despite the popular sentiment, we’re not currently living in a unique moment in race relations in america, but rather a prolonged moment that started with america’s founding and stretches to now. let us not mistake the evolution of racism, from overt bigotry to covert dispossession, as progress. instead let us examine the myriad ways it manifests in contemporary life. to complete a tragic full circle, even that veneer of cordiality has been scratched off as shown by police shootings, white supremacy marches, muslim bans, anti-immigration legislation … join us in memphis for a day of food and honest conversations about where and who we are.
Tunde Wey is a Nigerian-born chef who’d been traveling the country putting on pop-up restaurants for a few years when, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, he sharpened his focus. At his Blackness in America dinners, frank discussions about race were on the menu.
On October 9th, Wey will bring 4: A Table for Four and 44: A Table for Forty-four to Memphis. Wey is teaming up with Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) director John T. Edge, Rhodes professor Zandria Robinson, and chef Kelly English. The event, held by happenstance on Columbus Day, will be at Restaurant Iris.
The “4” and "44" in the title of the event are a nod to Jay Z’s 4:44
“I’ve just been listening a lot of rap, and the Jay Z album has been one of my favorites,” says Wey. “The themes that he strikes are very relevant to discuss, whether you agree with them or not. Even in disagreement, we can create a rigorous examination on what it means to be black and also what it means to be white.”
The event will begin with four lunches for four from noon to 4 p.m. The cost is $44.
“The idea is that four people come together and we’re going to be eating and there’s going to be conversation,” Wey says. “We’ll be talking to them and serving them food and we’ll be listening to them, what it is they are saying and thinking about.”
The plan is to focus on four ingredients from Western Africa and the South. Wey would like all the dishes to be black. What he envisions is a black bean bisque, plantain gnocchi and catfish with black garlic, a cassava pudding …
Later, starting at 6 p.m., there will be a dinner for 44. There will be readings by Wey, Robinson, and Edge. There will be West African lullabies and Southern spirituals. Robinson will serve as curator for the discussion, using Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists as a guide.
“The overall theme is structural racism, which is one of the themes Jay-Z touches on in the album,” Robinson says. “But the album is more of a jumping off point to push and challenge and broaden the scope of that conversation by telling a history of racism and resistance across these four tables. The dinner is the evening reckoning with that history.”
Wey will already be in the area for SFA’s annual symposium. Wey and Edge have a history. Wey called for Edge to be fired for appropriating black Southern food for his own good. He and Edge now consider each other colleagues, according to Wey, and it was Edge who suggested Memphis and Restaurant Iris for Wey’s next project.
This year’s symposium will focus on ethnicity and identity. The 4 dinner serves as an extension of the symposium, of sorts.
“Memphis has long been a site of of contention and resistance,” Edge says. “A Columbus Day dinner, convented by Tunde, contributes beautifully to that ongoing narrative.
“Restaurants — not diners, not cafes, not lunch counters — have long been place of comfort, bunkers where diners have come to escape discord,” Edge says. What happens when restaurants, if only for the night, become places where discourse and discord are intentional?”
Wey says he lets the time and place set the tone at each of the dinners he hosts. And, yes, sometimes the conversations get intense.
“The idea isn’t to make people feel uncomfortable. It’s just part of the process,” Wey says. “You don’t go to the gym to feel pain. You got to the gym to work out and if you work out, well, you know, you’ll feel sore.
“I let it be what it’s going to be. Just like real life, there’s some contentiousness, some laughter. It’s honest and cordial in a way, but still very forthright.”
To buy tickets or for more information, go to fromlagos.com.