Red rice. Okra stew. Sweet potato pone. Roasted hog. These are just a few of the mouthwatering staples of Gullah cuisine—foods beloved by the Gullah Geechee community, made up of Black folks from the low-country region (the coastal communities ranging from North Carolina to Florida, including South Carolina, the Sea Islands and Georgia). These descendants of enslaved Africans developed a creole language and distinct traditions that have safeguarded elements of Gullah culture since slavery. Their traditional dishes are special favorites during the holiday season, with recipes and preparation instructions passed down in the kitchen from generation to generation—which is the Gullah Geechee way.
The emphasis on preservation within the Gullah culture is how Chef Kardea Brown, star of the Food Network’s Delicious Miss Brown and Cupcake Championship, became the cook she is today. “I don’t have a culinary background as far as going to culinary school, but I was raised in a family of amazing cooks,” says Brown, who hails from the Sea Islands, off the coast of South Carolina. She left behind a career in social work to bring down-home cooking to the masses full-time. “I like to say that I’m mama- and daddy-taught,” she explains. “Well, mom and daddy and mom and grandmama-taught. That’s how I kind of fell into it—so my style of cooking is indicative of where I’m from.”
Since 2015, she has toured across America showcasing Gullah cuisine, including on television and through her popular New Gullah Supper Club series. Now, after a year of working nonstop, Brown is looking forward to celebrating this holiday season by throwing down in the kitchen and making authentic soul food for a much smaller audience: her family.
“Our style of cooking is a little different in the Gullah community,” she says. “A lot of our food during the holidays and during the winter months is stewed one-pot dishes. We do a lot of farm-to-table–type foods. We eat in season. We eat a lot of seafood during the holidays. Also, we roast the whole hog in the ground.”
This year, Brown’s brood plans to make up for lost time—while still playing it safe with a small holiday gathering. But, of course, she still intends to make a big splash with the spread.
We asked her to share remixes of traditional favorites with Gullah-inspired twists. Here’s her advice on how to bring special spice to the table.
Macaroni and Cheese—of the Sea: “I love a good seafood macaroni and cheese. To incorporate that Gullah spin to it, you add in the shrimp and crab meat. It just takes macaroni and cheese to another level. You can have a lot of fun with casseroles like that.”
Turkey with a flair: “I always like intertwining aspects of different cultures. I like deep-frying a turkey, for example—and last year I made a gochujang, which is a Korean barbecue. I made that sauce the star of the meal—because sometimes you can get really dry birds, so add a sauce to your turkey for the holidays.”
Bundt Cake, But Make It Fruity: “I’ve actually made a peach cobbler Bundt cake, combining that Southern cobbler with a classic Bundt cake. It is juicy, it is buttery and it is delicious!