“You can be creative with every meal that you make, thinking on the fly, or asking what a dish needs that it didn’t have last time. I think about that all the time when I am making food. It reflects how you want to interact with the world. Food brings out my need to explore, and I give attention to that.”
To me, food is all about love, family and community. In my childhood memories, my stepfather made family meals for us each night and we all sat around the dinner table. Now, most of my recent experiences involving food are centered around my friends. I feel that people are finding their own communities, or chosen families, made up of their friends. We are doing things that would traditionally be seen within familial structures, like cooking.
The people I eat with the most are my roommates. We have known each other since high school, and they are my best friends. I ended up living with one of them in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and we would always cook together. One of our most significant meals together was during the first summer of COVID. Everything at that time moved very slowly, so we started making food together a lot. This meal was grilled salmon. It was a summer evening and it felt like the beginning of a ritual–and it was! Three years in and we are still cooking together.
Growing up, food was a ritual, and I now have a very positive association with it. My family had certain gatherings that felt like ritual throughout the week, like breakfast on Thursdays, or soul food nights on Sundays. My stepfather is a really good cook–southern and African-American diaspora foods. Food became a place of comfort, and a place for rest and relaxation.
I grew up in the deep south side of Chicago. We first lived on 114th and Ada, east of the Expressway, then moved to 84th Street. At this time, I attended an elementary school in the heart of downtown, a classical school called Skinner. Skinner was very diverse. Everyone was a different race, a different background, or from a different part of the world. Then we moved to Beverly, which places me equally as far south as when I was younger. We were on the edge of the city, and I was going to high school at Lane Tech, all the way on the north side. I would take the bus to and from school, an hour and a half each way. I enjoyed going to Lane because I liked the legacy of the school. It felt so big, and I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than me.
I am in a kitchen with bright yellow lighting, there are wood details in all of the fixtures and cabinets, and I hear the chopping of the produce on the cutting board. It is the evening and it is warm. I could have done many things that day. Maybe I went to the beach with my friends, exercised, or just worked. We are coming to that end-of-the-day moment, when the sky is just getting dark and there are no street lights on yet. The windows are all open in the house, and when we walk in we are greeted by music. I smell spices, oil, weed smoke and the outside air.
Growing up in Chicago, my life story is really tied to an access to culture. I have always been around different cultures, been invited into different cultures, and I am a person that loves to try new things. It is a positive experience to open yourself up to people, to learn from them–to be a newcomer.
My family made it a point to eat out every so often, so I tasted a lot of different kinds of foods this way. I remember my first time trying Chinese food! I was apprehensive, but my stepfather encouraged me. I always had a diverse group of friends, so I would get to eat with them, and their families. My best friend growing up was half Chinese and half Czechoslovakian and eating with his family opened up my palette so much. I think that is a testament to the diversity of Chicago.
We all gather in the kitchen, and it is dimly lit because we are still trying to catch the natural light. Then the overhead lights turn on and we begin cooking in this warm environment. The bodies are close to me, everyone is moving around and each person has a different task. I hear jazz, hip-hop, classical and Spanish music. We slyly dance to these many genres while shuffling around small spaces, creating interesting angles and reaching in and out of all the crevices. I taste cheese, berries, crackers and ginger beer. We just talk, gather, discuss the day, the week, what is going on in our lives. We are so connected in these moments. I feel important, desired, needed and helpful. The community that can come from food and cooking acts as a kind of beacon for how I want to cultivate relationships and love in my life.
I cook with others all of the time because it is a way of creating bonds, friendships and relationships. One time, my friends found an old pasta maker, so we made pasta from scratch. It completely changed my mind about pasta! There was a fullness to it, a wholeness. I have also opened my palette up so much more to new genres of food. My roommate recently inspired me to explore vegan foods more. Food with my friends feels like what the future feels like–endless. You do not really know what is coming. Food with my family feels rooted in ritual and tradition.
I believe being an artist definitely affects my connection to food and cooking. Artistry can be found everywhere and cooking is creative. You have to be creative to cook! To be a good cook you make stuff you enjoy but with the freedom to be creative with it. You can be creative with every meal that you make, thinking on the fly, or asking what a dish needs that it didn’t have last time. It reflects how you want to interact with the world. Food brings out my need to explore, and I give attention to that.
Kendall Hill (b.1996) – Photographer and Fine Artist from Chicago, IL. Based in Chicago,IL.
Hill’s works focus on youth, intimacy, the moments between the present and the next. As a documentary photographer, Kendall is vigil and patient. In his portraiture, he is electric and candid. He has been featured in many prominent Chicago & International exhibitions, collections, publications, and residencies.
Hill is the current Programs Coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools Department of Arts Education unit. In charge of programming and facilitating large scale art events for all CPS students in the network. He is also an active member of the Chicago fine art community, showing his work often throughout the city.