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Cooking as Inheritance: Beyond Soul Food in the African Diaspora with Carla Hall and Pierre Thiam

  • Museum of Food and Drink 62 Bayard Street Brooklyn, NY, 11222 United States (map)

How does food connect us with our ancestral past? What if that line was severed by forced migration and systemic oppression? And what can diaspora in the age of globalization teach us about cultural inheritance?

Recently, while collaborating on a dinner, Carla Hall, who is from Nashville, and Pierre Thiam, who is from Senegal, stumbled upon some surprising and exciting intersections in their menus. 

While Soul Food is often pigeonholed into a few dishes, it is actually one of many facets of African American heritage cooking, which has its roots in Africa. During the transatlantic slave trade, ship cargoes carried enslaved Africans along with staple ingredients to be consumed during the passage to the New World. This is how ingredients like okra came to the American South and began to define Soul food and, indeed, Southern cuisine. 

Today, ancient African grains, which have been staples in West African cooking for centuries, have made their way into the US market, adding to the diversity of African American heritage cooking and cuisine.

Join Chefs Carla Hall and Pierre Thiam as they discuss these intersections of food, diaspora, memory, and cultural inheritance. Compare okra stews provided by each chef and taste the lineage for yourself.

This program is part of our Global Cultures, Global Cuisines series.



Carla is best known as co-host on ABC’s Emmy award winning, popular lifestyle series “The Chew.” She won over audiences when she competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars” and shared her philosophy to always cook with love. Carla believes food connects us all, and she strives to communicate this through her work, her cooking, and in her daily interactions with others.

Born in Nashville, TN, Carla Hall grew up surrounded by Soul Food. When the time came for her to select her career path, she first opted for a business route before deciding to switch gears to work as a runway model. It was during that time, as she traveled (and ate) her way through Europe for a few years, that she truly realized her deep-rooted passion for food could be her career path.

Carla has combined her loves of food, people, and culture to write several cookbooks. Her latest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration, will be published on October 23rd.  She has two previous cookbooks - Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World and Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.   

Carla is also the Culinary Ambassador for Sweet Home Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. where she works to bring attention to and connects the experience of moving through the museum with the stories and history that inspires the food in the cafe.



Pierre Thiam is a celebrated chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and entrepreneur. Born and raised in Senegal, he is known for his innovative cooking style—at once modern and eclectic yet rooted in the rich culinary traditions of West Africa. His second cookbook, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl was a finalist for the 2016 James Beard Award.

Chef Thiam is co-founder of Yolele Foods, a company that advocates for smallholder farmers in the Sahel by opening new markets for crops grown in Africa such as the forgotten ancient grains fonio, which is presently distributed at Whole Foods, Thrive Market and Amazon under the Yolele label. His TEDTalk on fonio during the 2017 TEDGlobal conference in Arusha has been viewed over 1 million times.

Through his advocacy and many media appearances (most recently on CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain), Chef Thiam has become known as a culinary ambassador, dedicated to promoting West African cooking throughout the world. He is based in New York.