Born in Freetown, VA and the granddaughter of an emancipated slave; Edna Lewis was one of eight children. She started her culinary career as a young adult when she started working at the prominent Cafe Nicholson. There she became a cook, preparing cheese souffles and roast chicken, Cafe Nicholson became an instant success under her tutelage and she remained there until the late 1950s. In the 1960s, she broke her leg and was temporarily forced to stop cooking. This is when she started writing her cookbooks. Her books are as follows: The Edna Lewis Cookbook (1972), The Taste of Country Cooking (1976), and she received a lot of notoriety from her books. One review she received was from the New York Times, “the book may well be the most regional entertaining book in America!”. She later returned to restaurants as a Chef before retiring in the 1990s. Not only was she a great chef and writer, she also co founded the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food. Outside of cooking she was also a famous seamstress known mostly for making many of Marilyn Monroe’s African designed dresses, she also worked as a columnist for a communist newspaper called “The Daily Worker, she was involved in some political demonstrations; campaigning for Franklin D Roosevelt. Ms. Lewis surely wore many hats.
Sadly, she died at age 89. She was called the South’s answer to Julia Child. Her many awards and honors and published works is why she made my list at #2 of African American Chefs and their contributions to the culinary world. She is definitely my Hero.
My tribute to her was to re-create her famous Shrimp Paste. This is so delicious and versatile, I chose to serve on a baguette but it can certainly be stirred into grits or served over rice. Please try this delicacy.
- 2 sticks ( 1/2 pound) unsalted butter
- 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup cream sherry
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
How to make this recipe
- In a large skillet, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter until it foams. Add the shrimp and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a food processor.
- Return the skillet to high heat. Add the sherry, lemon juice and cayenne and cook until reduced to 3 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the liquid over the shrimp and process until very smooth.
- With the machine on, add the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until smooth and silky. Transfer the shrimp paste to a serving bowl and let cool. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerated for at least 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.
The shrimp paste can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.