Bress ‘n’ nyam means “bless and eat” in Gullah, a Creole language spoken by African Americans living on the coastline of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In “Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer,” chef/farmer Matthew Raiford pays homage to the cuisine that nourished his family for over a century.
The embossed hardcover features over 100 recipes broken down into six sections: Eart / Earth, De Wata / Water, Fiah / Fire, Win’ / Wind, Sweet’n / Nectar and De Spirits / Spirits. Most seem simple and easy to follow. I love that they use fresh ingredients, herbs and spices from the land once owned by Raiford’s great-great-great-grandfather. Don’t let this deter you from picking up items at your local supermarket.
Everything is readily available except for the venison, goat meat, and/or rabbit. There are plenty of other foods to try, for example, the Gullah fish stew, the herb chicken in goober (peanut) sauce and the berbere-spiced short ribs. I just wish an image accompanied each dish. The hot buttermilk biscuits with honey butter, Grandma Florine’s salmon cakes on pepper rice, and Nana’s sweet potato pie look so appetizing. They excite me just as much as Raiford’s genealogy, anecdotes and old photographs. For those feeling ambitious, this book also includes hosting an oyster or pig roast—both with pictures. Looks fun!
The Prodigal Son
Raiford grew up on Gilliard Farms in Brunswick, Georgia, with several relatives. He enjoyed spending time in the kitchen watching his mother, nana and aunts cook. He knew as a young boy that he wanted to become a chef. However, his dad, a pastry expert who was denied bakery positions, discouraged him. So, Raiford graduated from high school, vowed never to return home and entered the military.
While overseas, he tried new foods and explored cooking techniques. Ten years later, he left the military and enrolled in Howard University. He dropped out in 1995. Then, he attended culinary school in Virginia. When he was invited to assist with chef Joe Randall’s Annual Taste of Heritage Dinner, he met renowned chefs that looked like him. He felt inspired.
Three years later, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park. He took an apprenticeship at the University of California Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, where he learned about seeds, organic pest control and food justice. In 2011, he visited the farm. Nana gave Raiford and his sister the deed to 28 acres. That same year, he moved back to the homestead permanently.
He said, “I am the prodigal son who returned, only with my arms wide open for the land I thought I had left behind.” He got a job as an executive chef at a lodge on Little St. Simons Island. Then, he opened and closed his own restaurant. He was named a 2018 semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast, among many accolades.
I feel like a proud auntie reading this cookbook. Good storytelling. Emotionally delicious. I want to prepare all the cuisines with Raiford’s property as the backdrop. I bet it has more stories to tell about the Gullah Geechee culture for future generations to sustain.
Grab your copy of Bress ‘n’ Nyam on Amazon.
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