Tonya Hopkins


Savory & Sweet: Food History & Culture

Hosted by Tonya Hopkins, this show is a flavorful exploration of food marinated in the Black experience, seared with history and braised in culture. Each week the host will fold in conversations with special guests, mix in food-focused discussions about politics, business, health & wellbeing, music, the media, film & television, literature, and the arts — while separating the facts from fiction on the origins of the food & drinks […]

Legacy Cook & Culinarian:  Tonya Hopkins, a.k.a “The Food Griot,” descends from a long line of professional cooks in America, traced to enslaved African Americans in our nation’s earliest days who skillfully toiled under harsh conditions and without recognition in plantation kitchens of Maryland and Virginia for centuries. Her American artisan forebears with pre-industrial intel, ingenuity and innovative techniques mastered open fire cookery and fostered farm-to-table dishes informed by the seasons and incorporating imported ingredients, aromatic herbs and traded spices to maximize flavor. In later generations, her emancipated ancestors cooked in wealthy white homes and private and public eateries; their work was integral to the development of dining throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Akin to Black culinary professionals throughout the Americas, her predecessors carried on traditions of unmatched culinary expertise in enterprising ways: Her great-grandmother was a speakeasy “entrepreneur” and professional chef; a favorite great-aunt owned and operated a family restaurant in South Jersey. Not only was Tonya blessed to spend time with exceptional elders like them in the multigenerational family of her youth, their collective kitchen wisdom and talents transferred to Tonya’s grandmother, her mother and ultimately to Tonya herself.

Connector & Contributor: Growing up engulfed in a “UN” of extended family and friends (an Ecuadorian great-grandfather, two immigrant uncles – one Cuban, the other Italian; a Japanese step-grandmother and another from Germany and Irish-Jewish play cousins) not only made for deliciously different holiday meals but also gifted Tonya with an early ability to make meaningful connections across cultures. Throughout college (University of Pennsylvania) she worked in hospitality and retail; after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts she eventually landed in advertising as a brand strategist, qualitative researcher and trend spotter at both multicultural and mainstream agencies (LA, the UK, NYC). After years of unearthing consumer insights and developing impactful ad campaigns for food/beverage, wine/spirits and luxury brands, she did post-graduate food studies at The New School and ICE (Institute of Culinary Education), The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Windows on the World Wine School with Kevin Zraly and trained with the International storytelling company, Narativ. Tonya subsequently segued to work as an independent food and drink scholar on special projects. She has researched and is a contributing writer for: “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America”; “The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Foodways Edition)”; Food History News; Essence Magazine (first ever wine issue in 2004); and Spruce Eats (2021). 

Content Creator, Consultant Collaborator: Tonya founded The Food Griot LLC, a storytelling platform through which she produces nonfiction audio/podcast and video content (for broadcast and online) intended to offset the historical omissions and systematized obscurity of foundational Black contributors to “The Makings of America’s Cuisines, Cocktails …” Her role as griot (historian and nonfiction storyteller) also extends to the James Hemings Society, a nonprofit she co-founded with chef Ashbell Mcelveen to help lead the charge to remember, uphold and continue timeless Black culinary creativity that profoundly influenced American foodways. Hopkins is a main adviser for the Museum of Food and Drink’s “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” groundbreaking exhibition (lead curator Dr. Jessica B. Harris); the first and only food historian featured on ABC’s iconic daily show “The Chew”; lead food historian for chef Carla Hall’s book “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration”; a teacher and mentor for Black and Brown culinary students at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center; and is cited in award-winning author Michael Twitty’s two-time James Beard Award-winning book “The Cooking Gene.”

Custom Drinks Designer, Wine & Spirits Specialist: In the beverage arena Tonya creates customized cocktails for a range of clients and events including drink design and wine curation for the James Beard House in support of several chefs doing seminal dinners there. Her work often takes place at historic Northern sites linked to early American slavery (e.g. Morris Jumel Mansion, Wycoff Farmhouse Museum) including her ongoing work with The Old Stone House of Brooklyn’s Food/Drink & Public History Program, where she launched a spirits sipping series to narrate nearly lost, more inclusive American history through the “liquidy lenses” of pillar potations. For Harlem Hops, the nation’s first 100% African-American owned craft beer bar, Ms. Hopkins conducted original research and wrote the “African Origins of Beer” narrative prominently displayed at the bar (and designed the wine list and flagship cocktails). Tonya works her wine magic by teaching classes and conducting talks and tastings at Good Wine: A Food Lover’s Wineshop, a Black- and woman-owned wine shop in Brooklyn, NY.

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