One word – iconic!
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has recently acquired the historic Ebony magazine Test Kitchen, DCist reports. The kitchen was first constructed by Ebony mag owner John H. Johnson in 1972, built on the 10th floor of the Johnson Publishing Company building in Chicago. Operating as both kitchen and dining area, the psychedelic style kitchen was considered ahead of the times, outfitted with all of the state-of-the-art culinary technology including a refrigerator with an ice and water dispenser, stove-top grills, a trash compactor, and a hidden toaster.
The kitchen was the place where Ebony magazine editors prepared, tested, and photographed recipes, iconic editors like Charlotte Lyons and Charla Draper regularly experimenting with various recipes. The work continued when Ebony’s first food editor, Freda DeKnight, launched “A Date with a Dish” column, opening readers to submit their favorite home recipes for Draper and other Ebony staff to test and then vote on. More than 50 years later, the kitchen stands as a symbol of Black culinary excellence and an important relic in Black food & culture history.
Johnson Publishing Company eventually sold the building to Columbia College in 2010, the history of the kitchen nearly lost. Columbia’s plan to reimagine the building as a library and student center never panned out and in 2017, the building was sold to a developer. The following year, Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit focused on historic preservation, preserved the kitchen by buying it for $1, volunteers helping to deconstruct it and remove it from the former Johnson Publishing building. In 2019, the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) acquired the kitchen materials. After MOFAD restored it, the Ebony Test Kitchen was put on display from February 19 through Juneteenth 2022 at “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table,” an exhibit in Harlem at the Africa Center. Now, the NMAAHC has acquired the 26-by-13 foot kitchen.
The Ebony Test Kitchen will first undergo some work before it is available for the public to view. It will be used to highlight the intersections between food and culture in Black history and the pertinent role of foodways.
“The Ebony Test Kitchen is a living, breathing testament to the power of Black excellence and innovation in the culinary world. The kitchen was a place where recipes were reimagined, flavors were explored and stories were shared – a place that celebrates Black history and culture in a way that was not only inspiring but delicious,” said Andrew W. Mellon NMAAHC Director Kevin Young.
The acquisition comes just a year after the NMAAHC and Getty acquired the historic Ebony and Jet photo archives, made possible by the Ford, Mellon, and McArthur foundations. MOFAD and Landmarks Illinois have followed suit, making a donation that made the acquisition possible. While the kitchen is not yet open for public view, the museum currently offers an online exhibit of the space.
“With the inclusion of the Ebony Test Kitchen, NMAAHC will be able to share a more comprehensive history of the Johnson Publishing Co., its publications, and its broader role in telling the stories of African American life in the 20th century,” the museum said via statement.
Cover photo: NMAAHC acquires historic Ebony Magazine ‘Test Kitchen’ to preserve Black culinary history/Food editor Charlotte Lyons in the Ebony Test Kitchen, November 1992 issue/Photo Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company Archive/J. Paul Getty Trust/Smithsonian NMAAHC