Chefs Left to Right: Karl Franz Williams, Mixologist, Partner, Solomon and Kuff, Chef Darryl Harmon, Chef Dana Herbert. Chef Ashbell, Chef Tiffany Derry, Chef Therese Nelson, Chef John Besh, Chef Charmaine Jones
The James Beard Foundation (JBF) and the James Hemings Foundation (JHF) threw “The Room Where It Happened” dinner, based on historical facts of omission of James Hemings in American culinary history. The Beard House dinner pays homage to James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave-valet and French-trained chef. As depicted in thepopular Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a historic meeting between three Founding Fathers took place at Thomas Jefferson’s house on June 20, 1790, where a lavish meal prepared by James Hemings eased negotiations. Held at the iconic Beard House in New York City, the menu at the SOLD-OUT Hamilton! Jefferson! Hemings! evening will be a modern interpretation of that famous Reconciliation Dinner, which helped set the table for America’s future.
Notable attendees included:
Ashbell McElveen, founder and South Carolina–born chef, will present a tasting and talk about why he founded the James Hemings Foundation
Tonya Hopkins, founding member/food historian, will discuss Hemings’ connection to American cuisine and the stories behind the dishes being tasted
James Beard Foundation:
Susan Ungaro, president, and Izabela Wojcik, director of house programming, will explain the significance of the two Foundations collaborating on the dinner
· John Besh*, Besh Restaurant Group, New Orleans
· Tiffany Derry, Tiffany Derry Concepts, Dallas
· Darryl Harmon, Harmon Live, NJ
· Charmaine Jones, Cake Diva, NYC and NJ
· Therese Nelson, Black Culinary History, NYC
In 1790, the United States made up a budding nation, just recently free of English dominion. Yet, with this newfound freedom came divisive problems – and deliberations surrounding the settling of the Revolutionary War debt left leaders Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton at odds. In an attempt to alleviate the tension, the Reconciliation Dinner took place, during which Hamilton, James Madison, and Jefferson came to an agreement on the finances of the nation while feasting on the culinary creations of James Hemings.
Hemings, who accompanied Jefferson on his diplomatic sojourn to France from 1784-89, trained under the chefs at Château Chantilly, whose cuisine was known to surpass that of the royal palace at Versailles. Despite his status as a slave in America, Hemings was a free man in France and was able to earn a wage while working at the helm of Jefferson’s kitchen. There, he supervised a large French-speaking staff and produced lavish dishes that tempted the taste buds of royalty in Paris. Upon returning with Jefferson to America, Hemings merged his newly cultivated French skills with the flavors of his roots, and re-imagined American cuisine to include delicacies such as chestnut purée, capon stuffed with Virginia ham, and artichoke bottoms and truffles.