Celebrating Black History Month at I-House through Food

February 26, 2020 Chan'Cellore Makanjuola

Throughout the year, International House, Berkeley hosts themed dinners, honoring cultural heritage and holidays celebrated around the world. Dinners range from Oktoberfest to Native American Heritage, as well as Diwali and Lunar New Year. For the month of February, residents and guests were treated to a special dinner in honor of Black History Month. The February 20 dinner, led by sous-chef Ray Sharp, featured a range of Southern food which paid homage to African American heritage. “Red Beans and Rice, Stewed Okra with Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Gumbo, Braised Collard Greens w/ Ham Shanks, and Southern Fried Chicken, there were so many dishes I could choose from for this event,” he said.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp (left) and cook Morgan Townsend (right) posing in front of a banner honoring African heritage.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp (left) and cook Morgan Townsend (right) posing in front of a banner honoring African heritage.

Sharp has been the lead chef for the African American Heritage dinner at I-House for the past two years. Born in San Francisco but raised in Berkeley, Sharp has been cooking Southern cuisine for years. “Most of the dishes I placed on the menu for this event are dishes that I have made hundreds of times working as the Chef de Cuisine at Elite, a New Orleans inspired restaurant in San Francisco.”

Morgan Townsend, whose been working as a cook with the I-House dining team for over a year, assisted Sharp with the menu. “The inspiration of the food really stemmed from [the dining staff’s] love and experience with African American food, which I really think showed that night,” he said. Townsend’s unique cultural background helped him see how food brings people together. “I grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, but my family is originally from Mississippi, Alabama, and the Dominican Republic,” he said, adding that his background gave him “insight on how African food transcends through geographical boundaries.”

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Residents and guests entered the dining buffet to see decorations that honored African ancestry. Some of the décor featured wooden spoons, carved masks, and baskets which Townsend said were “used in praise of sharing positive spirits, love and prosperity to the tribes who created them.”

Many of the decorations were passed down to Townsend from his mother, and he was able to display them during the dinner. “I’m thankful that my mother was very much into her African heritage and was able to pass down [pieces] of art to me and share the meaning behind [them],” he said.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp arranging food he prepared for the African American Heritage dinner. Photo by Chan'Cellore Makanjuola.

Sous-chef Ray Sharp arranging food he prepared for the African American Heritage dinner. Photo by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola.

Themed dinners at I-House often give residents the opportunity to experience other cultures through food. For Sharp, “theme[d] meals not only provide students a taste of their home country that they are so far away from, but also provide the dining team an educational experience as we are learning and working with the residents whose countries we are representing.”

For Townsend, the themed dinners such as the one for Black History Month, are a great way to bring residents together.“[What] I hope for students and residents to learn from these dinners is that no matter where we all come from, our food really shows the true similarities that we all have with one another all across the world.”

For a list of themed dinners and to see what’s cooking at I-House, please visit: https://ihouse.berkeley.edu/menu

International House has often set a standard on the UC Berkeley campus with students, faculty, and staff from other facilities frequently spotted in our Dining Commons. In case you missed it, here is a recent article written about I-House Dining Services, published in the February 2020 issue of Food Service Director Magazine. Congratulations to the entire Dining Services team

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