This documentary film is that focuses on the life of the first American trained as a master chef whose legacy is almost erased from the annals of American history.
From the film we learn that James Hemings was born in 1765 as a slave in Charles City County and was the property of Jefferson at 8 years old.
Jefferson is appointed Minister to France and he takes Hemings along with him to Paris. In Paris he gets trained as a French Chef. He learned to read and write both in French and English.
That thought of fellow human beings being described as ‘property’ even in that era still stings.
The film centers more on interviews and interactions from Ashbell McElveen, a four-star chef who has owned restaurants in the United States and the United Kingdom. You can clearly see his commitment and dedication to ensure that this story about James Hemings is told and not forgotten.
McElveen decribes Hemmings as ‘the most overlooked revolutionary figure in American history”. And adds that “it’s time for his story to be told”.
He also shares that one of his motivations for making this film was his mother who died because she was refused a ride to the hospital by a white only ambulance in a highly segregated South Carolina in the 1963.
There are also interviews from French chef Jacques Pépin, culinary historians Michael Twitty and Therese Nelson as well as culinary journalist Toni Tipton-Martin and several others. The depth of knowledge that they share in this film adds a lot of credence to why this film needed to be made.
It is sad that a person of such historical significance would not be celebrated or even recognized as much of not for the persons that dedicated their time to make sure that he is.
As a Ghanaian, it was e xciting to hear culinary historian, Michael Twitty mention and acknowledged Ghanaian ethnic groups in this film. The Akan, Fanti, Ga and Ewe people of the Gold Coast were adversely affected by the slave trade. And it its delight to know that our culture, heritage and essence is not entirely lost in our brothers and sisters in the diaspora.
The story that this film conveys might seem insignificant to some but it is important for the history of the black race not just for African American’s but for the black race as a whole.
James Hemings is the founding father American cuisine and fine dining in America and he should be known and celebrated. He truly is the ‘Ghost’ in America’s kitchen. The delicacies he created have become house hold favorites that have been handed down for generations.
I would score this documentary 4 out of 5 stars for its importance and commitment to ensure that history is not distorted.
“James Hemings: Ghost in America’s Kitchen” is available to watch on Amazon Prime. If you are food lover or anyone interested in the history of American cuisine, this is certainly a film you should watch.