Home Madison Adrian Miller to Speak on Theology of Soul Food, Black Presidential Chefs

Adrian Miller to Speak on Theology of Soul Food, Black Presidential Chefs


Adrian Miller, a James Beard Award-winning author, will speak at two events celebrating Black food culture at Upper House on the University of Wisconsin campus on Wednesday, February 12. Madison365 is the media partner of the events. Local nonprofit organization Selfless Ambition is also a partner on producing the event.

“Adrian Miller is a really interesting, kind of fascinating guy. He kind of lives in two worlds,” said Daniel Johsnson, director of technology and campus ministry engagement at Upper House. Those two worlds include the academic — Miller is a researcher in the history of food in the United States, especially in the food ways of African American culture — and the religious, as he also serves as executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches.

“I think he comes in as both an expert as well as a wonderful storyteller who can really enrich the experience of both eating together as well as helping us appreciate the community, the richness of our own community,” said Susan Smetzer-Anderson, communications manager at Upper House.

The first event, from 12 – 1:30 pm, will be a talk on the Theology of Barbecue and Soul Food and include a lunch catered by Marie’s Soul Food and North South Barbecue.

“We’ll be talking about specific things from fried chicken to collard greens to mac and cheese to pulled pork, grits, this whole breadth of different kinds of food experiences and how that has been an expression of African Americans in our history and in the African American church,” Johnson said.

“The Black church has such a strong culture around food,” Smetzer-Anderson said. “Some people would say the same thing about upper Midwestern churches. But the Black church really does have a culture where people enjoy the food, but they also then have created their own style of food, their own soul food that has theological meaning as well.”

The second event, from 6 to 7:30 pm, will focus on Miller’s 2017 book, “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet,” which chronicles the history of Black chefs serving in the White House. 

Miller will be “really talking about these 150 African American chefs in the White House and outlining some of their stories and their experiences,” Johnson said. “And he does kind of a full breadth of the US presidency all the way from the Washingtons to the Obamas. And the significance of these African American voices within the structure of the White House and actually how they had been really kind of a silent but an influential voice within the White House context.”

A dinner accompanying the talk with replicate dishes served in the White House.

Miller is the author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time (2013), a 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner for Reference and Scholarship. His recent book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas (2017), was nominated for a 2018 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction.”

Miller is a graduate of Stanford University and Georgetown University Law School. After practicing law in Denver for several years, he became a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and the Deputy Director of the President’s Initiative for One America. Following that, Miller returned to Colorado, where he served as the General Counsel and Director of Outreach at the Bell Policy Center. Currently, Miller is working on Black Smoke, a history of African American barbecue culture.

Johnson said each event has a capacity of about 120 people, and that more than half of the seats are already taken. Those interested can register for the lunch event here, and the dinner event here.

A suggested donation of $10 for the lunch and $15 for the dinner will help defray the costs of the event.