Big things are coming out of Baltimore’s food scene, including the culinary organization, H3irloom Food Group, a company dedicated to educating the masses about the contributions of Black food culture to the American culinary canon. The executive chefs and partners David and Tonya Thomas do so by incorporating these lessons into their catering services, pop ups, and other dining experiences. The pride themselves upon recounting the narrative behind the dishes they make, highlighting the food’s history and the sustainability practices within the process.
“Maryland has an incredibly rich history…in food, in agriculture, and we want to make sure that we acknowledge that,” David tells Food Tank. He also shares that they purchase only top quality ingredients from farmers whose practices invest back into the land, “because it’s just the right thing to do.”
The purchasing decisions behind the business are part of what Tony and David use as educational tools for their customers, vendors, and employees.
“They need to know why we source the way that we do, why only certain things are acceptable to us,” says David. Tonya adds, “we always try to teach people…where your food comes from, and what’s in your food, and…the health benefits of knowing those things.”
David also tells Food Tank that a major part of their mission also includes uncovering and uplifting the true Black food narrative. This of course requires a deeper look into the past.
“The narrative is that they pulled us out of the bush and out of the jungle, and they brought us here and showed us how to pick cotton,” he explains. “That is far from the truth. The actuality is that they sought us out in different areas and regions of Africa based on our skill set.” Skills that include rice growing, fishing, and other food and farming specializations.
“You brought us here, and then we enlightened you. And that’s what I want people to get to understand is that yeah, we’ve been a victim,” David continues. “But at the same time, we made something beautiful out of it, and we’re going to continue to tell that story.”
Tonya and David take it upon themselves to teach their young staff about the Black culinary veterans that came before them. People like Leah Chase, Edna Lewis and other food giants that paved the way not just for Black culinary professionals, but for the industry at large.
Tonya expresses that “It’s important to have “an understanding of how long we’ve been involved in the culinary field, and at all levels…and the contribution that we’ve made into the culinary world here in this country.”
David and Tonya recreate the connection between family, food, and our collective past for others through the stories they tell and the food they serve at the H3irloom Food Group. David says, “We call it soul food…because the connection of the people to the product…it’s simply about the connection of people to food. That is all it is. And that’s why it’s important to us.”