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28 minutes | Nov 30, 2022
In Houston, Three Tastes of West Africa
In the episode “In Houston, Three Tastes of West Africa,” Gravy producer Kayla Stewart takes listeners to her hometown of Houston, Texas, which boasts one of the most vibrant international food scenes in the country. It’s a city where Black Americans have built their own communities and pathways to success, and where diversity is prized. It’s also where West African immigrants—from Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, and beyond—have created their own stories, including through food. To find out why Houston is the center of this West African renaissance, Stewart starts at Safari restaurant, which Margaret and Hector Ukegbu opened in the 1990s. Safari helped appease the homesickness many Nigerians felt when they first arrived in the United States in the late 20th century. To understand why the restaurant is so significant, we’ve got to understand Houston’s Black community and the landscape of Nigeria during the second part of the 20th century. During the 1960s and 1970s, decades critical to the Black Power Movement across the country, Black universities sought ways to connect with African countries, and vice versa. When the U.S. passed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, it became easier for Africans to migrate to the U.S. Houston universities welcomed a huge number of students from several African countries, particularly from Nigeria. This was a period of political instability in Nigeria. The Nigerian Civil War was technically only three years, culminating in 1970 but the war created emotional, economic, and political ramifications. Many Nigerians sought new opportunities in the United States, as did immigrants from nearby countries like Ghana, Senegal, and Liberia. Houston, thanks to its numerous universities, ample job opportunities and hot, familiar climate, was appealing. And once they were here, they looked for the foods they loved from home. Margaret Ukegbu started cooking and selling Nigerian food out of her home, such as rice dishes and plantains. Eventually, she and Hector opened Safari, which serves traditional Nigerian dishes like pepper soup with goat meat and egusi soup. For 25 years, they’ve served families and leaders from across the West African diaspora. Over time, Houston has become an incubator of sorts for West African chefs and restaurateurs to get creative and explore the possibilities of West African dining. In this episode, Stewart interviews Kavachi Ukegbu, the daughter of Margaret and Hector, who currently runs Safari with her mother. She also speaks with Ope Amosu, the chef and entrepreneur behind ChòpnBlọk, a West African fast-casual restaurant in Houston, who’s on a mission to share the cuisine with American diners and change the narrative around the continent’s bounty. Finally, Stewart hears from Cherif Mbodji, the Senegalese-American general manager of the elegant restaurant Bludorn, about bringing Senegalese food and flavors to fine dining.
28 minutes | Nov 23, 2022
The Joyful Black History of the Sweet Potato
In “The Joyful Black History of the Sweet Potato,” Kayla Stewart reports for Gravy on sweet potatoes, which Southern-born Black Americans have baked, roasted, fried, distilled—and long revered. Stewart takes listeners across the United States to learn how African Americans are finding new, interesting ways to enjoy sweet potatoes. Harvey and Donna Williams own and operate Delta Dirt Distillery in Helena, Arkansas. Both grew up in Arkansas, and Harvey was raised on a farm that has been in his family for generations. His father began growing sweet potatoes to make efficient use of his small acreage, and Williams grew to love the root for its nutritional value. At a conference, he met an entrepreneur distilling sweet potatoes and decided to try it himself. In 2021, Delta Dirt Distillery was born, earning a host of beverage awards. But for the Williams family, success is about more than medals. It’s about recognizing the history and pride associated with sweet potatoes–a history that’s likely made the product even more compelling to Black Americans in the area. Jeremy Peaches is an agriculture consultant who works at Lucille’s 1913, a non-profit organization operated by Houston chef Chris Williams that aims to combat food insecurity in vulnerable communities. While sweet potatoes are beloved for their sweet, earthy flavor, Peaches says they were also one of the first major sources of economic opportunity for Black American farmers, in part thanks to their resilience during the annual harvest. Though sweet potatoes can be enjoyed raw, roasted, or distilled, there’s nothing quite like the sweet potato pie. To understand how these pies have been comforting Southerners around the holidays for centuries, Stewart steps into the kitchen with restaurateur and cookbook author Alexander Smalls, who explains the history of sweet potato pie and why Black Americans make such a strong claim to the dish. Finally, Joye B. Moore, owner of Joyebells Desserts and Countrysides, tells of the generational traditions that make her famous sweet potato pies so exceptional. For this episode, Stewart interviews Harvey Williams, Jeremy Peaches, Alexander Smalls, and Joye B. Moore to learn how this root vegetable nourishes Black entrepreneurs, cooks, and communities—bodies and souls.
25 minutes | Nov 16, 2022
Annie Laura Squalls and Her Mile High Pie
In “Annie Laura Squalls and Her Mile High Pie,” Gravy producer Kayla Stewart tells the story of Annie Laura Squalls, who, in 1960, became head baker at the Caribbean Room, the popular in-house restaurant at New Orleans’ renowned Pontchartrain Hotel. It was there where Squalls created her “Seven Mile High Pie,” known colloquially as the “Mile High Pie.” But while many people know the legendary pie, most don’t know the baker behind it. Squalls was no ordinary baker. Though she never attended culinary school, she could make sweet magic happen, often thinking on her feet to tweak a recipe to perfection. Chef Nathaniel Burton and activist and socialite Rudy Lombard included Squalls’ Mile High Pie recipe in their 1978 book Creole Feast: Fifteen Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets, writing, “No one could duplicate her expertise.” The Mile High Pie is a twist on a Baked Alaska, with layers of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry or peppermint ice cream in a pie crust, topped with tall peaks of meringue and chocolate sauce. The dessert is prominently on display in New Orleans. Vogue once named it one of the city’s most decadent desserts. Still today, it’s the first item listed on the dessert menu in the restaurant at the Pontchartrain Hotel. The hotel promotes their long-running Mile High Club, an exclusive dining experience named for the dish. Yet Stewart found no reference anywhere to Annie Laura Squalls. That lack of recognition speaks to a bigger issue. Despite the multicultural influences that have made New Orleans cuisines so globally-lauded, Black pastry chefs, cooks, and culinary innovators have rarely been given adequate appreciation or recognition for their invaluable influences on the city’s cuisine. In this episode, Stewart speaks to Zella Palmer, chair and director of the Dillard University Ray Charles program in African American Material Culture who aims to trace and amplify the work of Black chefs and cooks in and around New Orleans. She also interviews historian Theresa McCulla, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, and Kaitlin Guerin, pastry cook and owner of New Orleans’ Lagniappe Baking. In her reporting, Stewart shows how remembering stories like Squalls’ allows us to understand a true, fuller history of New Orleans.
3 minutes | Oct 12, 2022
SFA Symposium and Spoonbread
A reflection on the 2004 Southern Foodways Symposium, by soul food scholar Adrian Miller.
2 minutes | Sep 28, 2022
A Symposium Memory
A reflection on the first Southern Foodways Alliance Barbecue Symposium, by Founding Director John T. Edge.
24 minutes | Sep 14, 2022
Rib Tips, Hot Links, and the Mississippi Roots of Chicago Barbecue
In “Rib Tips, Hot Links, and the Mississippi Roots of Chicago Barbecue,” Gravy producer Courtney DeLong dives into the history of Chicago barbecue and its connection to the Great Migration. When people think about the best barbecue cities in America, they tend to think about places like Memphis, Kansas City, and Austin. In doing so, many neglect a unique and innovative barbecue hub: Southside Chicago. Melt-in-your mouth rib tips and seasoned hot links sitting on freshly-crisped french fries, topped off with a slice of white bread. Sweet and tangy sauce on the side. Almost always served to-go. The story of Chicago-style barbecue begins, in part, in the Great Migration. Between 1910 and 1970, six million Black Americans left their homes in the South to escape the violence of Jim Crow segregation and pursue greater economic, educational, and social opportunities. Chicago became a major destination, especially for migrants from Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi. From 1910 to 1940, the city’s total Black population grew fivefold. By 1970 it had grown from under 50,000 to over 1 million. Once early migrants traveled to Chicago, they established community networks that encouraged family and friends to join them. Facing discrimination, red-lining, and sometimes debilitating homesickness, Black migrants built neighborhoods and community structures that supported each other and welcomed Black Chicagoans. Barbecue was one of the practices that made the journey north. Pitmasters built outdoor smokers made from box springs or empty barrels, and learned to use aquarium pits. They set up takeaway stands in vacant lots and front lawns across the city’s Black neighborhoods. Operating within the constraints of their spaces and supplies, they created rib tips from the edges of pork ribs, and hot links, a spicy sausage. For this episode of Gravy, DeLong interviews Charlie Robinson, who moved to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta and founded Robinson’s Ribs with the techniques he learned in his youth. Dr. Marcia Chatelain, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who studies the Great Migration and food, describes the experiences, challenges, and opportunities that migrants faced in their new homes. DeLong also speaks with Dr. Barbara Ann Bracy, whose parents started the beloved barbecue restaurant Barbara Ann’s, and Mimi Johnson of Alice’s Bar-B-Que. Chicago-style barbecue tells the story of Black Americans who made the best of impossible decisions. To learn more about Chicago and the Great Migration, this episode’s producers encourage readers to explore Dr. Chatelain’s books Southside Girls and Franchise, Michelle R. Boyd’s Jim Crow Nostalgia, and Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. For more on the history of barbecue we recommend Adrian Miller’s Black Smoke and for an understanding of the political power of food we recommend Frederick Douglas Opie’s Southern Food and Civil Rights. The episode was produced and reported by Courtney DeLong and co-produced and co-reported by Jess Eng.
23 minutes | Sep 7, 2022
Father, Son, Fire: A Chat with Howard and Harrison Conyers
In “Father, Son, Fire: A Chat with Howard and Harrison Conyers,” the fourth episode in Gravy’s five-part series on barbecue, Howard Conyers—a barbecue expert and NASA rocket scientist—introduces listeners to a formative influence in his barbecue education and journey: his father, Harrison Conyers. Some people find barbecue, but the Conyers family was born into a barbecue tradition that survived in the community. Growing up in the small town of Paxville, South Carolina, Howard didn’t go to restaurants to eat barbecue. Within a five-mile radius, there was no shortage of whole hog barbecue cooks (and the “whole hog” part was always implied). Howard has spent years researching the Black origins of barbecue and traveled the world to gather stories of others who work the pits. His passion for barbecue comes from his own childhood, as he grew up in a family of skilled barbecue cooks. The contributions of cooks in Southern barbecue pits are widely overlooked, especially those that are not affiliated with restaurants covered widely in mainstream media, or those from rural, agrarian areas of the South. Howard now lives in New Orleans, but he travels home often to barbecue with his family. In this special episode of Gravy, Howard interviews his father—whom he calls a hidden figure in his work and the world of barbecue—about some of his favorite projects that the two have worked on together over the years. In this episode of Gravy, Howard and Harrison first discuss farming and its link to barbecue cultures across the South, as those who worked the fields during Harrison’s generation were the same people preserving the barbecue tradition we know. Next, they recall working together to barbecue a whole cow in the tradition of smoking steers and ox in the American South. Harrison used his skills as a master welder to bring Howard’s complex pit design to life for the Gumbo Jubilee in New Orleans. Finally, they talk about the barbecue pit that Harrison and countless other people of his era knew in the ground, which used metal pipes in place of tree limbs. Barbecue changes as the country progresses, Howard notes, but it’s important to remember the past. Stories of other teachers of this craft, and his experiences cooking with his father, inspire his research and work.
25 minutes | Aug 31, 2022
Southern Barbecue Goes West
In “Grandpa’s Barbecue Blooms Out West,” Gravy producer Monica Gokey takes listeners to Idaho Falls, Idaho, to explore what happens when a Southerner leaves the South and opens a barbecue joint in the West. Grandpa’s Southern Bar-B-Q originally opened in the small town of Arco, Idaho, which is obscurely famous for being the first community in the U.S. powered by nuclear energy. At the time Grandpa’s opened, Arco’s population was about a thousand people. It was an unlikely location for any restaurant, much less a Southern food restaurant. Menu items like smoked brisket, collard greens, gumbo, and buttermilk pie were new fare for many locals, and it wasn’t the locals who patronized Grandpa’s at first. It was tourists—either passing through Arco on their way to Yellowstone or the nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon is aptly named, and in 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts flew to Craters for a bootcamp on rocks. Their Apollo mission was focused on lunar exploration, and they spent time at Craters learning how to be field geologists. Thirty years later, park administrators got the idea to invite the surviving Apollo 14 astronauts back to Craters to commemorate the Monument’s 75th anniversary. Grandpa’s had been open for four years at that point. A reporter who was in town to cover the Apollo 14 astronauts’ return to Idaho stopped in for barbecue, and ended up doing a short feature on Grandpa’s for the Idaho Statesman. That news story in Idaho’s largest daily was something of a lift-off moment for Grandpa’s. Spoiler alert: Grandpa’s flourished. It became a destination eatery—so much so that the owners, the Westbrook family, started keeping guest registries for visitors from around the world. Grandpa’s has since moved to the larger city of Idaho Falls, where you can sometimes find three generations of Westbrooks working the restaurant. The food has stayed true to its roots. At 79 years young, Lloyd is the pitmaster. His wife Loretta is the queen of desserts and sides. Kids and grandkids also help out. That familial atmosphere is something the Westbrooks extend to their customers, too. Everyone is treated like family when they step through the door. When Grandpa’s first opened its doors, the Westbrooks were the only African American family living in Arco. They saw it as an opportunity to build bridges, and even taught a Black history curriculum at the local school. For this episode, Monica Gokey talks to Lloyd and Loretta Westbrook, co-owners of Grandpa’s Southern Bar-B-Q, to learn how they built a thriving barbecue restaurant in the West. Listen to hear how the Westbrooks have learned to use food and friendliness as a vessel to build bridges in their community.
20 minutes | Aug 24, 2022
Brisket Pho, a Viet Tex Story
In “Brisket Pho, a Viet Tex Story,” Gravy producer Jess Eng explores the emergence of Viet Tex, a cuisine created in recent years by contemporary Vietnamese-Texan chefs. These chefs grew up steeped in multicultural dining, eating Central Texas barbecue alongside family recipes. Now, in their own businesses, they marry smoked meats and barbecue spices with the flavorful broths and bright herbs that characterize Vietnamese dishes. Houston is ground zero for Viet Tex, and with good reason. Houston is the most diverse city in America and, by extension, one of the country’s most vibrant food cities. 140,000 Vietnamese residents call Houston home, the largest community outside Vietnam and southern California. Vietnamese cajun crawfish restaurants, coffee roasters, and banh mi shops draw steady crowds. And just around the corner from the Vietnamese restaurants are Houston’s historic barbecue joints. Many Vietnamese refugees sought homes in the United States after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 and brought over their relatives. Gulf regions were particularly attractive because of their humid semi-tropical environment and thriving fishing, boating, and engineering industries, which felt like home to the Vietnamese. California, Louisiana, and Texas all fit the bill. Historically, Texas had welcomed more refugees than any other state. Many Vietnamese families took note of its growing Vietnamese diaspora, which saw another increase after Hurricane Katrina. This diaspora created dire circumstances within which Vietnamese Americans have created distinct regional cuisines. In 1981, Vietnamese shrimpers on the Texas Gulf Coast faced an angry mob of Klansmen who came at the invitation of jealous white fishermen. The Southern Poverty Law Center brought suit against the KKK, and seafood became a symbol of resilience for Vietnamese Americans. It's a pattern of adaptation and evolution that Vietnamese immigrants have long used to survive. For Gravy, Eng speaks to Don Nguyen, the Houston-based pitmaster and owner of Khoi Barbecue, whose brisket pho has made him a force in the barbecue world. Houston-born writer Dan Q. Dao explains why the term “fusion” undervalues the collision of organic cultures and cuisines, and how hybrid cuisines can keep ingredients alive. Andrew Ho, co-owner of San Antonio’s Curry Boys BBQ, tells of his journey to making brisket burnt ends submerged in flavorful white curry. Thanks to contemporary Vietnamese chefs, Eng argues, Viet Tex is shaping the growing canon of Southern and American food. Acknowledgments: The primary producer for this episode is Jess Eng, with co-production credits going to Courtney DeLong. Thanks goes to Don Nguyen, Andrew Ho, Sean Wen, Andrea Nguyen, Dan Q. Dao, Dennis Ngo, Johnny Huyhn, and Teresa Trinh of the Vietnamese Culture and Science Organization.
24 minutes | Aug 17, 2022
Henry Perry, Kansas City's Barbecue King
In “Henry Perry, Kansas City’s 'Barbecue King,'” Gravy producer Mackenzie Martin tells the story of Henry Perry, the first person to really make a living selling barbecue in Kansas City. He even coined the local style. But, until recently, most people in KC didn’t know his name. Perry was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, and started learning how to barbecue when he was just seven. By fifteen, he was cooking professionally on a steamboat that traveled up and down the Mississippi River—taking him to Chicago, Minneapolis, and, finally, Kansas City. With a thriving meatpacking industry and abundance of hardwood trees, the city was a perfect destination for an aspiring barbecue entrepreneur. Perry was just that. In the early twentieth century, he started out selling barbecue from a stand, and later moved his operation to Kansas City’s historic 18th & Vine neighborhood, where liquor was free-flowing and jazz was just emerging. Over his long career, Perry’s business savvy led him to own multiple restaurants, eventually giving himself the nickname, “Barbecue King.” By the 1930s, people started following his lead. There were close to 100 barbecue restaurants in the area. And when Perry died, in 1940, his three notable apprentices went on to cook for the two most historically famous barbecue restaurants in Kansas City: Arthur Pinkard at the first Gates BBQ, and Texas brothers Arthur and Charlie Bryant, who created Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. It all begs the question: Would Kansas City even be known for barbecue without Henry Perry? And why, until recent years, didn’t the average Kansas Citian know who he was—even one who was related to him? In this episode, Martin talks to local Kansas City historians Erik Stafford and Sonny Gibson; James Watts, the Ombudsman at the Black Archives of Mid-America; and historian Andrea Broomfield, to learn about Perry’s influence and legacy in Kansas City. Finally, she speaks with Bernetta McKindra, Perry’s granddaughter, who only truly began to learn of her grandfather’s achievements in 2017, a few years after he was inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame. How might it have been different, Martin asks, if McKindra grew up in a Kansas City where she saw her grandfather’s name everywhere? Mackenzie Martin, a podcast producer and reporter at KCUR, created this episode of "Gravy." She helps make A People’s History of Kansas City and Hungry For MO. An earlier version of this story aired on the KCUR Studios podcast, A People's History of Kansas City.
28 minutes | Jun 15, 2022
Bread and Friends
In “Bread and Friends,” the final episode in her five-part series for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov meets Camille Cogswell and Drew DiTomo in the final stages of preparation to open their new bakery. They hope that Walnut Family Bakery will be a special space in its Marshall, North Carolina community, where people run into friends, meet new acquaintances, and generally feel good entering. But how does such a place get created? Marshall was once a thriving town, where people went from the surrounding country for all their needs, but as new bypasses and highways were built, the area began withering. The population of Madison County, where Marshall is located, was at a high of around 22,500 in the 1940s. By the 1970s it had dropped by nearly 30 percent. Starting in the 1990s, new people began showing up—for the natural beauty, including mountains and streams; because of the area’s reputation as a stronghold of Americana music; or for its population of incredible artists and craftspeople. One of the first businesses opened by such a newcomer, in 1997, was a bakery. Jennifer Lapidus produced European-style hearty loaves in a wood-fired oven. When she left, in 2008, she rented the space to other bakers, each of whom ran their own version of the place. Everyone who baked there came from outside Marshall…and yet they tried to build community with pizza nights and workshops. But the people who frequented the bakery over the years were almost exclusively the newcomers, while the locals preferred biscuits and cornbread to those heartier bakes. Plus, many locals didn’t have the time or budget to make a special trip for bread. Lapidus sold the place in late 2020 and the new owners, Cogswell and DiTomo, plan to run a retail operation, so that anyone can come by on the weekends, order at a staffed counter, hang out with a coffee, and stock up on bread for the week. They want their neighbors to gather on the property. Their business model and very ethic is built around a sense of camaraderie and care. In this final episode, Zhorov talks to Cogswell and DiTomo all about their visions for the bakery’s future, and how they plan to bring all of the people who make up Marshall’s community to their table. Additionally, she hears from Rob Amberg and Paul Gurewitz, two long-time Marshall residents and regulars at the bakery throughout its many iterations. As Zhorov tells us, “To turn flour into bread, good bread, requires skill, but to turn strangers into friends—into community—is the world’s greatest alchemy.”
25 minutes | Jun 8, 2022
Making that Dough
In “Making That Dough,” the fourth episode in her five-part series for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov explores the business of cottage bakeries—and how small-scale bakers make amazing loaves out of home kitchens and converted garages. “Cottage” bakeries refer to those in which people sell baked goods out of their homes. For much of the twentieth century, selling food made at home was largely prohibited, but that changed in the 1990s and early 2000s, when a small number of states passed laws allowing such sales. In the wake of the 2008 recession, every state followed suit, allowing people to earn money during a financial crisis. Around 2020, during the Covid pandemic, some states further loosened their cottage food laws, lifting earning caps and restrictions on the products people could sell. The number of cottage bakeries again exploded. Many bakers—like Camille Cosgwell and Drew DiTomo, the new owners of the rural North Carolina bakery that this Gravy series follows—are drawn to the cottage models during times of transition. It’s a chance to reshuffle priorities and create a sustainable work life without the long hours and unpredictable schedules the restaurant industry is known for. For others, a cottage bakery is a stepping stone to a brick-and-mortar shop. For this episode, Zhorov talks to Cogswell about her dreams for the new property. She wants to work four or five days per week, grow some fruits and vegetables, and build something that feels sustainable and fun. Zhorov also interviews other cottage bakers in the South about their trajectories and hopes. Dalen Gray and Tatiana Magee operate Between the Trees Bread in Boone, North Carolina, out of a space that used to be Dalen’s mother’s garage. During the pandemic, sisters Reyna Soto and Adriana Ipiña opened El Pantastico, in Duncanville, Texas, making Mexican pan dulce, or sweet baked goods. Former preschool teacher Sierra Patterson of Auburn, Alabama, started Sour South from her home when her school closed and she didn’t have childcare for her son. In conversation with Zhorov, each baker explains how cottage production works for them and how they hope to evolve their businesses in the future.
28 minutes | Jun 1, 2022
Fresh Flour to the People
In “Fresh Flour to the People,” the third episode in her five-part series for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov talks to bakers who have started demanding more from a key element in their craft—flour. When we talk about ingredients, there’s a lot to consider: how fresh the fruit, how local the meat, how wild the fish. But for some reason, these are not questions most of us have been asking about flour—until more recently. In the South, much of the work to bring local, quality flours started in an inconspicuous little house and bakery in Marshall, North Carolina. People who have lived and worked at this property had a tendency to become obsessed with flour to the point that two of them actually transitioned away from baking, to milling flour. They’ve driven a small but mighty revolution among bakers in the South and beyond to take flour seriously, creating new markets and new flavors. A quick primer here. There are two basic kinds of wheat: hard wheat and soft wheat. Hard wheat has more protein, which gives the bread structure and allows it to rise and develop pretty air pockets. Hearty loaves require hard wheat, which did not grow in North Carolina. In fact, the whole South mostly grew soft wheats, which were better adapted to the local climate and land. Then local farmers and wheat breeders started experimenting with varieties of hard wheat, creating a local grain economy, a resurgence of small-scale mills, and breads packed with distinct and varied flavors. In this episode, Zhorov interviews Jennifer Lapidus, the first baker on the Marshall property, who began seeking a local hard wheat for the European-style, naturally leavened loaves she loves. Today, she runs Carolina Ground, a small grain mill in western North Carolina that has fostered a community of farmers, bakers, and millers. After Lapidus left, she rented the property to David Bauer, who opened Farm and Sparrow bakery and similarly became interested in milling; today, Farm and Sparrow is exclusively a mill. Bauer tells Zhorov of his path to working with local grains, and of the tension between innovation and tradition. Zhorov also speaks with David Marshall, a former wheat breeder for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who began experimenting with local varieties of hard wheat in the region. Finally, Camille Cogswell, who now owns the bakery with her partner, Drew DiTomo, shares how she is choosing the flour she will work with in the space, fostering connections to her new home, new foodways and purveyors, and new people along the way.
23 minutes | May 25, 2022
Bread by Fire
In “Bread by Fire,” the second episode in her five-part season for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov takes listeners to the little house in Marshall, North Carolina, whose residents have produced some of the most exciting baking in the South. The property is a hotbed for baking specifically because of the ovens. Two large, wood-fired ovens anchor the space and attract a very specific kind of baker to their side. Here’s how the ovens work. You build a fire inside the oven’s chamber and let the heat soak into the masonry, a process that can take many hours of maintaining the fire. Eventually, you let the fire go out, sweep out the ashes, and you’re left with a hot box that functions as an oven. Unlike a gas or electric oven, you can’t just turn up the oven once it cools, or add a little fire if it doesn’t seem hot enough. The current owners of the Marshall property, Camille Cogswell and Drew DiTomo, are seasoned bakers who have worked in high-end restaurants. But, despite their expertise, neither had used an oven like these to make bread or pastries before moving in. Learning how to manage the fire in the unforgiving ovens has been a rite of passage for everyone who’s lived and baked here, including the person who built them—Jennifer Lapidus. Lapidus bought the place in 1997 and ran her bakery, Natural Bridge Bakery, from there. She’d apprenticed with baker Alan Scott to learn to make Flemish style bread, which uses a centuries-old style of natural leavening. Scott, who also designed wood-fired ovens, came from California and helped Jennifer build her ovens. Jennifer procured all her own firewood, often from an hour away, and experimented until she learned how to harness her oven, burning a fire for twelve hours before baking in order to heat the masonry through. After Lapidus, Tara Jensen tinkered until she mastered the fire for her bakery, Smoke Signals. She’d start the fire in the evening, feed her sourdough starters, and let the fire burn until the early morning, when she’d start mixing and baking dough. The multi-day process became a ritual. In this episode, Zhorov talks to Cogswell, Lapidus, and Jensen all about how they learned to tend the fire and live by the rhythms of wood-fired sourdough baking. She also talks with Rob Segovia-Welsh, who runs Chicken Bridge Bakery with his wife, Monica, about what benefits he sees in working with fire. Throughout these conversations, she explores how baking this way offers potential for connection to a community—and makes the baker’s life a pretty good life.
31 minutes | May 18, 2022
Genealogy of a Bakery
In “Genealogy of a Bakery,” Gravy producer Irina Zhorov takes listeners up into the mountains of western North Carolina, to a town called Marshall and a property that’s been used as a bakery for more than two decades. The little building with a metal roof and ovens with more than sixty square feet of stone hearth has been home to some of the most exciting baking in the country. It’s one of the places where naturally leavened, rustic breads gained a foothold in the South, where two artisanal flour mills got their start, and where multiple incredible bakers honed their craft. It started with Jennifer Lapidus, who fell in love with naturally leavened, Flemish loaves and learned how to bake them in a wood-fired oven under California baker Alan Scott. She moved into the property in Marshall, and made one of the two buildings her home, and the other, Natural Bridge Bakery. Lighting the oven fire, shaping dough, baking, transporting firewood—she gained mastery as she evolved with the property. After a decade of living and working in Marshall, Lapidus turned the bakery over to David Bauer, who opened his own business, Farm and Sparrow, before turning to milling. After David came Tara Jensen and her bakery, Smoke Signals, which she also operated as a classroom. At the end of 2018, Brennan Johnson moved in. Soon after, the pandemic hit. Johnson would be Lapidus’ last tenant. The new owners, Cogswell and DiTomo, bought the place in 2020. Both come from the restaurant world—in 2018, Cogswell was named Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation for her pastry work at Zahav in Philadelphia. The following year the owners of Zahav tapped her to open a new restaurant, but at the beginning of the pandemic, Cogswell was let go. She visited her family in Asheville and saw an Instagram post about the sale of the bakery. In the course of a day, she and DiTomo formulated a vision for their life there. In some ways, they are following the same path as the bakers that came before them. They sought it out at a time of transition and moved in with their own dreams, ready to shape the place and let it shape them. In this episode, Zhorov talks to the new bakery owner Camille Cogswell about her vision for the future; the original owner, Jennifer Lapidus, who shares her own journey to the property and beyond; and the bakery tenants in between, including David Bauer, Tara Jensen, and Brennan Johnson. Each baker gives insight into the rhythms, challenges, and promises of living and working around a wood-fired oven.
4 minutes | Apr 13, 2022
Even After Those Roses Bloom
Lucien Darjeun Meadows is an English, German, and Cherokee writer born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. His debut poetry collection, In the Hands of the River, is forthcoming from Hub City Press in September 2022.
17 minutes | Mar 16, 2022
Can Co-Ops Fix a Broken Food Delivery Model?
Can Co-Ops Fix a Broken Food Delivery Model? Gravy producer Sarah Holtz introduces listeners to food industry veterans in Lexington, Kentucky, who launched a food delivery co-op during the COVID era as an alternative to Big Delivery (think DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, or UberEats). It aimed to put drivers, restaurants, and take-out customers all on the same team. Listen to learn more about the promise of a more equitable system during a time when takeout can make or break a restaurant.
22 minutes | Mar 9, 2022
The Bare Minimum
“The Bare Minimum,” producer Sarah Holtz follows Florida’s Fight for 15, a labor campaign aimed at raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Though there are countless labor issues associated with restaurant work, from wage theft to sexual harassment, the minimum wage is a concrete area to affect change, because it improves material conditions for hourly workers in every industry. Historically, it’s also a difficult thing to change. To understand why, Holtz interviews experts to explore the history of the minimum wage. She speaks with Alex Harris, a fast food worker and leader in Florida’s Fight for 15 campaign. He tells of the health risks he endured while working during the pandemic, participating in a walk-out, and what’s at stake in the Fight for 15. Holtz also interviews Matthew Simmons, a labor historian at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, who has studied the unique challenges among low-wage workers in Florida. Finally, Samantha Padgett, general counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, provides a counter-argument, asserting that minimum wage hikes threaten businesses that bolster tourism in Florida. In her reporting, Holtz examines both the economic and moral factors that motivate the Fight for 15.
23 minutes | Mar 2, 2022
The Bitter and the Sweet of Craft Chocolate in the Global South
In “The Bitter and the Sweet of Craft Chocolate in the Global South” episode of Gravy, producer Sarah Holtz engages important voices in the complex conversation about ethical chocolate, from central Ghana to southern Missouri. In the chocolate world, terms like corporate sustainability and ethical sourcing are gradually entering the mainstream, but they remain a little vague. Holtz explores how direct trade and profit-sharing models offer alternatives to the practices of the largest chocolate companies in the world—Big Chocolate—which conceive of cocoa farmers not as partners, but as links in the supply chain. In her reporting on labor in the chocolate industry, Holtz asks: How do you define ethical consumption? Is there such a thing? And—when you’re standing in the grocery aisle, gazing at a wall of options—how do you know which chocolate bar to choose? To begin to address these questions and more, Holtz speaks with Kwabena Assan Mends, founder of Emfed Farms, a company that serves small cocoa farmers in central Ghana, especially those who are aging or have physical disabilities. She also talks to Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate, and Scott Witherow of Olive & Sinclair, two vanguards of the craft chocolate movement. Finally, Megan Giller, food writer and author of Bean-To-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, weighs in on the history of the chocolate supply chain and upending a pattern of colonization.
22 minutes | Feb 23, 2022
Memphis Restaurant Workers Unite!
In "Memphis Restaurant Workers Unite," Gravy follows a group of restaurant workers that’s slated to become the first formal union of food and beverage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Led by Lily Nicholson, the group, Memphis Restaurant Workers United (MRWU), organized a petition that resulted in $2.5 million in pandemic support grants from the county government and has begun negotiating contracts with local restaurants so that workers can make a living wage with benefits. At the average restaurant in Memphis, the front of house staff will be majority white, while the back of the house will be predominantly made up of immigrant workers and workers of color. This unsettling trace of Memphis’s segregated past reflects a larger structural issue in the industry. Part of MRWU’s challenge is to make sure that the union is as diverse as the city. In this episode, reporter Sarah Holtz talks to Lily Nicholson, Allan Creasy, and Zach Barnard, restaurant veterans and organizers of Memphis Restaurant Workers United, all about the working conditions that led them to form the union and the process entailed. She also speaks with Jeffrey Lichtenstein of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions, who helped get MRWU off the ground; and Victoria Terry, who works with the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group of African American trade unionists. Holtz attends an MRWU meeting at RP Tracks, a Memphis bar and restaurant that supports the efforts of MRWU.
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