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Cooking Up History with The Kitchen Diva, Angela Shelf Medearis

by  V. Sheree Williams on November 16, 2016
Cooking Up History with The Kitchen Diva, Angela Shelf Medearis

(Article originally posted in Februrary 2015)

As an author, recipe developer and culinary historian, the career path for Angela Shelf Medearis, aka The Kitchen Diva, is not one you would expect.  As a baby boomer born during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Medearis was encouraged to go to school to get an education that would lead to a career as a doctor or lawyer or in her case a journalist.  The self-taught cook left her parents’ house not knowing how to even prepare a basic meal but today credits her passion and success for cooking to spiritual obedience in fulfilling the plan for her life.

“There was a whole lot of bad food for years. I am mean years and years and years and the more I failed, the more I hated it.  Who wants to go in every day and fail and he [her husband] didn’t cook either so it was the blind leading the blind,” says Medearis who married her husband after college and less than a three month courtship 40 years ago.

“Finally, I got to be what I called a' box and can cook' and it was enough to keep you alive but it was not good food.”

Medearis didn’t have aspirations of being the perfect wife who cooked fabulous meals for her family, but instead wanted to be a writer and once the door opened for her to print her first children’s book, “Picking Peas for a Penny,” she was off speaking at schools and soon traveling the world.

Her trajectory to becoming the Kitchen Diva would begin with her mother’s desire to bake her raisin pecan pies for extra income.  While Medearis suggested selling the recipe, her sister thought about writing a cookbook from family recipes and “The African-American Kitchen” was published in 1994 to rave reviews.  

“My mom and my sister cooked and I found the recipes.  I thought it would be a culinary history of how Africans made contributions to American cuisine everywhere they were enslaved.  So there is not really a place in the world where Africans were not enslaved, “ shares Medearis. 

She would find recipes with definitive markers of how Africans cooked them and then do a comparison to current day recipes to note that although ingredients may have changed, its roots can be traced back to Africans.

TV appearances and promotions started and Medearis and her sister were known as The Kitchen Divas.  Medearis would do the talking and her sister would do all of the cooking.  That was until the divas become one diva when Medearis learned her sister didn’t want to continue being on camera.  The jig was up and although Medearis knew she was doing what she was called to do but didn’t necessarily have the cooking skills behind it, she didn’t give up and stayed on the path.

“Like a lot of people pray before they eat, if I start thinking about food, I start praying.  If someone invites me to do something, I start praying then. And before you knew it, people just started going wild over the recipes I was able to create," says Medearis. 

Fast forward years later and she shares, “I am so passionate about food.  I am so passionate about what it can do as far as a person’s health, well-being, as far as loving people and taking care of your family.  You have to have that element of love when you are cooking and that is why my food taste so good now because I truly want people to know that I am doing this out of an act of love and so I had to change my whole attitude about food.  I had to change the way I thought about preparing a meal.”

This change in attitude has garnered attention and partnerships with the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association as well as TV appearances on Dr. Oz and competing against Bobby Flay during the first season of “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.”

Medearis has authored six additional cookbooks and also has an herb and spice mix that fans can purchase from her website.  She is also looking to bring her cooking show, THE KITCHEN DIVA! which originally aired on PBS, back to the airwaves in the near future.

“I really found my calling in food.  Everyone cooks because you have to eat.  You don’t have to have a degree or some special training or equipment.  People have been cooking since Adam and Eve got here so my style is easy, accessible recipes with a cultural historical foundation.  I want people to know that someone also created this dish and you may flip it and change it and charge $30 but someone who looks like me created this dish originally and it needs to be celebrated.”

For more about Angela Shelf Medearis, to try some of her recipes and purchase her books, visit her website at www.medearis.com.

Photo credit: Angela Shelf Medearis

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