Jessica B. Harris

Jessica B. Harris is the author of eleven cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora: Hot Stuff: A Cookbook in Praise of the Piquant, Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking, Sky Juice and Flying Fish Traditional Caribbean Cooking, Tasting Brazil: Regional Recipes and Reminiscences, The Welcome Table: African American Heritage Cooking, A Kwanzaa Keepsake, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim, On the Side, The Martha’s Vineyard Table , and Rum Drinks: 50 Caribbean Cocktails from Mojito to Rum Daisy. She is currently working on a narrative history of African Americans and food tentatively entitled High on the Hog to be published by Bloomsbury in 2011. 

A culinary historian, she has lectured on African-American foodways at The Museum of Natural History in New York City, The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, as well as at numerous institutions throughout the United States and abroad. 

In her more than three decades as a journalist, Harris has written book reviews, theatre reviews, travel, feature and beauty articles too numerous to note. She has written extensively about the culture of Africa in the Americas, particularly the foodways, for publications ranging from Essence (where she was travel editor from 1977-1980) to Travel Weekly to German Vogue. She has written for most of the major food magazines including Gourmet, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Saveur, and Eating Well. She has chaired panels and given presentations at the Fancy Food Shows in both San Francisco and New York, at Chef Magazine’s Chef des Chefs, at IACP [International Association of Culinary Professionals] and AIWF [American Institute of Wine and Food] conferences too numerous to note. She also gave the keynote address for six years at The Caribbean Culinary Federation’s annual Taste of the Caribbean. 

Dr. Harris has made numerous television appearances on shows including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and B. Smith with Style. On the Television Food Network, she has appeared on numerous shows and served as the resident food historian of Sara Moulton’s Cooking Live Primetime from July through November 1999. She has also served as a culinary and cultural expert on two Burt Wolfe series for PBS. 

Dr. Harris has served as a consultant for national and international organizations including Kraft Foods, Pillsbury Foods, Unilever, and Almond Resorts in Barbados & St. Lucia. She has also been a member of Sterling Rice’s culinary council that that serves as a think tank for major food manufacturers. 

In addition to her work on the foodways of the African Diaspora, she is also the author of The World Beauty Book (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), a collection of beauty secrets from women of color around the world, the co-editor of La Vie Ailleurs (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), a multicultural French text, and the translator of Ton Beau Capitain, a play by Simone Schwarz-Bart, which has been performed at colleges around the country. For six and a half years, she was a restaurant reviewer for The Village Voice in New York City. 

A tenured professor of English at Queens College/ CUNY, Harris holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Queens College, The Université de Nancy, France, and a doctorate in Performance Studies from New York University where her dissertation focused on the French-speaking theatre of Senegal. 

Dr Harris has been a National Board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food and a board member of the Caribbean Culinary Federation, the New York Chapter of Les Dames D’Escoffier, and the Southern Foodways Alliance where she was a founding member and also served as chair of the planning and then programming committees. Currently, she is a Board member of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The New Orleans Afrikan American Film Festival, an advisory board member of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the New Orleans Edible School Yard, and a life member of the College Language Association

Harris has been honored numerous times for spreading the word of African and Caribbean cuisines around the world. Some of her awards include an appreciation award from Walt Disney World Epcot Center, the Heritage Award from the Black Culinarians, and the Food Hero award from Eating Well Magazine. In October 2004, she was given a lifetime achievement award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. In March 2005, she received the Toque award from Philadelphia’s the Book & the Cook, joining culinary notables such as the late Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. In April of 2008 she was selected as scholar-in-residence for the International Association of Culinary Professional’s 30th international conference. In March 2010, she was given the Lafcadio Hearn by the John Folse Culinary Institute in Louisiana as a southern Louisiana Food Icon. In may 2010, she was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America. 

In Fall of 2007, Dr. Harris took a leave from her over 38 year tenure at Queens College to become the first scholar to hold the Ray Charles Chair in African-American material culture at Dillard University in New Orleans. The Chair has a specialty in the Food and Folklore of the African diaspora. At Dillard, she has established an Institute for the Study of Culinary Cultures in June of 2008. In fall of 2009, she returned to her position at Queens College, but she remains a consultant to the Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture and its Institute for the Study of Culinary Cultures.