Scroll To Top

Food and

Food and


My best friend and mentor, famed chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis, passed away February 13 at the ripe old age of 89. Long before we wrote a cookbook together, The Gift of Southern Cooking (Knopf, 2003), we were dubbed "the odd couple of Southern cooking." Indeed, we were pretty different on the surface--a young gay white man and an elderly African-American woman--but we were on the same wavelength creatively and philosophically. Most of all, we shared a love for traditional Southern cooking.

Miss Lewis and I met at a Southern food festival in 1989 when I was 26 and she was 73. I thought she was elegant, exotic, and self-assured. I'm not quite sure what she thought of me. Our relationship evolved slowly over the next several years: Random phone conversations and occasional visits gave way to three-day cooking marathons and cross-country trips.

Though her food was praised for decades, Miss Lewis was not a formally trained cook. She used her intuition and her senses, listening to the bubbling of a cake, for example, to tell when it was done. She had an innate ability to coax the essence out of anything, whether it be a guinea fowl, an apple, or in my case, a human being.

When we met I was taking the first tenuous steps out of the closet and was planning to move from Georgia to Italy to reinvent myself. Miss Lewis was working in New York City, but she thought a few good cooks should stay in the South. I stayed. Our friendship bloomed in earnest after she joined me in Atlanta in 1992.

We spent countless nights talking about cooking, about her experiences working for Franklin Roosevelt's presidential campaigns, and about her grandfather, who was a freed slave. We picked wild blackberries, cooked turtle soup and shad roe, and listened to Bessie Smith. Finally, we became housemates, living together for nearly seven years.

Miss Lewis taught me that everything has inherent value. Back when we lived in different cities, I sent her a piece of cake via FedEx just so we could discuss its merits. On another occasion, after a black-currant bush she'd planted turned out to be stubbornly ungenerous, she sent me a tiny jar of preserves made from the tablespoon of berries it gave.

Over time Miss Lewis helped me see the value of myself--as a Southerner, a cook, a gay man, and a human being (not necessarily in that order). She never passed judgment, celebrating me for exactly who I was, yet her unconditional love inspired me to always strive toward being a better person.

Miss Lewis lived a long life as a boundless spirit, believing that people should stay true to themselves no matter what anyone else might think. My self-identity is still evolving, but I'm further along thanks to her. Miss Lewis may be gone, but I'll savor our friendship forever. The tears I cry are tears of gratitude. --As told to Larry Buhl

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Scott Peacock