Toni Tipton-Martin has been making and documenting food and beverage history for decades. In that time, the author, activist, and journalist has used the culinary and mixology worlds as a bridge to educate readers about African American history. Her acclaimed, James Beard Award-winning cookbook, “Jubilee” (2019) started a conversation about African American culinary history, and her new cocktail book, “Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs, and Juice,” continues this journey through the lens of drinks and the Black bartenders who have helped pave the nation’s cocktail culture. After tirelessly researching and documenting 200 years’ worth of Black drinks history, Tipton-Martin compiled the recipes, stories, and names that she found into the book’s pages to give them new life.

Here, Tipton-Martin sits down with VinePair to talk about history, healing, and her hopes for the future of culinary education.

1. How would you describe the stories collected in ‘Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs, and Juice’? Would you say this cookbook feels like a walk through history or something else?

One of the reasons I think my work has been so well received is because it’s a hybrid of two styles. It’s not fully a recipe book with just instructional or personal headnotes, and it’s not fully a history book with a litany of names and dates. It’s a combination of both of those things. What I really enjoy is gathering research on all of those people, tracing them through time, and looking for the modern expression of what I’ve learned about what people were doing. My work isn’t just a representation of the current people that are in the mixology or food world; my lane is primarily using recipe books, which are written records of formulas, to share amazing stories of the ways that African Americans have used food to obtain financial independence and express their creativity. I’ve learned about people who bought their freedom with food businesses.

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We, as a people, have not always respected that and neither has the broader community. Some of my favorite stories in this book and “Jubilee” have helped people understand that there was another class of people and another way of cooking other than the survival foods associated with poverty, struggle, segregation, and enslavement. That’s the only representation we had for such a long time. I do not mean soul food or the Southern experience any disrespect — I’m actually producing a book later this year about Southern women in food, so I have a deep respect for that. What I’ve really grown an appreciation for is how many stories there are that are associated with Black food professionals who we would think of as [having] celebrity careers.

2. Do you have any favorite stories from your book?

Each one of the book’s chapters begins with an essay that frames what the mixology experience was. [For example, early on], you learn about fermentation and West Africa where women are brewing beer and making palm wine. Along the way, I talk about people who were tavern owners, but the one that’s the most fun to talk about is connected to caterers. There’s a [historic] place outside of Boston called Hamilton Hall, and [in the Caterers chapter,] there’s a story about a man who was the caterer there. As part of his catering business, he sold luxury items, specialty foods, exquisite wines, and cigars, and he was highly respected. You don’t really get to hear about people like that.

3. How do you want this book to make people feel?

This book, and all of my work, is a celebration. So what I often leave people with when I speak publicly is that it doesn’t matter so much to me that you remember my name, or the title of “Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs, and Juice,” or “Jubilee.” What I want people to do is cook or make drinks from my books and serve them in their homes to their loved ones and, when they serve them, to do two things. One is to adapt it to their own taste because that’s what our people have done for years, and many often refer to that as appropriation, and that’s not accurate. It’s actually a form of appreciation to change a recipe and make it your own. Two: I want them to [share] the name of the cook, mixologist, or bartender that inspired the original drink or dish. That’s what I want people to be honest about so we can break down the barriers that exist between us. We think we don’t have a lot in common, but we really do.

4. Within the Black community, the phrase ‘say their name’ has been so tied to trauma, loss, and grief. Here it sounds like the phrase is tied to celebration through remembrance. Was this something you considered in your writing?

I love that you made that connection! Sometimes audiences look at my work and think that it’s too cerebral, it’s too focused on history, it’s too heady. One of the reasons [that could be] is that the headnotes to a lot of the recipes list the names that I took inspiration from. It is sort of like taking history 101, and most of us did not like history because it was just a series of names and dates.

5. Are there any current drink trends or movements that you think stem from Black bartenders or mixologists, and are there any changes in the current landscape you’re excited about?

I’m not a bartender and I’m not a bar mixologist, so I’ll be looking through a very narrow lens in comparison to what they see. What I can see as a person who’s been in the food world for 40 years and remembers being here for many of those years alone is that there are so many more Black people participating than ever before. I’m certain that’s associated with the internet and the fact that you can find your own audience. If you make drinks that are sweet you can find an audience, or if you make drinks that only use gin, you can find an audience. What I’m seeing is that [new Black bar professionals] are now developing a critical mass, and that means that they get to be independent and individuals, and they get to decide what is authentic and unique. They get to do that where the handful of us that grew up in this environment alone had to conform in so many ways.

You know, you hear that phrase all the time: “Black people are not a monolith.” That’s what I’m reacting to: being able to see through the number of Black mixology books that are coming to market, the number of cookbooks that have craft cocktails in their collections. This is an exciting trend that I can only see increasing.

6. Are you concerned about the patterns that are arising around critical race theory (CRT) in U.S. schools and how that will affect future chefs and mixologists of tomorrow, or are you more optimistic?

Like everyone, I am concerned about the attempts to erase our history. But it’s important for us to remember that the reason there’s a renaissance and a zeitgeist of our knowledge is because it’s taken so long for us to unearth the history. The history has been buried, erased, marginalized, and obfuscated — this isn’t new. What’s happening is to be expected and it makes us even more perseverant and determined to preserve our truths and our identity in whichever ways we can. We find a way, we always have and I suspect we always will.

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