This summer, the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts announced that Toni Tipton-Martin, food journalist, historian, author and PBS host, would receive the seventh annual Julia Child Award.
Tipton-Martin recently spoke with Amy Traverso, co-host of GBH’s Weekends with Yankee and host of GBH’s You & Julia series, about how Julia inspired her work of raising awareness and championing African Americans’ contributions to the culinary world. Tipton-Martin will receive the award on November 4th at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Here are some highlights of the conversation.
Amy Traverso: What does it mean to you to win this award?
Toni Tipton-Martin: It's an acknowledgement of so many years of effort and perseverance through sometimes a system that wasn't always friendly. It's not just any award — it's Julia, and she persisted in a way as well. She was an advocate for Americans to break free from the tyranny of the industrialized food that was happening on their plates at that time.
That's what my work represents; that the focus is always on African Americans and always turns back to Edna Lewis. I have always turned the story back to the hidden figures, the invisible people that I've been in pursuit of, sharing and introducing to America in the same way that she wanted to introduce Americans to French food.
Traverso: Did you watch Julia growing up?
Tipton-Martin: I have to be honest and say that I wasn't a food television watcher and I think that that is consistent with the story that I've described in “Jubilee,” which explains my reticence about being involved in food at all. If you're African American, there was a time when being involved in the food service industry was a throwback to servitude. And so that line between gracious and delicious service and serving others, there was a tension there.
[Julia] entered my field of vision at this time when I started working towards being a food writer and wanting to learn more about the broader food world, so I did start watching,
I grew up surrounded by women who were marvelous cooks, but I did not see them represented in the pages of food history.-Toni Tipton-Martin
Traverso: Going back to what you said about the reticence to engage with food because of the history, you’ve said “we've earned the freedom to cook with creativity and joy.” Could you say a little bit more about that?
Tipton-Martin: I grew up surrounded by women who were marvelous cooks, but I did not see them represented in the pages of food history, not in the cookbooks I was experiencing as I
was building this library and watching TV and developing my food identity. I was very confused about why the excellence that I experienced at home wasn't evident in the mainstream. So that persistent marginalizing and degrading of the African American contributions was a stumbling block for me for quite a while in finding my way in the food world.
Traverso: The 2021 Julia Child Award does come with a $50,000 grant. Could you tell us some more about what you'll be doing with that grant?
Tipton-Martin: I am a trained journalist, not a cook. So a lot of the effort in the food world is around farming or it's around restaurateurs and chefs, but not as much emphasis on advocacy for food writers. I have put together a committee, an advisory board of celebrated cookbook authors, food writers, and scholars — women from across the industry and we are going to create a program to mentor women interested in advancing their skills in food writing.