The National & Internationally acclaimed award winning chef 's love of cooking, is a tradition that has been passed down from generations of cooking from his Great Grandmother.
Gullah Food is older than the South and as ancient as the world. It is one of the oldest African and American traditions being practiced in this country today. As it has always been, it is informed by need, availability and environment. Places in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah and Jacksonville, F
lorida figure prominently in the Gullah story from the beginning to now. This includes Sea Islands off the coasts of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The Africans brought to the Carolina colony used the similarities between culinary environments of the low country and the West Coast of Africa to create a food culture that has come to characterize the regions where they live.
For years, the oceans, other bodies of water, and farming practices remained in the backdrop while rice, seafood and vegetables (corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, collards, turnips, peanuts, okra, eggplant, beans and peas) brought the connection between both sides of the Atlantic full circle. Slave cooks simply adapted their African cooking traditions to American soil. "Gullah food is a part of my life, it is my history and my future." says Chef Jeff. "Every year they would drag me down south, which was like my home. I would smell the air and watch the birds. I feel like South Carolina is my home because that's where my roots are."
Even today, cooking traditions remain somewhat consistent. One pot dishes, deep frying, rice dishes, sea food, boiling and steaming, baking in ashes, basic and natural seasonings, and food types consistent with those received in the weekly rations on plantations are all characteristics of Gullah food. Chef Jeff has infused the old style with the new, the same careful seasoning and preparation combines with today's ethos associated with healthy eating with turkey and veg. stock largely replacing pork and fat.
The food is characterized by the ever presence of rice and a distinct "taste" present wherever Gullah people are cooking. The recipes are simply frames; the art work is created in the taste buds of the preparer. Try to obtain a recipe or cooking directions from Gullah cooks, and you will more than likely get the generic response, "ah 'on measur." They will tell you that they cook "cordin' ta taste". This taste is passed down from generation to generation, but unlike other ingredients, it is an elusive quality guided by memory and taste buds, almost impossible to explain in words. It is an ingredient that must be experienced. Tasted first, then duplicated each time Gullah food is prepared. As a child, Grandmother Beulah Addison, Aunt Maggie told Chef Jeff stories and about how they would use a wood burning stove placing the food on the stove and let it simmer at a low temperature all day long while they worked the farm. They had a big farm and they would pick what they would need each day. Food was cooked for a lot of people and it took a long time, beginning at breakfast. Food prep began the night before. Everything was homemade from scratch, sausages, ham, bacon, grits down to making the sweet tea. Every family member had a hand in the prep. By the time everyone returned home at sundown the food was perfect and the meat was falling off the bone.
"The main cook was Aunt Daisy Bell because she was the oldest girl. She learned to cook from her Grandmother Roxiebell Sally my Grandmother's Mother. I would love my Aunt Daisy Bell's kitchen because before I could even open my eyes in the morning (when I spent the night at her house) I could smell breakfast. It's from Daisy Bell that I learned the cook authentic Gullah food, a tradition of 200 years of cooking that has been passed down to me." Simply speaking, Gullah food is about ancestral ties and American living, adaptability, creativity, and making do. It is a culture within the culture, with its own history, heritage, and distinction. It is a food culture handed down through practice more so than with words. It lives among us in the restaurants, homes, kitchens, backyards, family reunions, church anniversaries, birthday parties and other celebrations that dot across the grounds that the Gullah call home.
Portions of the history of Gullah History and Cuisine reprinted from The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook with permission from Veronica Davis Gerald. September 2009.