Therese Nelson builds Black culinary network to give Black chefs agency and access to a rich history | The Light Series

Ancestral work comes in many forms. For Therese Nelson, both a curator and steward of Black culinary experience, she works her roots by keeping American gastronomy history through the work of Black chefs alive with a digital museum and growing network.

Where are you located

New York City

What is your business?

Black culinary history is a website and social network that connects black chefs globally.

How long have you been in business? 

We turn 11 years old in January!!

What made you start it?

I was in the midst of my own career shift during the economic downturn of 2008. I realized that I was disconnected from all the amazing reasons I’d initially started my life as a chef and I also had the sense that there was more to the story of Black life in American gastronomy. I wanted to feel more rooted and to be more inspired in my own practice so I created the space I needed for myself.

What makes your business special?

I think the community that has organically grown over the years is the most special part. The network is full of so many wonderful people and we show up for one another in extraordinary ways. 

How does your business solve a problem?

Black culinary history, is the source of culinary agency black chefs need. It is part digital museum; part social network; and is the kindling that sparks the fire of culinary stewardship that I think any professional irrespective of the industry should be rooted in. The network is a wonderful source of information sharing, multidisciplinary research, and storytelling that is critical to preserving our collective legacy in the culinary world.

What did you find out about who you are as you built your company?

I think that the most interesting thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m a writer. I never considered my own voice as valuable, but over the years I’ve seen the power in my point of view in the zeitgeist as unique and necessary and have grown into the responsibility of that charge on my work and life. 

What keeps you going?

I think seeing in tangible ways the power of the space I create being of value and use to other people is a big part, but mainly i keep going because I see this as, lifelong work, and there is always new space to explore, consider, and share. 

What do you do when you get discouraged?

The main thing i do when i get discouraged is gone back to history. I think about the men and women who did this work before me that had far fewer resources and made sacrifices that I can’t even fathom so that I could exist. It’s humbling and usually gets me back on track pretty quickly. 

How do you define success?

I think the metrics for success are subjective and bound to change frequently, so I generally judge success by how proud I am of my actions, how impactful a project was, and how close to my value system I was able to maintain.

Who/what inspires you?

I’m inspired by so many things. The ancestors I discover in my research to be sure, but I’m also inspired by young people learning and growing into themselves. So much of my work is for young people to feel affirmed and seen and armed with history so it’s a joyful and miraculous thing when you see one of these babies brighten up and straighten their spines when they discover new possibilities.

How to reach out to Therese Nelson.

Twitter @blackculinary — Instagram @blackculinary


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