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Arts & Life

Platform Americas: Food With Artist Justin Favela; Food Critic Adrian Miller

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Eric Rothaus
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Platform Americas
Justin Favela, Elaine Appleton Grant and Adrian Miller share soul food and Mexican dishes in the studio.

James Beard award-winning food writer Adrian Miller (“Soul Food: The Surprising Story of An American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time" and "The President’s Kitchen Cabinet,”) joins artist and Latinos Who Lunch podcast host Justin Favela and Platform Americas host Elaine Appleton Grant for a surprising meal in the Platform Americas studios. Through fried catfish, mojarra frita, a “red drink,” and agua de Jamaica, they explore the common roots of soul food and Mexican food -- and have a grand old time.

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Credit Mikayla Whitmore
Artist Justin Favela poses against his rendering of the American flag in his Las Vegas studio.

Adrian Miller and Justin Favela both love exploring the history of food-- and using it to bust myths about culture and to support reconciliation. Adrian Miller is a self-styled “soul food scholar,” and artist Justin Favela uses food as a backdrop to talk about race and social justice on his podcast, “Latinos Who Lunch.” 

Interview Highlights

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Credit Bernard Grant
Author Adrian Miller, eating a soul food meal: fried chicken, greens, mac ‘n cheese, cornbread and red drink (Kool-Aid).

Adrian Miller on why both soul food and Mexican food feature a traditional “red drink”:

Miller: So the reason why I liked doing the red drink [in the Platform Americas meal] is that Agua de Jamaica is actually a riff off a West African drink in West Africa. It's called Bissap and it's made from hibiscus flowers. It comes across the Atlantic during the slave trade, takes root in Jamaica, where it's called sorrel, and it starts to spread around the Caribbean and around Latin America. And if you go to a lot of African-American social functions there's usually some kind of red drink. And I think this is some kind of cultural echo or aftertaste from that West African drink.

Justin Favela on how migration leaves a hidden food legacy:

Favela: I realized that most food from Mexico is there through some sort of trade or migration of people -- like our favorite food, tacos al pastor. Al Pastor comes from the Middle East from people cooking meat over a fire. And our favorite flour tortillas, without the Spanish conquering Mexico, we wouldn't have flour tortillas. So there's a lot of really traditional Mexican foods that are actually not [Mexican]. Cilantro -- we got that from China -- you know, coriander.

Miller's Recipe for Hibiscus Aid

Makes 2 quarts

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 ounce fresh or dried food-grade hibiscus blossoms (about 1⁄2 cup)
  • 1 ounce fresh ginger, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup sugar, honey, or agave syrup, or to taste
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime (about 3 tablespoons)

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the ginger, hibiscus, and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Cover and let cool to room temperature. Strain into a large pitcher, stir in the lime juice, and refrigerate until chilled.

Serve cold.

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