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On the Preservation of Memory: Chef Kevin Mitchell Reaches Back to Teach in a Powerful New Way at Drayton Hall

African American history, Friends of Drayton Hall, General

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On April 27, 2019 Chef Kevin Mitchell – chef and scholar of Southern foodways – came to Drayton Hall to teach through cooking and discussion on the lives and work of the enslaved cooks at Drayton Hall at A Night to Remember.

In partnership with Drayton Hall’s curators, Chef Mitchell took a deep dive into the diaries of Dr. Charles Drayton during his period of ownership of Drayton Hall, 1784-1820. A prolific record keeper, Charles Drayton’s notes on the enslaved at Drayton Hall helped Chef Mitchell to open a new window of education and in turn understanding.

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Their names were said with reverence and respect at Drayton Hall: Toby, Mary, Dumpling – by a chef who came here for them, to create clarity, recall and mindfulness about their struggle. They were enslaved cooks here. Chef Mitchell cooked the food they would have, told their stories of work, life and death, and taught with his food and research in the Drayton Papers Collection.

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Words fail to describe the tribute he created; no less than perfect, no less than a clear understanding of what Toby, Mary, and Dumpling faced in their days. The torch of their memory burned brightly as a free and brilliant chef walked up the steps of Drayton Hall to deliver the message: They will not be forgotten here. It is among the most powerful gestures we will ever witness.

With a team of world-class chef volunteers from the Culinary Institute of Charleston, local restaurants, and his students, Chef presented a fully executed meal of dishes once prepared by the enslaved cooks at Drayton Hall and delivered talks throughout to enlighten and share mindfulness with each person in attendance. An experience, both beautiful and powerful which no one here that night will ever forget.

That table of understanding is one at which we all need to sit; and a power that needs to move all of us.

Chef Mitchell will speak on his research and his two opus projects on enslaved cooks in Charleston – the Nat Fuller Dinner and Drayton Hall, A Night to Remember as part of the Drayton Hall Distinguished Speaker Series at Charleston Library Society on Thursday, May 16 at 6 pm. This is a free lecture presented by South Carolina Humanities, all are encouraged to attend.

Photos: Michael Parks Photography