by Phil Jones, Slow Food USA Snailblazer awardee, Cooks’ Alliance member, and former Slow Food Detroit chapter leader
contact phil jones
I was blessed to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of my first official meal sold this past weekend, and am truly moved by the number of people who sent me warm wishes and heartfelt congratulations. I have received mind-numbing recognition, such as being named the Detroit Free Press/Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Chef of the Year 2021 and the Slow Food USA Snailblazer award.
I have done fine dining, high-volume, quick service, catering, fairs, festivals, value-added production, food demonstrations, and food classes, I have cooked for strangers, my family, and friends. I have cooked locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally. I have cooked in million-dollar kitchens, hole-in-the-walls, on the streets, in the woods, on islands, by myself, with huge staffs, sick, immediately after being released from the hospital, for days on end, and when it was not in my best interest.
I have fed the homeless and heads of state. I have cooked for fun. I have cooked for worship. I have cooked for merely the sake of cooking because I love it. I have cooked no less than thirty distinct cuisines from the simple to the sublime. I have done a lot with and for food.
However, I have more recently resigned myself to the fact that I am not the same rugged young lad that could withstand the hours, the heat, the demands, and rigors of the “kitchen wars,” as described by the dear Molly Abraham, the late and seminal food writer. I have been emotionally preparing myself for the approaching day that pots, pans, knives, and heat would cease to dominate my days and efforts. Truth be told, I hurt. I’m tired.
I was reminded that I had not done enough.
I was, not rudely, but sternly reprimanded by two young men I respect to the utmost. One, Chef Omar Mitchell, who has committed himself to working towards a Michelin star, and Chef Jermond Booze, who I love like a son, both, independent of one another took me to task. While they both expressed concern for my health and the need to get my bag, they both said that my work was not done.
I was told that I had one more task that I needed to attend to before I got off the train. I had an unfinished and neglected task to complete. With all that I have been given and all that I have done, I have not done all that I should. I have left a lot of good in my wake, but I failed in one major area. I need to make amends.
It is and was hard to hear.
I ignored Black men such as myself. I have not done brothers in this field justice. I have seen the need but didn’t react. I saw us fragmented yet failed to act. We need each other and I didn’t reach out enough. I can and should do more. I have been critical of others while failing to see my complicity in a system that I have railed against.
I am sorry.
This is a very public “mea culpa.” I have to acknowledge that there is a need for leadership amongst Black male chefs. That is not to say that we need to be saved, but we do. We need to do better, together. We need to come together with a single overriding mission to celebrate, educate, and support one another to a greater degree.
We need to come out of our silos and abandon the often solo journeys through our careers that are usually marked by the torrents of opposition and outright animus we ALL face daily. Black food needs to recognize the historic accomplishments of culinary griots that have pushed forward the food of all of the world’s great cuisines. We need to collaborate to offset rising food costs, to elevate the ingredients and techniques we were born into and forced to bear and to establish a network of new standard bearers to fuel our food futures.
We need to insist on Black excellence and resist the excuses. We need to be better and do better. We need to tell the truth while holding up this noble profession. We need to let young Black men know that this is not easy, but it is phenomenal in its importance and potential. It is not TV shows and podcasts. It is not Instagram posts and social media vlogs.
It is art. It is passion. It is a way up and out. It is love. It is life. It is time to come together.
In the coming days, you will see an invitation to a large group of Black male chefs to participate in what will be a most unique offering for Black History Month. I am answering the challenge put to me with excitement and expectations. This will be a new day and path forward for me, and I ask others to join me. I do so with the utmost humility and contrition.