Food, ZingLife

Toni Tipton-Martin at Zingerman’s

This past week, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses was very pleased to welcome author Toni Tipton-Martin to events at the Roadhouse and ZingTrain. Toni is an award-winning journalist, founder of the Jemima Code Project, and the author of the forthcoming Jemima Code book.

On Tuesday, Toni was the featured speaker at the 8th Annual African American Dinner, held at the Roadhouse. Guests were treated to a delicious menu created by Toni and Chef Alex, based on the recipes of Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cook Book: Containing Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, self-published in 1866 in Paw Paw, Michigan and noteworthy for being the among first African American cookbooks.

Chef Alex began by talking about the menu, and going into detail about the creation and ingredients of each dish. Next, Ari talked about Zingerman’s long involvement with the Southern Foodways Alliance, where he was introduced to Toni and the Jemima Code Project. Finally, Toni talked about her inspiration for the Project, and her association with Jan Longone, curator of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan’s Clements Library. Toni also spoke about her involvement with the SANDE Youth Project, a nonprofit food, nutrition, and cultural heritage program for under-served young people.


Toni Tipton-Martin talks with a guest

In addition, Toni was kind enough to bring “The Ladies,” eight-foot high photo blowups of the African American cooks and cookbook authors featured in the Jemima Code Project. The images were hung in a space adjacent to the dining room, and guests were encouraged to stroll through the huge portraits, and then share their impressions on a chalkboard at the far end of the exhibit. The photos were semi-transparent and evoked a powerful, almost ethereal presence in the room.


Guests interact with The Ladies


Guests’ impressions of The Ladies

On Wednesday, Toni gave a presentation called “Deliciousness & Diversity” at the ZingTrain facility on Zingerman’s Southside campus. Toni went into more detail about the history of the Jemima Code Project, and her inspiration to begin. Her talk was accompanied by a slide show providing a primer in some of the disparaging ways African American chefs and cooks have been historically depicted in popular culture. Toni contrasted these unfortunate images with the actual histories of these talented, successful women, and illuminating their foundational and fundamental contributions to what we think of as “American cuisine.”


Ari and Paul with Toni


Ari introduces Toni

She talked further about founding the SANDE Youth Project, and the historic Austin residence currently being renovation as the organization’s new base. Next, she spoke about the Peace Through Pie program, which “provides a forum for community gatherings and community development, encouraging conversation and learning through the sharing of recipes, traditions, and pie.”


Sweet pies from the Bakehouse

In keeping with this last theme, the Bakehouse and the Deli provided several delicious types of sweet and savory pie. And San Street and Cafe Memmi, Zingerman’s incipient Asian street food and Tunisian food businesses, also brought their own delicious variants on pie. The gathering was small and intimate, and Toni began by asking each guest to share who they were, why they’d decided to attend, and which pie(s) they’d chosen and why.


Savory offerings from San Street


Brik aux Legumes from Cafe Memmi

Toni elaborated on the motivation to use pie as both a metaphor, as well as a connection-building food:

  • Pie is round, symbolizing inclusiveness.
  • Pie is baked in a crust, which surrounds, envelopes, and comforts.
  • Pie can hold vast diversity of ingredients.
  • Most cultures have a form of pie.

Further, Toni talked about how food in general brings people together in mutual nourishment. Sharing food, breaking bread together, is an ancient ritual of cooperation and collaboration. It builds community. It helps bring needed social change, and it can be very empowering.


Paul and Toni share a moment with Devita


Paul, Toni, Cristin, and Lady

After her presentation, Toni graciously fielded questions late into the evening. Soon, the crowd drifted, still chatting, out of the conference room and into the lobby. People talked excitedly, sharing ideas and personal histories and recipes–all under the reserved, yet likely approving, gaze of one “The Ladies.”


Guests and Lady