An award-winning food Culinary historian, cookbook author, educator and memoirist, Jessica B. Harris, has emerged as the recipient of James Beard Foundation’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. She is one of the world’s leading experts on African Diaspora cooking.
Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the James Beard Foundation postponed its annual May awards ceremony as well as its nomination announcements to an undecided date in the summer. Nonetheless the foundation has bestowed a special honor on Harris.
Born in Queens, New York on March 18, 1948, Harris attended the United Nations International School and further moved on to the High School of the Performing Arts, where she graduated in 1964. After high school, Harris attended Bryn Mawr College, earning her A.B. degree in French in 1968.
While there, she spent her junior year abroad in Paris. She returned to France in 1968, attending the Universite de Nancy for a year, and then earned her master’s degree from Queens College in 1971. Harris earned her Ph.D from New York University in 1983.
Harris is an English professor at Queens College, CUNY. She consults at Dillard University in New Orleans, where she founded the Institute for the Study of Culinary Cultures. She is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and a member of the IACP and Les Dames d’Escoﬃer.
She is the author of 12 cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. Her most recent book is High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America. She has written extensively about the culture of Africa in the Americas and lectured widely.
She’s the author of the memoir, “My Soul Looks Back” (Simon & Schuster, 2017) about her youth in Harlem in the 70s, where her social circle included James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone and other leading black intellectuals and artists of the time.
Her articles have appeared in Eating Well, Food & Wine, Essence, and The New Yorker, and has been proﬁled in The New York Times, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, the Museum of Natural History. She has also been a frequent guest at Philadelphia’s The Book and the Cook.
In 2004, Harris was awarded the Jack Daniel’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.
Today, the 72-year-old culinary historian has merited her place in history as a culinary icon who is recognized by James Beard Foundation, the most prestigious entity in food culture for her life’s work and ongoing contributions.
“Everything doesn’t have to be an Instagram photo. Does it taste good? What’s it doing in your mouth? My theory about food is if you put together things that you like, you’re probably going to come up with something you like,” Harris said.