The Food Readers Organization

Featured Author Project

Current Featured Author

Adrian Miller

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Biography

Adrian Miller is a food writer, attorney and certified barbecue judge who lives in Denver, CO. Adrian received an A.B. in International Relations from Stanford University in 1991, and a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1995. He is currently the executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches and, as such, is the first African American and the first layperson to hold that position. Miller previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton with his Initiative for One America—the first free-standing office in the White House to address issues of racial, religious and ethnic reconciliation.[,] and a senior policy analyst for Colorado governor Bill Ritter Jr. He has also been a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Miller’s first book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time won the James Beard Foundation Award for Scholarship and Reference in 2014. His second book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas was published on President's Day, 2017. It was a finalist for a 2018 NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Literary Work—Non-Fiction," and the 2018 Colorado Book Award for History. In 2018, Adrian was awarded the Ruth Fertel "Keeper of the Flame Award" by the Southern Foodways Alliance in recognition of his work on African American foodways.  Adrian is currently working on a history of African American barbecue, tentatively titled Black Smoke.

Let's Talk About Food Q&A

What is your earliest food memory? 

My earliest food memory involves talking about food. I guess I was about five years old, and I asked my mother what was for dinner. She answered "Tuna fish." I said in response, "I don't want any micro-processed food." One, I didn't even know what that word was, so I'm surprised I used it. Two, I can believe that I'm still alive after telling my mother that I didn't want something that she made for dinner. 

 

What does food mean to you? 

Food is about community. My best food memories are of meals shared with others. Even when one eats alone, one is still connected--to those who farmed the food, to those who cultivated the agricultural products, those who transported it to other places, and finally, to those who prepared the food that is eaten.

 

What is your favorite dish? 

My absolute favorite things to eat are mustard and turnip greens and black-eyed peas--both stewed with some seasoning meat (smoked ham hocks or turkey), onion, red pepper, and any other spices that I want to throw in the pot. My favorite dessert is lemon icebox pie. If you're unfamiliar with it, picture a key lime pie, except the filling is lemon, the crust is made with crushed vanilla wafer cookies glued together with melted butter, and it's all topped with a baked meringue. 

What compelled you to get started in the food system industry? 

The short answer is unemployment. I had just ended my stint in the Clinton White House, and shockingly, President-elect George W. Bush wasn't interested in having me work for him. I was trying to get a job in Colorado at that time, but the job market was slow. My search took longer than I expected, and I ended up watching far too much daytime television. I'm not even going to tell you what show. At the depth of my depravity, I said to myself, "I should read something." I went to a local bookstore, and as I browsed shelves in the cookbook section, I noticed a history of southern food. The book was Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History by John Egerton. In that book, he wrote, in effect, that the tribute to African American achievement in cookery had yet to be written. I thought that was interesting, and since the book was about 10 years old, I emailed Egerton to ask if someone had written that book. I told me that some authors had addressed pieces of the story, but no one had taken on the full story. So, with no qualifications at all except for eating a lot of soul food and cooking some, I started the journey to writing Soul Food. 

What is your greatest/most memorable accomplishment? Did you have any hurdles? If so, how did you overcome them?

My greatest achievement was winning a James Beard Award in 2014. It was such an unexpected validation for the endless hours of work, the constant feedback from people in my life that I would write a scholarly treatment of soul food, and my own self-doubt on whether or not I could pull it off. I was able to pull through by seeking the advice of writers I trusted, and finding ways to affirm myself. Two memorable pieces of advice were: "Write the book that you want to read," and "share your dream." The latter is really important because writers often keep things close for fear that someone will steal their idea. I'm not going to discount that because theft does happen, but I've had a lot of good things happen because I let people know what I was up to. I'm surprised how so many people have supported because they liked the fact that I was pursuing my passion.

If food was out of the picture, what profession would you like to attempt? 

I would still do some kind of writing, probably involving unsung African American history. At some point, I hope to write a history of African Americans in Colorado. Otherwise, I'd probably be involved in politics. Despite how broken our political system can be at times, I still that politics is the art of the possible. Before I took my food journey, my ambition was to be a U.S. Senator from Colorado.

What advice would you have for the younger generation interested in getting in the food scene?

I think the most important thing is to find the thing in the food scene that makes you happy. Everything else will flow from that. The next step is to find someone who is doing the exact same thing, or similar to what you want to do five or ten years down the road. Ask them to be a mentor, and hopefully, they will say yes. Learn from them, ask about works and doesn't work. As I've mentioned above, share your dream with others. Remember to do the work necessary, and don't take shortcuts. Shortcuts always catch up with you. You should also become adept at social media. That's the name of the game these days. Having a good following on social media could lead to income, a book deal, etc.

 

Any parting words?  How can we get in touch with you? 

There's growing interest in a variety of food spaces, so you can really make your mark. You might even break new ground. Just be sure that you have something that can pay your bills until pursuing your passion through food pays your bills. You may stay in touch with me through a variety of platforms: Facebook--The Soul Food Scholar fan page; Instagram--@soulfoodscholar ; Twitter--@soulfoodscholar and Website: www.soulfoodscholar.com .

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