Shut up and cook.

Monday, September 06, 2021

 


"Being a kitchenista is as much about confidence in the kitchen as it is about culinary know-how. It's about discovering your personal style of cooking and loving the process of creating a great dish. I hope that's what I can ultimately inspire people to do."
- Angela Davis, 4/16/2012


The last time I posted here was October, which feels like a lifetime ago. It didn't occur to me that shishito peppers would be the end of my journey with food blogging. I can't say that I haven't been tempted a time or two in the past to pen my final goodbyes. Last year was a roller coaster in more ways than one. We had that pesky pandemic, of course, which fundamentally altered how most of us engage with the world. The time at home has shifted my work in many ways. I stopped catering private dinner parties because it felt too risky to be in other people's homes. However, I did enjoy a successful collaboration with Mabel Gray restaurant back in February and hope to do that again when it makes sense. 


My private chef work continues to be my "day job" entirely from home, and despite a brief reprieve shopping in person this summer, I'm now back to getting groceries delivered. So, like most of you, I'm making plans for what looks like another fall and winter season hunkering down. It's frustrating, but I've long since given up on a return to whatever we considered our normal routines. I quite enjoy staying in, to be honest. I was a homebody and socially distant before it was cool. Raven's back to school in person as a second-grader, and Jaden recently graduated from high school and has settled into a budding food career as a line cook. Crazy how things turn out! I'm in the process of packing up to move to a new spot, so I'll have plenty of new projects to occupy my time in and out of the kitchen.



To fill the gap lost with catering, I leaned into brand partnerships. But in the past year, I felt rushed to meet deadlines and push through personal setbacks once the rest of the world had decided it was back to business as usual. I dropped the ball more times than I care to admit. In hindsight, I took on too much during a time when I wasn't emotionally or mentally equipped. Within a month of a personal family crisis, the whole country went right into lockdowns, followed by a summer of unrest in the streets. Brand partnerships were a challenge due to frequent delays, cancellations, staff changes, and volatile audiences. To everybody's credit, nobody had a blueprint for navigating the past year as humans let alone public-facing companies and platforms. Some swam, many sank. In June 2020, we saw damn near all of them throw up black squares and make promises to engage with social justice and diversity in deeper ways. Some meant it, but it turns out many didn't. My own internal conflicts changed the way I felt about relying on brand partnerships for such a significant portion of my income. Financial goals were met and in many cases exceeded, but ultimately so many of those campaigns didn't move me creatively or otherwise. It sounds like a lot of money until you're totally drained from neverending email threads, chasing checks, and being contractually silenced in ways that felt problematic during such an important political year. I've grown tired of the strange demands for heartfelt stories connecting my ancestral roots and culinary traditions to snack foods. (No, really... it was crackers. For Black History Month.) I can't accurately describe the rage I continued to feel every time I clicked open an email to read another last-minute request for content. I'd furiously scroll down to see the inevitable line letting me know about their apparent lack of both a budget and common decency. My chef group chat is often filled with screenshots of similarly audacious demands.

Of course, things haven't been all bad, so I treat those experiences just like any other "job" which is never going to be perfect. At the end of the day, it paid my bills. I try to remain grateful for the bigger picture, which is that I've managed to shape my life in such a way that I get to do what I want for a living. It's been a blessing to be able to hop online each day and share the thing I love most with other people. I lose track of time when I dive into Twitter threads about whatever food subject or recipe I'm currently geeking out on. That's the kind of energy that feels reciprocal, even when no money is exchanged. I truly love spending my free time virtually hanging out with my community, because it is that. Genuine engagement is wonderful. But entitlement is another beast entirely. Entitlement has unfortunately also been a recurring theme throughout my near-decade-long run as The Kitchenista. It comes in the form of brands expecting to profit off unpaid labor. It's on an endless loop in the comment sections with ridiculous demands for reworked recipes from exasperated strangers who can't possibly be expected to enjoy something the exact way that I made it. It's in the seemingly innocuous yet inherently entitled jokes about how laborious it is to scroll past somebody's personal essay to get to the free recipe. When other cooks and bakers think it's cool to use our recipes for the food they're selling for profit, that's entitlement too. It is reflected in ways that aren't always intentionally malicious but nonetheless have negatively impacted my experience as a freelance content creator. 


But sometimes entitlement is deliberately harmful, like when my unauthorized recipes were published in a barbecue anthology and I didn't receive so much as a public apology from the author. Or being harassed for months on end by a videographer who felt that a $25,000 investment should have entitled him to fifty percent of my future earnings. Most recently, entitlement took the form of a former business manager using my image and a fabricated case study to advertise his services, despite firing him... twice.


Yes, entitlement can become downright abusive. For the past couple of months, entitlement took an even darker turn in the form of "shut up and cook." I've devoted zero posts on this blog - my diary - to the scammer who shall remain nameless here. However, most of you by now have seen this saga unfold across social media and in national media outlets. I'll always appreciate those who rallied behind me and continue to amplify what I still feel are damning allegations. It was never a battle I intended to find myself at the center of for this long. I'm far from the only or most afflicted victim of his crimes, but I had a platform that was big enough to make an impact, so I chose to use it. I expected resistance from his camp. What blindsided me was the online abuse I've experienced at the hands of people who either claimed to support me or were "neutral" bystanders. 


When I decided to spend my summer doing what I wanted and posting what I wanted, a lot of folks on social media lost their fucking minds. Mental health stigma and ableism are a real thing, but at the root of the abuse was an unspoken expectation that content creators like myself are there for one purpose only: to deliver free and on-demand content. Throughout the duration of exposing a scammer, I was expected to stop talking about harm Black women are actively experiencing, but more than that - to get back in the kitchen.  My feelings were bruised when I was continuously called delusional and unstable. I was disgusted and offended when Essence magazine failed to address the way their team member publicly disparaged me. But it was when I was forced to file police reports last weekend and continued to receive abusive messages demanding recipes, that I finally decided I've had enough. It was time to burn it all down.



The size of my Twitter and Instagram platforms has more than doubled in the last couple of years, but not due to any sort of planned strategy. I dearly miss the days when my mentions felt more like a small friendly neighborhood and want to get back to having a safe(r) space online to create and share my gifts. More importantly, after nine years in the game, my food blog no longer needs to serve as an unpaid internship. I know my worth as a person, as a cook, as a creator, and as a teacher. The opportunities afforded to me as a result of the skills I learned while blogging quite literally changed my life. As much as I resisted it at first, cooking on camera for video content excites me now. The ability to seamlessly incorporate music with my food posts is dope too. Showing vulnerability in my work has always been important, and to do that I had to learn to get comfortable with the uglier parts of my story. Thanks to a lot of therapy I found my voice, which came in handy this summer. As it turns out I'm also one hell of an investigative journalist, so who knows where that could lead me. My work to expose the unnamed scammer continues on, but that doesn't mean I stepped away from building my own brand. All summer, I've been shooting new video content and now the fun work of editing begins. I finally caved in and bought a desktop computer, and within weeks of exploring I'm already seeing how much more I'll be able to create. All that to say, this post is hardly a goodbye to The Kitchenista Diaries, it's just an end to this particular home for my work. I'm ready for new energy, a new space, and the proper resources to soar in ways I never originally imagined.



To everybody who took the time to read my notoriously long blog posts, thugged it out with me on the Blogger platform for years past its expiration, and didn't give up when Volume Two never dropped... thank you. Thank you for being here to watch me evolve, however imperfectly. Thank you for lifting me up when I felt alone, for being the people I could talk to about buttermilk biscuits at three in the morning, and for being virtual aunts and uncles to two children who were growing up right alongside me. Thank you for inspiring me to keep cooking, and encouraging me to keep pushing. You didn't know it, but you helped keep me alive on those nights. Thank you for sharing my posts, buying the cookbooks, coming out to my events, and simply telling me about the last meal that you ate. Each of those interactions was valuable to me, and I love y'all for being here and allowing me to share those moments with you.



It would be premature to share official plans now, but I look forward to continuing this journey on a subscription-based platform starting in October. It is a move that will allow my business to grow in ways that are financially secure, first and foremost. It's also a reflection of the inability of platforms like Twitter and Instagram to protect their users from the most dangerous forms of online abuse. Finally, because in order to keep enjoying the process of creating and the work that goes into home cooking, I need to set different boundaries. This is me standing up and taking my power back, and I want you to understand that it's a good thing. I'm emotional about writing my last post, but I'm happy for this new chapter to start. It's time. For now, my existing blog content will be available where it always is. At some point, most of the older recipes will be archived, but I will find a home for the reader favorites. Be sure to subscribe to the new mailing list so you don't miss any announcements. The possibilities of "what comes next" remain endless. I plan on taking my time to relish the moment for a bit, because I deserve, and this kind of freedom feels too good to ever shut up.

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