Monday, November 6, 2017

Kelley Fanto Deetz's "Bound to the Fire"

Historical archaeologist and historian Kelley Fanto Deetz is a research associate at the James River Institute for Archaeology, and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Randolph College, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Deetz, who was a professional chef for several years, is a contributor to The Routledge History of Food and Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement. Her work has appeared in National Geographic History.

Here Deetz shares her vision for an adaptation of her latest book, How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine:
Bound to the Fire highlights several enslaved cooks, many of whom have little record of their lives aside from mentions in a will or probate. If this book could translate to a film it would be one of short cameos, small clips that highlight and intertwine with one another. Commonalities of resistance, poisoning, social positioning, and pure talent would make these historical figures fascinating on the big screen. The kitchen as the stage and the food as the evidence of their labor and lives.

I’d imagine silence before each cameo’s scene. The sound of the large open-hearth fire burning in the background, the distant noise of butchering, chopping wood, and foot traffic surrounding the kitchen cabin. The individual scenes would start with the chopping of the first ingredient, or in one case, the ringing of a bell to wake the cook from slumber, and the silent walk into the kitchen to cook food for a guest in the dead of night. Each cameo would focus around a dish; okra stew, peanut soup, pepper pot, fried catfish, ham biscuits, and through each dish the stories of the individuals would come through in the time it took to cook each meal.

In this hypothetical film, the majority of the cooks would be played by unknown actors and actresses, however, Hercules would be played by Gary Carr and James Hemmings would be played by Michael Ealy, and the film would be directed by Amma Asante. Between each scene would be a narration of a recipe, a story, or historical context related to the plantation or kitchen landscape.  Shots of standing plantation kitchens would remind people that these buildings still exist, and are direct reminders of the history and legacy of enslaved cooks. The film would start, as my book does, with Sookey, and end with Hercules’ escape and his portrait in Spain.
Learn more about Bound to the Fire at Kelley Fanto Deetz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue