“Linoleum. Laughter. My grandmother’s fridge covered in magnets. Brown butcher paper.”
So many of my memories are tied up in food. My grandmother was a cook. Many black families weave their histories in the kitchen. My food memory is more of a feeling.
“I’m about 9, and we were staying with my grandmother in Meherrin, VA. She’s gone now, as are many of the people in this memory.“
My grandmother’s name is Anna Hunt, and she was a firecracker. She was a cook and maid most of her life. At one point she worked for some senator. She was also the birth mother of 6, adoptive mother of many. She had a boisterous laugh. She loved cooking and foraging. She crocheted beautifully. She loved God and her family. She was enormously kind.
“The women are cooking. So many women. Sitting at the table, or standing by the sink. Multiple conversations flowing. It’s loud, but not jarring. Like the bustle of a busy coffee shop, but I love everyone there. Normally I would have been outside with the kids. But that summer, grandma decided I needed to start helping with meals.“
One important thing I want to bring back to Southern food – what I feel like people forget – is the remnants of slave culture. People were cooking with what they had. You’re going to figure out a way to make it happen with whatever ingredients on hand. So often I see Southern recipes adding all of these ingredients. Good food shouldn’t be tied up in economic status.
“It’s a Sunday in the South. We’re making rolls, ricez, potato salad, string beans, and corn. Pound cake, and best of all, my granny’s making oxtails.”
Cooking is such an important thing in my family and in the South. You don’t need to have a bunch of fancy ingredients to make something delicious. You need time, and love, and care. You can make a feast fit for a king without having expensive stuff. My family got on with nothing – and we made beautiful, delicious things.
“She’d wash the meat, dry it, and season. We always use the black braiser for the best things. Sear the meat, add onions and water. Pop the lid on and slowly cook everything until the meat is falling off the bones and this humble cut has transformed into the richest meal. Super tender beef. Fatty and rich bone marrow. The onions completely disappear. Rice is the perfect vehicle to absorb the flavors. It’s a simple but princely dish. I don’t remember where we all sat – my grandmother’s house was small. I do know, it was enjoyed.“
Cooking and entertaining are in my blood. Without them I would be another person. Making food for someone is a deeply personal experience for me. A true labor of love. Chef culture is so driven. Everyone cares so much; they care about making food fancy. But there is something so special about making things in your kitchen for people you love. People can taste the care you put into your food.
“In my family, food is love. And I definitely felt it that day.“
I visit this memory often. So many of my loved ones have passed. It’s comforting to remember when we were all together. We share our love through cooking and sharing in the kitchen. I keep their memories alive every time I cook.
[ Dominique Webberhunt is photographed in her Chicago home, via Zoom, on 120mm film. ]
Dominique started working in kitchens when she was 16 years old. Beginning work at a bakery, Dominique solidified her passion for culinary, where she worked her way up through bakeries in Bloomington, IN ultimately becoming a manager of a chicken and donut shop. A notoriously hard worker, Dominique hustled several jobs simultaneously before moving to Chicago to train under a Michelin star chef. Now an expert in both savory and sweet preparations, Dominique looks forward to continuing her passion and love of food once the industry begins rebounding after COVID-19. You can find her frequently whipping up delicious meals for her friends and family, testing new recipes, and making friendship bracelets.