Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis (1916-2006), Orange County
Chef and author

Edna Lewis (1916-2006) was a chef and author who influenced culinary experts and brought admiration and dignity to southern foodways traditions. Lewis was born and raised in Freetown, an Orange County community that had been settled by emancipated African Americans in the Virginia Piedmont. As a child, she learned to appreciate food by watching her mother prepare meals and observing her family and neighbors grow their own vegetables, preserve their own fruits, and smoke their own meats. Because of this, Lewis advocated using fresh products without manufactured ingredients and preparing food in accordance with the season.

Edna LewisAfter the death of both parents, Lewis moved to New York and focused on her career in cooking. Her friends John Nicholson, an antiques dealer, and Karl Bissinger, a photographer, asked her to be the chef at a new restaurant. Together they opened Café Nicholson, which was an instant success and entertained individuals such as Tennessee Williams, Gloria Vanderbilt, and William Faulkner. Later she worked in restaurants in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Carolinas.

With encouragement from her supporters, Lewis authored four books: The Edna Lewis Cookbook with Evangeline Peterson, 1972; The Taste of Country Cooking, 1976; In Pursuit of Flavor with Mary Goodbody, 1988; and The Gift of Southern Cooking with Scott Peacock, 2003. These books created nationwide interest in southern fare, and Lewis was honored with almost every award in the industry, from Who's Who in American Cooking, to the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Images courtesy of John T. Hill and Edna Lewis family

SEE Lewis in the video documentary "Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie," produced by Bailey Barash. In Lewis' view, what makes Southern cuisine so distinctive?

Video documentary courtesy of:
Bailey Barash
bbarash productions, LLC