



Food and literature

Chicken Yassa

James Beard Foundation


Willie Mae’s Scotch House -- Saving Willie Mae’s



Lynne Rossetto Kasper
The Italian Country Table

Jessica Harris
The Africa Cookbook
Beyond Gumbo
The Martha’s Vineyard Table

Susan Spicer
Crescent City Cooking


Susan Spicer

Lynn Rosetto Kasper

Jessica B. Harris

From A Kwanzaa Keepsake by Jessica B. Harris. Used by permission of the author.

Serves 6

This has become my good luck dish. It was one of the first African dishes that I tasted and it was truly love at first bite. I so live this traditional dish from the Casamance region of southern Senegal that I’ve demonstrated making it on television and taught it to many folk in cooking classes around the country.

This variation of the classic yassatheme uses carrots and pimiento-stuffed olives to create a rich chicken stew.

I often double this recipe because yassa is even better the next day. It also freezes well.


¼ cup fresh lemon juice

4 large onions, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/8 teaspoon minced fresh habanero or other hot chile, to taste

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil

One chicken (2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds), cut into serving pieces

1 habanero or other hot chile, pricked with a fork

½ cup pimiento-stuffed olives

4 carrots, scraped and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

½ cup water


In a large nonreactive bowl, prepare a marinade with the lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, minced chile, and the ¼ cup peanut oil. Place the chicken pieces in the marinade, making sure that they are all well covered, and allow them to marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken pieces, reserving the marinade, and place them in a shallow roasting pan. Broil them until they are lightly browned on both sides. Remove the onions from the marinade. Cook them slowly in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a flameproof 3-quart casserole or dutch oven until tender and translucent. Add the remaining marinade and heat through.

When the liquid is thoroughly heated, add the broiled chicken pieces, the pricked chile, the olives, carrots, mustard, and water. Stir to mix well, then bring the yassa slowly to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot over white rice. 


Producer: Edie Greene
Director: Edie Greene
Technical Director: Clark Lee
Cameras:  Earnest Seals
Ryan Bohling
Jeremy Burson
Chris Bufkin
Floor Director: Laura Mann
Production Audio: John Busbice
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Steve Downing
Production Assistant: C. J. Burks
Location Videography: Jeremy Burson
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editor: Edie Greene
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Laura Mann
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor, John Busbice
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing, Jack Thomas, Frank Cocke, Kenneth Sullivan
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas, Ray Green
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Margaret McPhillips, Mari Irby
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host:  Gene Edwards
Guests: Jessica B. Harris, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Susan Spicer
Director of Productions: Darryl Moses
Director of Content: Jay Woods
Executive Producer: Rick Klein

Special Thanks to Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi

Quotation from How to Eat Supper courtesy of Sally Swift and Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

Image of Edda Pollinstrini by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and courtesy of the photographer. All rights reserved.

Fanfare and sound from The Splendid Table used by permission of The Splendid Table. All rights reserved.

Image of Sally Swift and Lynne Rossetto Kasper courtesy of American Public Media: Ann Marsden, photographer. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Saving Willie Mae’s Scotch House documentary by Joe York courtesy of Joe York and the University of Mississippi. All rights reserved.


Created by Gene Edwards, John Evans

Copyright © MAET 2010


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