Newsletter Archives

February 2001 - African-American Culinary History in Paris

by Monique Y. Wells

February is African-American History Month. As a longtime Paris resident and soul food cookbook author, this occasion inspires me to write about the culinary history of African Americans in Paris.

Since the 19th century, African-American writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals have contributed to the cultural ebullition that has made Paris one of the great cities in which to live. But while these contributions are gradually being acknowledged, the African Americans who have cooked professionally in Paris are all but unknown.

My search in the Paris markets for the ingredients used in the recipes in my cookbook led me to research not only the history of these foods, but also the African Americans who preceded me in coming to Paris and whose livelihood depended in whole or in part on the preparation of traditional African-American fare.

Among the African-American-owned food establishments that have come and gone in Paris since the "crazy years" after World War I are Chez Inez (5th arrondissement), Buttercup's Chicken Shack (6th arrondissement), the Chicago Texas Inn (7th arrondissement), and Mitchell's (9th arrondissement). Jezebel's, an upscale soul food restaurant with a parent restaurant in New York City, enjoyed a brief fling in Saint-Germain-des-Prés during the early 1990s. But it eventually closed its doors as well.

While not numerous, these restaurants played a significant role in the lives of African Americans in Paris, whether they were residents or tourists. They provided not only nourishment, but also a sense of comfort, a feeling that there was a little bit of home away from home that could be counted on to lift sagging spirits or to boost already soaring ones. The owners of these establishments were mostly performers and/or ex-GIs, and their businesses had a faithful clientele during the time they were operational.

Only Haynes' Restaurant, in business since 1949 and in its present location since 1964, endures from the "olden days". Located at 3, rue Clauzel in the 9th arrondissement, it represents an historic landmark for African Americans in Paris. The spirit of the late Leroy Haynes lives on there in the numerous photos of celebrities dedicated to him, photos of Haynes himself in various films in which he was an actor, and a portrait of him hung prominently in the dining room. Haynes' wife Maria has kept the restaurant operating since his death in 1986. Performer Electra Weston has honored the spirit and memory of Leroy Haynes in her portrayal of the character Delicious during a dinner show at the restaurant every Friday and Saturday night since its 50th anniversary in 1999.

Percy Taylor, a Norfolk, Virginia native, keeps the spirit of African-American restaurateurs alive in village-like Auteuil in the 16th arrondissement. In business since 1997, Percy's Place recalls the hospitality of the American South in Paris. He has an impressive collection of African-American memorabilia in the dining room and several southern dishes on his menu, including fried chicken, barbecued ribs and jambalaya.

Taylor is proud of his Southern roots and the food that he grew up eating. But because his path to culinary prowess has taken him to places as varied as Hawaii and Berlin as well as to the Cordon Bleu in Paris, he considers himself to be a chef of fusion cuisine. He runs a successful catering business in addition to his tearoom, which because of popular demand, he has recently opened for dinner service three nights a week. He has become a fixture of the rue d'Auteuil (no. 15), so much so that a review of the restaurant and huge photo of his dining room was published in Figaroscope, the weekly supplement of the French daily Le Figaro.

The latest addition to the list of African Americans testing the culinary waters in Paris is Chicago-born Sharon Morgan. Morgan made her cooking debut in Paris when she and former Haynes' barman Bennie Luke teamed up in 1999 to create a weekly event called "Soul on Sunday". This took place at Haynes' restaurant, which prior to this activity had been closed on Sundays. The concept began as a brunch, but evolved into a late afternoon-evening diner-spectacle. There was prearranged entertainment, but weekly open mike sessions added to the merriment of the crowd.

When "Soul on Sunday" came to an end, Morgan and Luke began looking for another venue to provide down-home food and lively entertainment to African Americans in Paris. They've recently found it - they opened Bojangles Restaurant and Bar at 47, rue Rodier in the 9th arrondissement on January 3, 2001. On opening night there was not a vacant seat to be found, and live jazz piano, trumpet and singing heightened the enjoyment of the copious portions of spicy pumpkin soup, grilled T-bone steak, Caribbean-style fried fish and side dishes that were served.

The researching and writing of Food for the Soul has permanently changed my perception of the importance of the tradition of African-American food in my life, and opened my eyes to how important it is to others as well. It gives me great pleasure to know that this culinary tradition lives on in Paris, not only in books such as mine, but also in professional kitchens where it can be shared with people from all backgrounds.

Learn more about the fascinating history of African Americans in Paris with our "Discover African-American History in Paris" walking tours.

One of our most popular walking tours is called Black History in and around the Luxembourg Garden.

Explore the Luxembourg Garden and the surrounding area to learn about the histories of such luminaries as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Séjour.  View the landscape captured by painter Loïs Mailou Jones and see the contemporary sculpture that commemorates the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.

The tour, led by a knowledgeable and experienced local guide, involves about 90 minutes of walking.  Black History in and around the Luxembourg Garden is a regularly-scheduled walking tour.

Click here to view the schedule:

We look forward to helping make your trip to Paris memorable!

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2001