Smithsonian American Table: The Foods, People, and Innovations That Feed Us

Lisa Kingsley quotes the French gastronome Jean Antheime Brillat-Savarin who famously wrote “Just tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” in the introduction to her new book, Smithsonian American Table: The Foods, People, and Innovations That Feed Us that culls the vast archives of the Smithsonian Institute where just the word “food” yields tens of thousands of results. The Smithsonian, which opened over 175 years ago, is the nation’s museum, and it’s not a stretch to say that food is the nation’s passion. What Kingsley, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute, has accomplished is to provide snapshots of how our environment, availability of foods, and migration have played an important part in what our ancestors ate and what we eat now.

Trying a variety of foods is often called grazing, and Kingsley, who has been writing about food for more than three decades and is currently the editorial director of Waterbury Publications, a company in Des Moines, Iowa that produces and packages books for publishers, authors, personalities, and corporate brands, has created the literary equivalency in presenting a history of foods for our reading pleasure.

“The long history of hot sauce began about 7000 years ago in Bolivia, where chile peppers grew wild,” writes Kingsley in her chapter, “Food Fads & Trends,” which also includes the history of not only our addiction to fiery sauces but also explores snacking, fermentation, the craft beer movement, fad diets, the backyard cookout, and, among others, community cookbooks and sushi. The latter had a much shorter trajectory to fame and availability than one would ever expect of a dish consisting of raw fish and rice often accompanied by wasabi paste and fresh ginger.

“Propelled by an economic boom in Japan and bolstered by American hipster culture, what started as a street snack almost 200 years ago is now as likely to get as a hamburger or hot dog,” writes Kingsley who describes sushi spreading from California where it appeared in a restaurant right next to a Century 21st Century Fox studio to everywhere. That includes your local grocery store.

Trends are fascinating, but so are the other subjects in this book that are highlighted in such chapters as “Innovators & Creators.” That list would have to include Irving Naxon who applied for a patent on a slow cooker he invented in 1936. Now, out of almost 123 million households in the U.S., approximately 100 million have a slow cooker tucked away in a cabinet or pantry or even on the counter. On the opposite side of slow cooking was Percy Spencer whose application of microwave technology to cooking led to the Radarange, the first microwave oven, which was both the size of a conventional oven and sold at a costly $1295 in 1955.

In Chapter Five, we meet the “Tastemakers,” such as early cookbook authors Fannie Farmer, Lizzie Kander, and Irma S. Rombauer as well as chefs who would be the early innovators for the boom in the cult of television chef celebrities of today. Lena Richard, the host of the Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book show that aired in 1948, was the author of the New Orleans Cook Book said to be the first Creole cookbook by a person of color. She would be followed by now better-known names of those early cooking shows like James Beard and Julia Child.

Each of the chapters is illustrated not only with historic and current photos of people, foods, and products but also full color photos of the 40 plus iconic recipes included in the book such as Beard’s Cocktail Canapes and Child’s Smoked Salmon & Dill Souffle. Of special interest are the sidebars such as “The Black Brewmaster of Monticello,” a reference to Peter Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson.

Kingsley’s preparation, research, and organization of this book is a wonderful account of the foodways of America and how they came about, and it can easily be read from front to back or delved into according to the reader’s interest. Either way, it’s our history and after reading this you can now look at a chunk of artisan cheese, a photo of the Harvey Girls, or a plate of Korean Fried Chicken and know how they—and so many others—became part of our national food conversation.  

The following are from Smithsonian American Table.


Serves 4.

Southeast Michigan is home to the country’s largest Arab American population. The first influx of immigrants began in the early 1900s, when — according to local legend — there was a chance encounter between a Yemeni sailor and Henry Ford, who told the sailor that his automobile factory was paying $5 a day. The sailor took word back to Yemen, where it spread. For decades, as people fled conflicts in the Middle East, many sought economic opportunities near Dearborn, bringing their food traditions with them. This recipe comes from Patty Darwish of Dearborn, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Lebanon in the late 1800s. Note: You want the texture to be somewhere between couscous and a paste. If you don’t grind the chickpeas enough, the falafel won’t hold together, but if you overgrind, you will wind up with hummus. This recipe must be made in advance.

From “Smithsonian American Table,” by Lisa Kingsley in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution (Harvest, 2023).

For the falafel:

  • 2 c. dried chickpeas
  • 1 c. coarsely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a green bell pepper
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped, optional
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • Vegetable oil

For the tahini sauce:

  • 6 tbsp. tahini
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

For serving:

  • Pita bread, warmed
  • Tahini sauce
  • Optional toppings: pickle spears, pickled turnips, sliced green peppers, diced tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley, thinly sliced onions

Soak the chickpeas in 3 cups of water at least 12 hours or overnight. (Be sure chickpeas are always covered with water. If necessary, add more.) Drain and rinse.

In a blender or food processor, grind beans in batches until almost smooth (see Note). Transfer to a large bowl. Add parsley, cilantro, onion, green pepper and chile (if using) to the blender. Blend until almost smooth. Add to bowl with chickpeas and stir until well combined. Add the cumin, garam masala, chili powder and salt and black pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.

No more than 15 minutes before you cook the falafel, add the baking powder and stir well to combine. Form into patties, using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture per falafel.

In a large deep skillet, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook falafel 5 or 6 at a time until golden brown on both sides. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more water if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

To serve, place falafel in the middle of a pita bread. Add desired toppings and drizzle with tahini sauce. Fold and serve.

Lena Richard’s Crab a la King

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. light cream or half-and-half
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 8 oz. lump crabmeat
  • 1/2 c. sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tbsp. finely chopped green pepper
  • 3 tbsp. chopped pimiento
  • 1 tsp. Coleman’s dry mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. dry sherry (optional)
  • 4 puff pastry shells, baked according to package directions

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in cream and milk. Add crabmeat, mushrooms, green pepper, and pimiento. Add dry mustard and salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low.

Add eggs and lemon juice. Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in sherry, if desired.

Serve in puff pastry shells.

Radaranger photo courtesy of

This story originally appeared in the New York Journal of Books.


Bill Kim “Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill inSeven Sauces”

Seoul Buffalo Shrimp

            My friend  Kimiyo Naka asked if I’d like to interview Bill Kim, a Chicago chef/ restaurateur and James Beard Award nominee who had a new cookbook out on grilling Korean-style who would be doing a demonstration at the Japan Pavilion at this year’s National Restaurant Association. I’ve wanted to learn more about Korean cooking and because I was writing about grilling, the whole thing seemed like a perfect fit. To make it even more interesting, Kim is a fun interview,humorous, friendly and knowledgeable plus he makes Korean cooking sound easy.         

            It turns out that Kim’s first cooking experience was making instant ramen over seogtan(burning coals) at age six a year before his family moved from Seoul, Korea to Chicago. Fast forward four decades and Kim, who owns several restaurants in Chicago including urbanbelly, a communal-seating restaurant featuring creative noodle, dumpling and rice dishes, Belly Shack featuring menu items blending Asian and Latin flavors and bellyQ, a modern Asian barbecue concept, recently authored Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces (Ten Speed Press 2018; $28).

            His career path to culinary heights and James Beard Award nominations began with experiences feeding siblings and cousins while his parents worked and worries about not being able to make it in a traditional college atmosphere when attending a college recruitment event at his high school. That all changed when he saw a giant wedding cake. It was a lure and when he approached the table, a representative from a culinary school asked if was interested in a cooking career. 

            Attending Kendall College where he studied classic French and worked at several prestigious French restaurants and was also the chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s but when it came time to open his own restaurants, he decided to focus on his own heritage as well as that of his wife who is from Puerto Rico in a style he calls Kori-Can. There were, of course, many remnants from his French culinary background and world travels in the mix as well and his American upbringing. For the latter, check out his recipe for Kimchi Potato Salad. He also wanted to get away from the rarified world of cuisine and open up his food to everyone.

            “My parents were very humble people who owned their own dry cleaning business for 35 years,” says Kim. “I wanted them to see their sacrifice pay off by taking all the things that I learned and being able to use it. My parents had only eaten at one restaurant I worked and that made me sad, I saw  because I knew how hard they worked. As I got further in my career, I was cooking for fewer people—only those people who had  he means to eat in the restaurants I worked in. But those weren’t the people I grew up and I wanted them to have restaurants to eat at.”

            “BBQ itself is engrained in the Korean culture says Kim.”

            “We didn’t have a lot of things when I was growing up in Chicago, we didn’t have a grill,” he says. “So when we wanted to barbecue, we had to go to park where there were free grills. I remember how the aroma of the foods we were cooking always attracted by people who weren’t part of our family. that someone from a different country could come up to you and ask what it was we were cooking.  My mom would give even strangers food. It was pretty powerful watching them when they tried it, the way their eyes opened and they smiled.  That’s when I learned food doesn’t speak a certain language.”

Chef Bill Kim and Jane Ammeson at the Japan Pavilion at the 2018 National Restaurant Association

            Making Korean barbecue accessible was one of the inspirations behind Kim’s decision to write his cookbook.

            “I think I had a lot to say,” he says. “I really didn’t think there was a cookbook out there written by a chef, sharing the experience of being born in Korean and growing up here and adapting to a culture that was a very foreign to me.”   

            He also sees it as a way of giving back and to make Korean food accessible.

            “I think we take for granted that food is an entry level to a different culture,” says Kim. “I want people to look at the book and know the history behind it. And I wanted people to be able to cook Korean barbecue at home.”

            Indeed, with a wonderful, heartfelt introduction and seven master sauces and three spice rubs that make his dishes easy and simple to recreate at home, Kim takes away the mysteries of Korean food.

            “The thing that I want people to understand is that you can cook without borders now more than ever because the borders have crumbled,” he says.  “Even though the food is not 100% Korean it’s these flavors that can come out.”

Seoul to Buffalo Shrimp

1½ cups Lemongrass Chili Sauce (see below)

⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted

2 tablespoons sambal oelek

3 pounds extra-large peeled and deveined shrimp (16/20 count)

¼ cup Blackening Seasoning (see below)

FEEDS 6 people

Heat the grill for direct heat cooking to medium (350°F to 375°F).

Combine the Lemongrass Chili Sauce, butter, sesame seeds, and sambal oelek in a large bowl and whisk until well mixed. Set aside.

When the grill is ready, season the shrimp with the Blackening Seasoning, coating them evenly. Place the shrimp on the grill grate, close the lid, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip the shrimp over, close the lid, and cook them for another 2 minutes, until they turn an opaque pink color.

Remove the shrimp from the grill, add to the sauce, toss well, and serve.

Lemongrass Chili Sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced, peeled fresh ginger

¼ cup minced lemongrass

1 cup sweet chili sauce

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sambal oelek

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

PREP TIME 10 minutes

MAKES 2¼ cups

Combine the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili sauce, fish sauce, sambal oelek, and oil in a bowl and whisk until blended. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months (see note).

Blackening Seasoning

¼ cup sweet paprika

¼ cups granulated garlic or garlic powder

¼ cup chili powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Makes ¾ cup

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix. Store in airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard for up to six months

NOTE This sauce won’t fully harden when frozen, so you can spoon out as much as you need whenever you want to use it.

Sesame Hoisin Chicken Wings

½ cup Soy Balsamic Sauce (see below)

¼ cup Magic Paste (see below)

¼ cup hoisin sauce

½ cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts

3 pounds chicken wings and drumettes

Korean chili flakes (optional)

FEEDS 6 people

In a large bowl, combine the Soy Balsamic Sauce, Magic Paste, hoisin sauce, and green onions and mix well. Measure out ½ cup of the marinade and reserve for basting the wings on the grill. Place the chicken wings and drumettes in a large, shallow dish, pour the remaining marinade on top, and turn the wings and drumettes to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Heat the grill for indirect heat cooking to medium (350°F to 375°F). (If using a charcoal grill, rake the coals to one side of the charcoal grate; if using a gas grill, turn off half of the burners.)

Place the wings and drumettes on the grill grate away from the heat, close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the wings and drumettes over, baste them with some of the reserved marinade, close the lid, and cook for another 5 minutes. Flip the wings and drumettes over two more times, moving them directly over the fire, basting, and cooking for 5 minutes on each side. Sprinkle on some Korean chili flakes, if you like things a little spicier.

Transfer the wings and drumettes to a platter and serve.

Soy Balsamic Sauce 

1 teaspoon cornstarch, or as needed

2 tablespoons water

¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

½ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup soy sauce

MAKES 1 cup

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch dissolves and the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream, adding more cornstarch if the mixture is too thin.

Combine the brown sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir the cornstarch mixture briefly to recombine, then stir it into the soy-vinegar mixture and simmer over low heat for about 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat, let cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container. This sauce will last for months without going bad.


1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

½ cup fish sauce

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

¼ cup Korean chili flakes

MAKES 1 cup

Combine the ginger, garlic, and fennel seeds in a food processor and process until minced, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ginger gets chopped. Add the fish sauce, oil, and chili flakes and process for 30 seconds.

Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months. Or freeze in standard ice-cube trays, then transfer the cubes (about 2 tablespoons each) to plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to 2 months.

Reprinted with permission from Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces, copyright © 2018 by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.Photographs copyright © 2018 by Johnny Autry.

Jane Ammesoncan be contacted via email at

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