Beyond the Kitchen: B. Smith and the Legacy of Black Women’s Cultural Work

Kimberly Nettles-Barcelon
African American and African Studies
UC Davis

This book project critically examines the long legacy of Black women’s work in the culinary and hospitality arts, as illustrated by the 40-year career of Barbara Elaine Smith (1950–2020), a model, restaurateur, lifestyle television host, cookbook author, and all-around style maven. Although popular media culture labeled her the “Black Martha Stewart,” Barbara Elaine Smith built consciously and expansively on a legacy of Black women cultural workers. She is part of a lineage of Black women who cooked professionally (or did other sorts of food work) in the public eye; as well as those who wrote about food, lifestyle and the cultures of Black folks with irreverence, grace, and love. B. Smith’s variegated career serves as an antidote to historical and modern-day Aunt Jemima-like iconography of mainstream media representations. Rather than a traditional biography, this book works to build a portrait of B. Smith’s public life as an influential Black woman in the food and lifestyle space from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. It does this by narrating through the archival gaps and the silences that often accompany the histories and voices of Black women in order to amplify and contextualize the significance of Black women’s cultural work.