Jerrelle Guy, the founder of the popular food blog Chocolate for Basil, moved back to Dallas from Boston last year. The photographer and author, who is a James Beard award finalist for her vegan and gluten-free friendly cookbook, Black Girl Baking, wanted to be closer to her family and to open a photography studio with co-collaborator Eric Harrison. The two recently finished a cookbook for Toni Tipton-Martin, an African American food historian and James Beard award winner. And this week, their stunning photography appeared in Beautiful Boards: 50 Amazing Snack Boards for Any Occasion by Maegan Brown, the McKinney mom better known as The BakerMama.
I sat down with Guy to talk about how her blog came to be, finding her voice, and her vegan following.
Under the Tuscan sun: “I was studying illustration in Italy for undergrad. I started hosting dinner parties with my roommates because I was feeling really alone and detached from home and just uprooted. There were 21 of us. I’d give them a menu and I’d say, ‘Hey, just give me $10 and I’ll cook all this food for everybody.’ That is really what lights me up–cooking for everybody and seeing everybody excited and happy. I got to use that local produce and experiment.”
Doing improv: “The first thing that I made was a fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes. And I made this apple pie, and I made corn bread. I wrote about this in the book, too, just how I was looking for cornmeal and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I ended up getting chestnut flour. We’re in Italy, so that was more popular and really cheap. I just remember mixing it how I would mix the regular cornbread. I was like, ‘What is this? It tastes horrible,’ but everybody else loved it. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God, it was the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted.’ It ended up growing on me.”
The birth of the blog: “When I graduated, I was in this weird place where I didn’t know what I was doing with myself. I just started writing and it felt like a wonderful outlet. Smitten Kitchen had the most popular blog, and I was like, ‘I want to be like Smitten Kitchen.’ I didn’t know anything about it, but I just knew that it was one of the top food blogs. A lot of the recipes that I started at the beginning were other people’s recipes, and then I wanted to share my own voice. It wasn’t about it being perfect–it was about me playing. It’s like art. It’s like self-expression.”
Current go-to recipe: “Recently, I’ve been making these white chocolate chip pancakes that are just so amazing because I’m using Valrhona chocolate, so it’s not sweet. It’s like a little nutty, buttery. With maple syrup and fresh strawberries on top, it’s just a classic combination.”
Cookbook inspiration: “When I was in Boston, I was literally the only black person in my graduate degree program. We were talking about food, and we were talking about identity, and we were talking about food history, and I just remember feeling like there was not any representation for my history. That’s why I went to school–I wanted to learn more about why I have this passion for food, and I wanted to just understand more about myself, so that I could share that with people. Then I was on Instagram, and I remember seeing the Black Girl Magic hashtag and how that made me feel really powerful. It just made me feel like I don’t have to be like every body else in this.”
On finding her voice: “I felt like the cookbook was an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m black. I’m beautiful. I don’t have to change.’ Right now I’m writing recipes for the New York Times, and I feel like the way that they tweak my recipes and say, ‘Let’s suggest crème fraiche here,’–I’m like, ‘I don’t eat that.’ It’s just weird that I feel like I have to mold myself to fit an audience that doesn’t understand me. But in this book, this is how I talk. It’s about me learning to love myself, me learning to not be apologetic for not fitting in. That’s what the Black Girl Magic hashtag meant to me, and I just wanted to bring that into the food space.”
Palate history: “My mom is from Guam. She came here when she was 18 and she married my dad, who has a Southern palate. Spam soup and rice, that’s my mom’s comfort food. Cutting up Spam, putting it in water with onions. Or pickling onion in soy sauce and vinegar. That’s our relish that we would put on everything.”
Vegan following: “I got the contract because of my Instagram. That’s why they came to me, because I had a very big vegan following. I still have a very big vegan following, because I eat that way. When I was 14 years old, I went vegan. That’s when I also started baking and cooking and trying to figure out how to recreate these things that can fit my diet that I still loved. It’s overwhelming how many black women, black men are transitioning into that diet and lifestyle, because I just feel like it is about going back to the foods of our ancestors. I think there is that reclaiming of their identity that’s happening.”