Food Heritage/History Lifestyle Literature

Culinary Historian Adrian Miller Speaks on “Southern Black Chefs in the White House”

Chef Charlie Redden and President Clinton

By Natasha Anderson

Adrian Miller presents “Southern Black Chefs in the White House” from 6­–7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22, in the Highsmith Student Union Blue Ridge Room (202/203) at UNC Asheville. His lecture is part of the University’s Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor Speaker Series, Diverse Roots at the Common Table: Culinary Conversations in the American South.

“I think people will be surprised to learn the extent to which Black chefs blended the culinary ingredients, techniques and traditions of West Africa, Western Europe and the Americas from fine dining to more vernacular cooking, especially the foods introduced from Africa,” he says.

Culinary historian and author Adrian Miller, left, in the White House kitchen with Adam Collick

Miller is a culinary historian whose books have twice won a James Beard Award for Reference and Scholarship; he was recently featured in High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, a Netflix documentary based on Jessica Harris’ book by the same name. He also served as a special assistant to the president under the Clinton Administration, and served as the deputy director of the President’s Initiative for One America. His lecture will draw from his book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: the Story of African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas.

“Over time, the contributions of African American culinary artists have become a hidden history,” says Miller. “I want people to truly understand how influential these cooks were and continue to be.”

His talk is the second in the Diverse Roots at the Common Table: Culinary

Paula Patton-Moutsos, White House assistant chef

Conversations in the American South series, which will run through spring 2025. At least one speaker or panel of speakers will present a topic each semester. The lecture series is curated by UNC Asheville Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor of Humanities Erica Abrams Locklear and emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of humanities scholarship.

Though Locklear’s training is in literary criticism, over the last decade or so she became interested in food studies and what foodways scholarship can add to humanities-based discussions. Her forthcoming book, Appalachia on the Table: Representing Mountain Food and People (UGA Press, April 15, 2023), draws from both fields in its analysis.

“When thinking about a lecture series, especially in a food-loving town like Asheville,” she says, “it seemed like a natural fit to have culinary historians, literary

LBJ kitchen staffer

writers and food writers talk about the diverse roots of southern food.”

Though regional cuisine has long been an integral part of southern identity, popular depictions often obscure the myriad contributions of a diverse array of cultures and people. This lecture series aims to complicate limiting, stereotypical understandings of southern food and its histories by exploring the ways in which southern cuisine is rooted in Indigenous, African, Jewish, Latinx and many more food traditions.

“By focusing on these rich and diverse histories,” says Locklear, “this lecture series reveals the American South as a dynamic and delicious region.”

UNC Asheville is at 1 University Heights, Asheville. Books will be available for purchase at the event through Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. Those who wish to attend via Zoom may pre-register at For more information, contact Erica Abrams Locklear at

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