A few weeks ago, just as fall was starting to peek around the hillsides in Appalachia, I got to meet Tunde Wey. Tunde is a Nigerian-born chef based in New Orleans who came to my friend Lora’s Egypt, Ky. farm, Big Switch, to prepare part of a meal that Lora termed, “Nigerian Appalachian Remix.”
It was a fusion meal, and at first thought, you might wonder how in the world those two cultures can come together for a meal rivaling Thanksgiving in terms of scale and community on a farm in Egypt, Ky. But, really, if you think a little under the surface, you realize that this fusion is just another in a long line of culinary combinations that have defined Central Appalachian cooking for centuries.
As noted previously on this blog, Appalachia is a borderland – a place where many varied cultures from many different corners of the world have crossed paths for generations. Each time a new culture entered or passed through the hills, its people left a little piece of it behind through foodways still celebrated today.
So, this meal at Big Switch – complete with chicken and dumplins, leather britches, red stew with chicken feet and jollof rice – is really nothing too out of the ordinary for a place where food origins are as varied as the trees on the mountains.
And, as is always the case when meals like this happen, a full belly and a plate of leftovers was not the only thing folks carried home with them. Mealtime is as much about fostering and nurturing relationships as it is about food – especially in Appalachia, where food and community-building go hand-in-hand. We love to eat here; we also love to gather – it’s really a perfect marriage.
So, as is our custom, we cooked, we gathered, we ate, we fellowshipped, and we did it all while welcoming a new culinary culture into the hills. And we all walked away full – with nourishment, and with love.
You can read more about Chef Tunde Wey’s visit to Appalachia, in his own words, from the Oxford American.