For Suzanne Barr, one of North America’s most respected chefs, food has to be about more than just an incredible tasting dish; food is joy, it’s happiness, it’s comfort, it’s healing, and understanding where it comes from is part of being an active participant in the human experience.
Suzanne’s book, My Ackee Tree is a book that looks back on the forty plus years of Suzanne’s life including being raised in Plantation, Florida and studying in places like New York, Hawaii and The South of France.
Writing this memoir was a deeply personal experience and in episode 393, Suzanne explains what it was like to accurately recall her past while also allowing space for big feelings, both during the writing process and then again once the book was released.
This episode is one big intimate conversation about food, love, family, and creative courage that covers topics like: communing with our ancestors, understanding where our food comes from, how difficult it is to write a book and why we can all be great cooks when we remove the pressure to be “good” and allow inspiration to lead us.
Listen to episode 393 now! And then read My Ackee Tree for more from Suzanne including Jamaican recipes and proverbs in the native Jamaican dialogue.
In episode 393 of the Embodied Podcast we discuss:
- [1:35] Suzanne’s favorite way to commune with the universe through meditation
- [4:00] What it looks like to commune with our ancestors
- [4:30] The cultural experience of burying family members in Jamaica
- [7:45] Elizabeth’s decolonization process
- [11:19] How Elizabeth and Suzanne met
- [11:39] The powerful emotional effect food can have individuals
- [14:00] Responding to the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas
- [16:32] Suzanne’s journey with food – what got her so passionate about it
- [18:57] Food as more than just an incredible dish
- [20:10] The importance of understanding where food comes from and the effect it has on the body
- [23:10] Suzanne’s culinary education in Hawaii
- [29:12] The different names of farmer’s markets around the world
- [29:40] The future of our world’s food supply chain
- [32:00] Prayer of gratitude Elizabeth prays over her meals
- [33:52] Suzanne’s book writing experience
- [39:48] Suzanne’s memoir, “My Ackee Tree”
- [41:40] An interview question Suzanne did not expect to receive on her book tour
- [46:09] Why and how proverbs were included in “My Ackee Tree.”
- [50:19] Challenges of writing memoirs that include relatives and painful experiences
- [54:13] Where inspiration can be found for all creators, whether or not their chefs
Resources mentioned by Elizabeth in episode 393 “Food, Love, Family, and Creative Courage with Suzanne Barr”:
- Visit Suzanne at suzannebarrfood.com
- Purchase My Ackee Tree
- Follow Suzanne on Instagram @suzanne_barr_food
- Download a FREE Sacred Embodiment ritual resources
- Join The Wild Soul Sacred Body Membership
- Email us with questions or feedback
- Don’t miss an episode of The Embodied Podcast
Quotes from this Week’s Episode of the Embodied Podcast:
- “The moment that someone sees something and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, this is like so special, like I don’t need anything else. I needed a smile, I needed an extra hug,’ and that’s what I feel like I do sometimes on plates, or platter, with aromas that are coming out of the kitchen. I just want to give people an extra hug, to let you know you are supported.” [11:39:63] Suzanne Barr
- “Food was always the way that my sister and I got over our sadness being heavy girls and feeling like we were too overweight, we ate too much, food was this tool to heal me, to me joy and happiness.” [18:05:77] Suzanne Barr
“Food has to be more than making an incredible dish.” [18:57:71] Suzanne Barr
- “If you have an opportunity, go, go and see what all the fuss is about farmer’s markets, buy something from a farmer’s market and then see if you can buy it from a store… and see if you can taste the difference in quality, because trust me, there is a difference in quality.” [28:32:94] Suzanne Barr
- “Even a sandwich, if there’s several things on your sandwich, there’s probably like a couple dozen, at least, hands, if not more, that went into that damn sandwich being available for me. That is a raging miracle.” [32:13:53] Elizabeth DiAlto
- “The supply chain doesn’t just start when you walk into the grocery store.” [33:29:72] Suzanne Barr
- “It doesn’t matter if they get it, what matters is that I told the story the way it needed to be told.” [46:29:10] Suzanne Barr
- “I just want people to remember that you don’t have to ever feel like cooking is hard and you’re getting it wrong; throw that shit out of the window and remember whatever it is that kind of gives you that momentum, that vibe, that feeling, that thing that can kind of connect you to what you’re doing, embrace it.” [56:45:10] Suzanne Barr
How was this episode for you?
Was this episode helpful for you today? I’d love to know what quote or lesson touched your soul. Let me know in the comments below OR share the episode on Instagram, tag me your stories @elizabethdialto, or send me a DM!
About the Embodied Podcast with Elizabeth DiAlto
Since 2013 I’ve been developing a body of work that helps women embody self-love, healing, and wholeness. We do this by focusing on the four levels of consciousness – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
In practical terms, this looks like exploring tools and practices to help you tune into the deep wisdom of the body and the knowing of the heart, which I believe are gateways to our souls. Then we cultivate a new relationship with our minds that allows the mind to serve this wisdom and knowledge and soul connection, rather than override it, which is what many of us were taught.
If you’ve been doing self-help or spiritual development work for a while, these are the types of foundational things that often people overlook in pursuit of fancier concepts that often aren’t practical or sustainable. Here, we will focus on building these strong foundations so you can honestly and thoroughly embody self-love. If you’re feeling it, subscribe to the show, and leave us a review wherever you listen from. You can also keep up with show updates and community discussion on Instagram here.
Transcript for Episode 393 “Food, Love, Family, and Creative Courage with Suzanne Barr“:
– Hello, everybody. Welcome to episode number 393 of the Embodied Podcast. I’m your host, Elizabeth DiAlto. And today I have my new friend, Suzanne Barr with us. I am so excited to share Suzanne, her energy, her story, and everything. We talked about her passion for food and so many other things in this episode. She has a book called “Your Ackee Tree” that I got to go to a live reading of here in Miami. And I learned so much about her experience and journey as a chef, as a Jamaican woman in the United States and in Canada, she has just such an incredible story. And we also, in this interview dug into the whole process of writing a memoir, that’s also part cookbook, the publishing process. There was just so much juicy stuff here for creative folks, for family folks, for people who love food. I hope you love the episode. Links to everything we mentioned are at untameyourself.com/393, and let’s get into the show.
– Hi, Suzanne. Welcome.
– Hi, Elizabeth. Thank you for having me.
– I’m so excited. So everyone listening, I do a little intro before the show. I don’t always include the person’s bio, like sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but you are really the first chef we’ve ever had on the show. And this will be probably the first really like food centric conversation, which is like… You know, the podcast turned seven last year, so I don’t know how that’s possible–
– Oh my gosh, wow.
– That we’ve never had a conversation like this, but thanks for initiating us .
– Invitation was greatly welcomed in my heart and in my life.
– I love talking about food and story and all that other good stuff.
– So amazing. So I’ve been opening up every interview this year and yours will probably last one of this year and then I’ll probably switch the prom. But I’ve been asking people kind of this three prong question of what do you call God? If you have any connection to God, how do you commune with that? And also, how do you relate? Like what’s your current relationship? So. I kind of hit people with all three ’cause they tend to weave into each other. So however it makes sense for you to answer, go for it.
– So where I’m at in my life right now, I think the universe has been like the best way to kind of connect to spirituality, my connection to powers that I feel and I know are there, meditations that I really hold dear to my heart. When I sit in front of my alter, when I meditate in the morning, I ask the universe for understanding and clearing and balance. I sometimes call names, I call ancestors’ names a lot. I think that’s really helpful for me because that connects me to my roots.
– My story of who I am, the stories before me, the many stories that will follow after me and it’s calling them into the space with me. And I think that’s so important, especially because I don’t… I grew up in a Baptist household, went to church kind of on holidays, funerals, weddings. And then when my mom got sick, she then decided to become a board again Christian. But at that time I wasn’t living at home, and so I’ve always kind of found my connection to spirituality, to universal understanding by connecting it to the universe.
– Cool. So the ancestral connection, which I love… You know, it’s funny, so my grandpa, which was the first major death in our family died in 2008 and my whole family, you know, we’d always… We called it pop visits, like every once in a while you’d just like smell his pipe tobacco and you knew pop was around or I’d find like a Hershey wrapper on the ground, which is like… he would always bring me Hershey bars when I was little especially. So we’d be like, “Oh, pop is around.” But I never thought of that as like communing with an ancestor, though, of course, that’s what we were doing, right?
– But there was never like intentional… You know, on birthdays and stuff, we would talk about it, you know? So I didn’t really, until a couple years ago when I started intentionally wanting to connect with and work with my ancestors, including ancestors that like probably no one in my family ever knew, but are available to commune with. I had no… I just… I had to learn, like I had to like go work with someone and learn. So I’m curious in your… ‘Cause you said calling on ancestors, was this something that your family did? Did you have to figure that out on your own? Like where did… How did you come into that practice?
– You know, I think a lot for me and for most, you know, maybe I can relate to Caribbean, Latin American, like any, you know, cultural diverse folks that are like coming from a culture that we really celebrate our past, the ones before that have passed. We celebrate them by keeping their actual spirits close to us. So in Jamaica, historically, when someone passed, they buried them in the backyard.
– They weren’t in a plot of land miles away, they were in the backyard. And so when I grew up and my mom would tell a stories of how… One particular story, when she was a child, she was placed on a tombstone of someone in the backyard and she was lying there as a baby and she started foaming at the mouth. And so this was like this visual story that my sister and I were like, what are you talking about? Like
– What are you saying? And I think for us, we immediately were like, okay, there is that connection. That’s not what we do here in this country now, but I think my understanding of like how close you hold onto the ones that have passed, how close you remember them, how the moment that you say their name you invite them into the room, the moment that you smell something, you do something, the moment of déjà vu or oh, that remind that they’re in the room. And I think that that’s something I’ve always done, that’s something that has always been with me from the earliest childhood stories that my aunts, my mother would tell us that would scare us kids, but we were also kind of like, wow, that’s really, you know, incredible to hear that and to know we don’t need to be afraid of the spirits.
– We don’t need to be running away from this idea that death is so scary, that we’re always surrounded by people that love us. And they are people that know us, that don’t know us. And you know, I’m trying to communicate that now to my son, Miles and we watch show, we watch the movie, we watch… There’s that one movie, I’m just forgetting the name of it right now. Oh gosh, it’ll come back to me . But there’s a movie that the child, he goes back to Mexico–
– Starts with a C, “Coco?”
– “Coco,” exactly. So we watch “Coco” on the day of the dead and that was like this really special screening. Like we’ve seen that movie like four times, but he just like now gets it, like he connects with like losing someone. Like my uncle just passed and his understanding of what that means and that they never leave us, they just follow us, they guide us, they bring the light into the room.
– And that to me is just like, you know, something that I’m really, really grateful that I don’t have this immense sense of fear, oh my gosh.
– But it’s more of a joy, it’s a smile, it’s a gesture, it’s just like an exhale of like I’m not alone, okay, good.
– Yeah. Okay. I love this so much. And as you were talking, I’m like, what am I talking about? My dad’s brother died when I was 10 and my great-grandmother died when I was a teen, both of these people died before my grandpa and this is also… I’m in my own, you know, perpetual for four years now, five years now, internal decolonization process.
– And I’m realizing always my mom’s family, which is like the mixed European side of things. That was just the center of our experience partly ’cause we lived closer to them, but my dad’s whole family is in Puerto Rico. Even like when my dad’s brother died, like he would get visits. Like he was talking about that stuff sooner and we didn’t go to Puerto Rico too often, but when we would go like the visit to the cemetery, like that was always a thing. So it’s also just really funny for me in this moment, and I was even writing something about this this morning, this is just like so up for me right now, how like my mom’s family, it was just like the center of family experience in my life. And I was like, no, there were like all these other things happening, but then also my family was super Christian Catholic on both sides, which is also–
– Okay, wow.
– Colonization process of–
– Oh yeah.
– Indigenous wisdom from all the places.
– Yeah, unpacking, yeah, exactly.
– So… But what’s funny too is my dad, my family. I jokingly over the years have started to notice how they’re all like undercover mystics. Like none of them identify that way, but even my dad being like, oh yeah, Louis, that’s his brother. Louis visited today, like my Yankees cap flew across the room . And then I was like, you know?
– But somehow it was so normal, I was just like, oh yeah. Like what else ?
– Yeah, it is. And so–
– But… And then also like praying to them, right? Like my mom being like, I always ask my dad to protect you wherever you are in the world and like… So it’s cool too and I hope people listening as I’m kind of having this revelation, like so many families do venerate or whatever, honor the ancestors in ways that might not seem like formal or it comes from a tradition or whatever, but most families do have a way of doing that.
– 100%, it’s like the conjuring, it’s the calling them forward, it’s like saying their name. And I literally… I don’t think that it’s been… It needs that attachment to like, oh, like we’re all shamans or we all have a–
– Like it’s not even necessary. It’s just this awareness and this freedom to feel like there’s a force that guides us, that walks with us that, you know, keeps brushing our face, our cheeks and touches our… Grabs our hand when we feel like, whoa, you know, that’s… Like there’s unexplained moments that don’t need to always be so explained.
– Yeah, to this day… I mean, I don’t know who it was, but I almost got hit by a car in New York city once at a crosswalk. And I swear to you two hands shoved me, like my feet lift off the ground and me on the curb basically and I was like, “What the hell?” I was like thanks to whoever that was, like–
– Thank you, thank you.
– I mean, it’s… I don’t want you to visualize, it wasn’t like I got like lifted up like I was like a couple steps away, but it just like boots me over onto the curb, like noticeably and I fell. I was like what the… This shit is just real. So I wanna get into the food. ‘Cause I think this is amazing and I went to one of your little book readings here in Miami. So I got to hear some of this stuff already, but I love people’s origin stories. By the way, people listening, ’cause I probably didn’t say this in the intro, Suzanne popped up at my Easter party ’cause I co-hosted it with my friend, Carlos, and she walks in with this gorgeous plate. What was it? Like banana bread or cake or some like incredible thing. She’s like, “I just threw something together,” and it was like the most beautiful decadent thing . It had flowers on it and I’m like, “Oh you just threw this together.” And they were like, “She’s a professional,” and I’m like, “This makes sense now.”
– So at that moment that I know that it’s all about the visual. The moment that someone sees something and they’re like, “Oh my gosh,” this is like so special. Like I don’t need anything else, I needed a smile, I needed an extra little hug and that’s what I feel like I do sometimes on plates, on platters with aromas that are coming out of the kitchen. I just wanna give people an extra hug to let you know that you are supported. I do extend my gift to you.
– And you are welcome regardless, yeah.
– Yeah, it’s so… ‘Cause like honestly, I mean a lot of us, I’m not including you in the us, just like the general us gained weight during the pandemic because we comfort ate.
– ‘Cause it was like one of the only things we could do. So part of me like why I wasn’t mad about it is cause I’m like I just… One of the only things I could do to comfort myself was food. And speaking of the ancestors, I went for a lot of ancestral foods. Like I went back to family recipes, like things that I ate at home as like a kid, things that reminded me of my grandma, ’cause I was just like… I even bought… This is not food, but a smell, ’cause you mentioned aromas. I bought pine salt as the cleaning product for my house because it reminded me of my grandma. And for whatever reason in the beginning of the pandemics making me wanna cry now, I was just like really feeling my grandma around. So I was like, “I’m gonna get some pine salt so it’s gonna feel like gram is in my house every time I clean the sink,” you know?
– Then it just connects us. So back to the food, I’ve been… At the time we’re recording this, for people listening, it was last week that all those little kids got shot up in a school in Texas and I’ve just been… I think a lot of people, we’ve just been holding so much and not had enough time to grieve anything over the last several years that that one just kind of did me and I’ve just been real tender ever since. So I might cry the whole interview, not even related, but I’m just letting you know and others as well.
– Yeah, I appreciate that. You know, I sat with, with Miles, my son, on the couch and I had been home with COVID all week, and so I wasn’t already feeling so well. And then my husband was like, can you come here? And he brought me to the computer and he showed me and that’s when I like just laid my heart just like everything just fell and then I thought, “I can’t send him to school. How can I send my son into a space that I can’t even protect him?” Like what is that? Like I can’t protect him. And you know, it just… It’s been this week of like so much weight, we are carrying so much weight and we … Yeah, it’s been hard to just kind of have things numb. Like I can’t be numb anymore. Like someone’s saying, “Oh, I’m not surprised, it’s America.” Like no. Actually, we… Like it’s more than that, we can’t say that anymore. Like it’s… And I just… Like my heart for the families, for the children, for everyone involved. It just like… You know, I’m speechless. I haven’t really talked too much about it because it is so directly personal. Like my son’s seven days away from school and that’s… They were four days away from their last day of school. And I just like… You know, I can’t even imagine what that feeling is for everyone in that community.
– Totally. Yeah, and I was… I had a client call today and it was someone, a mom, she was just like, “My anxiety is just like through the roof,” And she is… There… I always try, when I talk about people, not to reveal anything about their identity, but they’re in a group that is a targeted group that has been like on the list of groups being targeted by a lot of these things and it’s so… Like there’s so many reasons why it might be hitting people differently, but it’s just… It’s very intense. So thank you for letting letting us share that moment ’cause I think we’re all. And I think, you know, people talk about doing like business in usual. I’m like, I’m literally not capable, I cannot talk about everything .
– Yeah, no, 100%.
– It just comes up and comes through. And you know, it’s all related ’cause we were talking about comfort, we were talking about the food, the connection family and things like this. So origin story. know you talked about just like cooking, being in the kitchen with like your mom and the aunties and stuff like that. But what else? What’s fun to share about what got you so passionate about food and found you doing that professionally?
– It… You know, funny enough, it was less about the fun memories and it was more about the struggle of not understanding like what we need. How can we heal people that we love and how can our offerings be something that actually can evoke some more than just like this immediate instant change in like the way that they see food? But it also becomes like this maybe generational shift. And that to me was a big part of why I decided to like walk away from this very corporate world of work that I had been doing to follow this bliss of maybe I can heal, maybe I can heal myself. I’m hurting, I’m in pain, I don’t have a connection with food that I think is sustainable. And I say that from the sense of like I’ve grown up eating my comfort foods my whole life and also eating American food and also eating foods from around the world as I started to travel and meet people from many cultures. But I think what I couldn’t… What wasn’t sustainable for me is like how do I connect this to how I wanna live my life? And food is so important because it was always something that we found ourself back in our house. Like food was always the way that my sister and I got over some of our sadness, being, you know, heavy girls and feeling like we were too overweight. We ate too much, food was this was this tool to heal me, to give me joy to happiness. And so I was like, “Okay, well, that part of it is sustained in that moment.” But when I’m putting on weight into my heart and heart dizzy and diabetes, all these other things start popping up. And particularly for Jamaican women like this is something that comes up a lot in our cultural makeup of who we are as people. And so I think understanding that was what drove me to find this pursuit of food has to be more than just making an incredible dish. There’s incredible culinary schools throughout New York city, the CIA, French Culinary, and I knew that it was not just about how do I make an incredible chocolate souffle? How do I make an alternative version to that? How do I educate people? How do I educate myself and my family on ways that we can heal? We’ve lost now four family members to the same cancer.
– Oh wow.
– Same cancer has affected my family. And as we go deeper in the research and we understand a bit more, we’re realizing that there’s a connection to Jamaican people and this particular type of cancer. And so then it’s like, okay, what is in our makeup? What is is there? What’s in our DNA, that’s affecting us. Is it spices? Is it generation? Is it our history? Is it in the soil? Is it… Like what is that? And so I don’t have the answer of that, but what I can do is start taking some steps towards living a fulfilled life of eating well, understanding what I’m eating, where it’s coming from, how it relates to me, how I can then share and give that offering to my family and how they can benefit from it. So that has really been like my life’s journey on figuring out like why is food this epicenter of my life? And it’s more than just a job, it’s my joy. It’s my bliss, it’s what I wake up knowing that I get a chance to like make something that’s going to be transformative. And I think that’s quite special and quite unique to say that I do every single day.
– I love this. And so… I mean, you’ve been up in Canada, you’ve been here, what… And you spent some formative years in Miami, right? If I remember in the story correctly.
– I’m always so curious and I’ll tell you why, which I think you might appreciate this on a level. I started… Again, I was already on this journey and then obviously in the dawning of 2020, my friend, who’s been on the podcast, calls it the great white awakening after George Floyd, where all of a sudden, a lot of white people, I’m sure plenty of people listening were like, damn, I gotta start paying attention to a lot more things. And… So then there were more people speaking about like race and ethnicity and diversity and inclusive and all these things, and I just started to notice because my audience has been quite global for a pretty long time, hearing from people literally who live in other countries and is like, yeah, it doesn’t really work that way here, or here’s a different nuance, but then also noticing like the differences in like geographic places. And there’s just something about places like New York, and I’m, I’m seeing it in Miami too, where people kept their culture, you know, it’s like people didn’t… Like when I was growing up, there were… The term white, like it was obviously there, it’s always been there, but like we knew like John’s family is Italian, like Lauren is Polish, this person is that, that person… Like you knew what everybody was. So there wasn’t this general like well that person’s just white, like people knew when there was culture. So I’m curious for you kind of living in these different… ‘Cause Toronto is a very multicultural city.
– And so, I’m always interested in like the interweavings of things. So places and people… Different places and I know this is city centric too, ’cause I’ve started to realize like there are these whole like middle of nowhere places where everything is just so different and I have no idea.
– Yeah, fair.
– So, I don’t know, I said a lot of things. So wherever you wanna connect it or tie the dots, however it’s relevant or related to like your food journey or experiences or different kitchens and how–
– How does that emerge around your world?
– Absolutely, not. I think there’s a lot of entry points in your… In what you just shared. And I think for me, I’ll start with, you know, when I start… After I graduated from, from culinary school, I decided to go into Hawaii to do my externship and I chose Hawaii because it was a place my mother always had dreamed of going. It was that bucket list place that she was like if anything I wanna do is to go to Hawaii. So I said, “Well, this is probably the perfect opportunity that she’s gonna be the most powerful walking with me through every step I take in Hawaii.” Didn’t matter where I was gonna go ’cause I didn’t really know at first. I thought I was gonna go to a big island, but I found a very small vegetarian restaurant in Hawaii and they welcomed me in. And it took me on this journey of like understanding, not just vegetarian, vegan food, but also understanding indigenous food of the land. And driving I just… You know, I just remember, like for me, it’s always about the visuals and like, you know, the smells of course, but the visuals of driving in this pickup truck, I was in my chef pan. It was like maybe two weeks in being there and the chef was like, I’m gonna take you to the farm where we insourced our lettuce from, and I was like, “Oh cool, of course.” Now, I had lived in New York for like, I don’t know, 10 years, and the Farmers Markets Union Square was my world.
– Right .
– You know, I was like anything you want or anything you needed, anything you can imagine was coming in New York, that’s where it was. So I’m in this pickup truck, I’m driving, I’m like looking out the window, my hands are out the window, I’m just like, what is happening? I start seeing these like really large rooted, like huge mounds that were massive, like just stumps, they looked like huge stumps. And I was like, “What is that?” They were like, “That’s taro.” And I was like, “What the hell are you talking about?” And I said, “Taro like cassava? Like yuca?” And he’s like, “All the same family.” And it was just like fields of that, and then it’s fields of pineapples, and then it’s fields of like lettuce. And then I was like, “Okay, is this like what Hawaiian food is?” Because they weren’t a Hawaiian restaurant, they were from… I think they were from like Cleveland, I forgot where the actual restaurant came from, but they wanted to definitely source as much as they could from the island. And if anyone that knows Hawaii, it is all about vegetation. So seeing this food, this connection to this particular ingredient and they used it in a couple of dishes, but like being able to like understand, oh, okay, that’s what this is? That’s how this grows? It just like… It made me think of Polynesian, it made me think of Hawaii, it made me think of like the images that we have back in the mainland of what you think of Hawaii, what you think you know, you don’t have any idea. And that is what has been really a big part of my whole journey as being a chef because we in school, for the most part. are offered information about where food is coming from, the importance of, you know, sourcing and why that’s so important, but to really be able to get in the field, to sit in the truck, to go into the farmland, to like ask these questions to these farmers, like what are you growing? Why are you growing that? When is the season? Like that part for me was like… It opened a whole nother understanding that as much as I learned at the Natural Gourmet about are you’ve cooking to vegan, vegetarian to just cuisine from around the world, like that part of my whole education was just like… It was a spark that lit this monstrous fire of now me just expansively growing and understanding, and now having a desire to have a farm of my own and never, never would I ever say that I would see myself as a farmer, but have dreams of this. And you know, I think it’s like that connection to what it is with food that will help people to have a greater understanding and appreciation to how food plays in their life. And whether or not you are a cook, home cook, it doesn’t matter. But the moment that you start to see how food is grown and how you harvest it, you’re like, “Oh, I thought I knew.”
– We have no idea, we walk into fluorescently lit stores with shelves and shelves and shelves of prepackaged, conveniently wrapped everything, like we have no idea.
– No idea . And it’s not our fault, it’s not our fault. I’m not blaming anybody.
– But the more… If you have an opportunity, go and see what all of the fuss is about farmer’s market, buy something from a farmer’s market and then see if you could buy it from a store, like whatever your store, wherever you are and see if you could taste the difference in the quality, ’cause trust me, there is a difference in the quality.
– I live this. So… And this is cool ’cause literally no matter where you are in the world, there are farmer’s markets, right?
– No matter where you are. And it may not be called farmer’s market, it might be the city, it might be the meet up, it might be, you know, just like the center of the town, where the vendors just like set up their tables ’cause like that’s what my grandmother did. Like in Jamaica, she used to cook for the little village and she used to bring it down to like the middle of the city center, set up, you know, her pots, she was making rice and peas and chicken and this and that, and that’s what she did. It… You know, I think we’ve formalized it now, we’ve given it, you know, a beautiful banner of like hope, a beacon of hope for the future. And I think this is what brings me to this conversation of like the future of food and how we’re gonna be eating and where we’re gonna be eating and how we connect with that. We all have to be a part of this conversation, this is not a conversation to just overlook and assume, well, every grocery store, no, ’cause you can see now that grocery store prices, the foods that you once used to see are no longer becoming available. The shortages, the supply chain fumbles and flaws and you know, inflation, everything that’s happening. We have to keep in mind that this is almost like a projection to what we are going to be experiencing. Whether it’s 10, 20, 15, 50, whatever years ahead, we have an opportunity to be fully activated in the conversation of how we’re gonna eat in the future. And as participating humans, it’s time to wake up a bit and to know where our food is coming from.
– I love that you’re bringing this up because it’s something I really notice a lot is entitlement and I’ve even seen it. You know, when I moved to Miami, it was so interesting. And I’m sure you coming from Toronto, which I know was super , I was in the bay before I got here. And then you get to Miami and everyone’s just living their best life. Like there wasn’t a pandemic still happening. And it was like really… It took me in adjusting, I had a, a real adjustment period. And then even going like to restaurants and stuff, and they were still adjusting, like getting back into the swing of things. And it’s always so fascinating to me to see how entitled some people are. Like who actually… And honestly, people who listen to this show are for the most part, not gonna be like that. Like they’re probably like sitting there like, “Yes, yes, I’m so glad we’re talking about this.” But you know, to a level, we all have some kind of entitlement but it’s just seeing how people have no idea how anything gets from like out in the world, wherever it came from to like in front of them on their plate, or in their kitchen, or in their shopping cart is really something… Like when I like pray over my food, one of the things I always say is like, thank you for like every single hand that–
– Or every single sacrifice, if I’m eating an animal that went into this, being able to be on this plate for me right now, so that I could be nourished. Because I even think about like even a sandwich, like if there’s several things on your sandwich, there’s probably like a couple dozen at least hands if not more that went into that damn sandwich being available for me.
– That is a raging miracle.
– Yeah. And I think… And what you’re saying is that it is this beautiful, like miracle of we have the choice to connect with that. We have a choice to like actually consume that idea, like really like slow down for a second, like let’s like actually consume this with like every bite, but understanding that we may have put the sandwich together, we may have like bought the ham or the tofu, whatever, but just thinking about the process of how all of our hands together created this incredible masterpiece and here we are now feeling grateful and blessed. And maybe you don’t food, maybe you don’t you know, see it that way. Maybe it’s just a source of nourishment and that’s true for a lot of people too.
– But when you can slow up a bit, you can recognize that the supply chain doesn’t just start when you walk into the grocery store and you pay for your groceries, that’s not where it starts.
– That is very far down the line of the process.
– Big time.
– Big time.
– So I mentioned earlier, I came to a reading of your book.
– Let us talk about the book, please.
– How did that even come to be? Like did someone approach you? Were you like, “I gotta write this book?” How did that happen?
– So my… I have a co-writer on this book, her name is Suzanne Hancock.
– That’s right, the Suzannes. And wasn’t there a editor? Wasn’t there like the third Suzanne? I forget you said.
– Yeah, there was three of us Suzanne’ on the making of this book, which is just serendipitous and so many lights, I’m just like, “Okay, this was planned to happen.” Like years before I had even anticipated. But Suzanne Hancock is a podcast writer, poet, she’s an incredible being. And we met years prior on a per podcast called Sunday Night Dinner. She invited me to come on and talk about what Sunday Night Dinner meant to me. And Sunday Night Dinner to me was my mom’s apple pie. So we made my mom’s apple pie. Now, I hadn’t made it in years, so it was quite emotional that episode, but we blossomed this beautiful relationship. And then when I closed my restaurant, Saturday Dinette, I was invited to go and do a chef’s… In artist a chef’s retreat at a hotel. And from that opportunity, I created this incredible me menu called Rite of Passage, which was dedicated to my mother, it was a love letter. And it was my first attempt of making Caribbean Jamaican food based off of memory of my mom, and my ancestors, and my dad. And Suzanne came in maybe three, four weeks into the menu being launched in Toronto, and just praised heavily in the city. She sat me down, we had like a cup of tea and she was like, I think we need to do something with the book, with this menu, and where you’re going. And I said, “I wonder what that could be,” she says, “Well, why don’t we create a book proposal?” And so we had put a proposal together, we were invited into Penguin Random House for a meeting.
– Which by the way, let me just pause you and like acknowledge you ’cause you just say, “Oh, we put a book proposal together,” that shit is so much work. For people listening that like book writing is not in any of your realms of what you do or know anything about, like it is so much work. So I don’t know what kind of help you had with it or if the two of you figured it out on your own, but let’s not just gloss over, “We put together a book proposal,” like it’s so much work. Well done.
– And it was. Like we, you know, we put in probably about two months of it. Like we had different versions, we were… You know, we included… It was a 20 chapter book, it was gonna be fully a traditional cookbook in the sense of, I think, we had about 50 recipes, 20 chapters stories, photos, the whole thing, you are 100% correct. Thank you for pausing me in that moment–
– We’re like, “Girl, please claim like that alone was an accomplishment.” And then you get you to walk into Penguin Random House. Now, you can go on with your story.
– Listen, the privilege that we sit in and I sat into a privilege test just now and I–
– That’s not what I meant by that, I really just wanted to acknowledge that shit is so hard .
– I hurt myself in that, so thank you.
– Okay .
– Even stepping… Even to say, stepping into a room in a publishing company, as big as Penguin Random House was something that I had not anticipated because, you know, I knew people that were self-published that, you know, went more of a smaller publishing route. And I was like, I don’t know whatever that’s gonna be, we’re gonna just… We happen to… Suzanne happens to be very close with who now is our publisher and she has been with Penguin Random House for years. And so she was also a customer at my restaurant, so she had been eating my food for years. So, it was kinda like, you know, when the stars just like ding, ding, ding, everything connects.
– I love when you look back and you’re like, “Oh my God, they were setting me up for this the whole time.”
– I know.
– Somebody playing and they were moving the pieces of the parts. They were like, “No, no, it’s over here, we need you to go here.” And so we presented the idea, they loved the idea and they immediately said, we want more. Suzanne and I were like, “That’s a lot that we just presented,” but what they meant was they wanted more of my story. They were like, “How did you come to be?” And for me, I wasn’t ready to talk about my mom, I wasn’t ready to talk about the shit that I had to go through to where I was and the fact that like this thing happened and you know, like I would tell people and they’re like, that’s not possible that didn’t happen, and I’m like, it did happen. And you know, you start to self doubt yourself, you start to play this narrative of no one cares, no one’s gonna read it, no one wants to know what I went through, but in the three and a half years, it took to write and build and put this book from the original proposal to April 5th when it launched. It has been this birthing of like purging of me and Suzanne uncovering the truth of my family, my mother’s journey, my father’s journey, my ancestors’ journey, my auntie’s journey, my sister’s journey, my brother’s and it’s more than just a memoir of my story, it’s also my family’s story and it’s also filled with recipes. So, it’s not something that I imagined, but it’s something that I’m greatly proud of.
– I love. And it’s called “My Ackee Tree?”
– Mm hmm.
– Like the food. It’s A-C-K-E-E, right?
– Correct, correct, yeah.
– Are you fine? I’m always so curious about this when people have put works of any type out into the world, not like… We don’t need to do a comparison, but I self-published a book in 2015 and it was always shocking to me. There’s like the parts that I thought people were really gonna love and then there was the part they actually did . Did you have any of that? Was there any part… Did you have any like hope or desire that a certain part would be like people’s… Like your favorite versus like the part or is there any pattern whatsoever in the parts that people come up to you and they’re like, “Oh my God, this was my fav?” Is there anything like that?
– 100%. So, it was like right after the book was released. We… You know, I started with a lots of interviews and I did an NPR day where it’s like NPR. And then I did CBC, which is our Canadian, our version of an NPR, but in Canada. So I had 20 interviews back to back to back.
– And it was like in a six-hour block and it was like fuck, okay. And so, my publicist was like, “Okay, we have gone through pre-interview, we knew what they were gonna ask,” but the same thing coming up, you know? And I was like, really, that’s what you talk about? At the age of 30, I decided to change the trajectory of my life and I decided to go back to school and they were like, “You became chef at such an old age.” It was just like, “Okay, wait a minute, wait a minute. Everything else that’s in this book, everything that I’ve said, losing a restaurant, having a child almost on the dining room floor of my restaurant to like all these things that happened in this book, this is what resonated that you think that I was so old to make a decision in changing my life and how brave I was to do that?” I’m like, we do that every day, some people do that every day. And I was like, I didn’t look at myself like I’m too old for this or I’m too young, I just was like… It threw me off in the interviews because it was always, and it was in the way they said it, it was like, “And then at the age of 29 and 30,” and I was like–
– Was that like offensive? I don’t get offended by a lot of things, but I’m kind of offended by this for you.
– I was like, okay. And so I called my publicist in like maybe 10 interviews in and I was like, can I just ask, why is the age, my age such a thing for this? Like this pivotal moment that they keep on highlighting, “You changed your life at 30.” Oh my, like, dude, it’s really okay. I was like–
– So, it’s just not that old.
– It’s not that old. And… Yeah. So that was something that kept coming up. And I think also people… People saying to me like, “It’s really not a long read, your story is really short.” And I’m like–
– The fuck wrong with people? Like what? It’s–
– I was like, okay.
– These are the things? Wow.
– I was like, okay. They were like, “Well, we just expect, I mean, some memoirs. So we were expecting it too.” I’m like, okay, fair, I guess I don’t know who we are comparing me to, but like I’m 45. I still have a lot of life to live. But trust, that’s not my first and only book, I’m hoping to write some more. . But it was, you know, like kind of went really fast and it was like over and I’m like .
– What did they want? So are you telling me it was a page turner?
– Exactly, like you were and then you were crying from the first page to like the last page, so took you on a journey. They’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it” I’m like, okay .
– Isn’t so interesting. It’s like the word that’s coming into my mind right now is reductive.
– And people listening know I do this and I told you before we got on, I actually haven’t read the book yet. Like, there’s something… If I haven’t read someone’s book before I’m interviewing them, I save it for after. And part of the reason is I like to just be able to ask people not just about the book, but about like the experience ’cause writing a book is such a big deal. We’ve talked about it a little bit, putting something out, putting yourself out in the world like that is such a monumental. It’s just such a big deal and it takes so much courage and just so much work. And also standing up for yourself, especially if you’re doing traditional publishing, ’cause like I’m sure there’s so many ways people wanted you to like compromise or edit yourself or include this or cut that or don’t that you probably had to stand up and be like no, not doing that, yes, this, no, that’s important to me, right?
– Trust me, there were many chapters that we had that we cut because I didn’t, you know, want to go in there, I didn’t wanna go deep dive. And there was also stuff with the traditional publisher, yeah, that they were like, “I don’t think our audiences are gonna get that.” And like understanding the language, understanding , you know, like we have throughout the book there’s proverbs. And these proverbs to me were really important that they’d be written the way that the native tongue pronounces and says them. And I remember telling him and I loved my editor, she’s been fantastic. But I think even in her ignorance, she was like very concerned about, “Well, are people gonna get it?” And I’m like it doesn’t matter if they get it, what matters is that I told the story the way it needed to be told and that has to be in this book. I don’t care if they don’t pronounce it correctly, I don’t care if they get that, the reason why… You know, at the end of the book, we did give a bit of a definition, a defining of in theory, this is what this means and I didn’t wanna put it in the book. I honestly didn’t allow it, but they were like, oh, you know, maybe… And I’m like, all right, fine. The compromises that we have to make, the sacrifices that we make, the commitment that you make in writing a book is something that I was prepared to do, but didn’t understand how much it was going to challenge me to like go deeper than I had thought, deeper than I could have never imagined. Like I had to really go… I remember sitting up ’cause my window of when I wrote was like 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM, that was like my only time.
– Miles is five now?
– He’s seven now. But at the–
– He is seven?
– Yeah, he was still like… And we were home.
– Okay. The last… It was… 2020 was when we really… I had to finish the book ’cause I was already a year behind and it was like, “Okay, fuck, I gotta finish this.” And so he was up, he would be up, we were already sleeping late, we were like… You know, it’s COVID, it’s like what the hell? But that window was the only time, but so many of that time would be me looking at my laptop, crying, looking at photos, trying to like tell the story, trying to talk about something that you have buried so far deep in your memory that you can’t even remember the story that you’ve told yourself of that fucking story.
– And you’re like, shit, is that… Did that actually happen? And seeing faces, like there is a part in the book where I’ll leave it at that. A face came to me that I had forgotten because of how traumatic this experience was. And I saw this person’s face and I just wanted to just throw up, I wanted to just like melt and hide and protect because it was so scary ’cause I had never seen his face after this thing happened. And that is part of the work that is part of the journey. I had to go through it, I had to do it and here we are now talking about it.
– Yeah, and good for you, by the way for just saying no, I’m not gonna go there on some things.
– And not be extracted. I know there is something I always wonder about, so your mom had passed long before the book, right?
– Yeah, yeah.
– Something I remember. Oh sorry, go ahead.
– Oh no, go ahead.
– You’re just saying yes.
– Yeah . I remember a friend of mine many years ago, who was a writer was saying, there’s just some things you actually can’t write about until your parents are not in this world anymore.
– And so I’m curious, and you do not have to answer this if you don’t want to, please skip it if you’re like just not today. But the difference between experience of writing with stories, with details of people who were still here and of people who weren’t, is there any like felt like checking in with people or not, or even like checking in, you know, ancestrally and being like, is this cool, is this not? ‘Cause that’s a whole… A memoir, again, is a whole… Like some people out here writing self help books that aren’t like telling like they’re deep, personal shit.
– Yeah. You know, I was really scared to talk to my dad about the book, ’cause my dad’s still alive and we have, you know, a pretty great relationship with like many hard moments and you know, struggles. But for the most part, you know, my dad has remarried and his wife, like when I got the first version of the screener of the book, I sent it to their house and she read the book before my dad read the book and I was kind of like, “Well, it’s out, can’t hold anything back now.” And you know, I remember at one point she pulled me up and she says, “It’s a beautiful book, do you want your dad to read it?” And I said, “I do. I don’t know if he’s going to, but regardless, that means a lot coming from you.” Because… And she said, she’s like, “I thought you hated me. I thought you hated me for, you know, how I came into your life, when I came into your life,” And we didn’t ever talk about that stuff, as most folks don’t, we just let things kind of consume us and then we just hope and pray that we forget and we move on and you know, I just like… I didn’t want her to think that I blamed her for anything and I blamed my dad for a lot . And I was worried that that was gonna come off on the page and she was like, “No, it didn’t.” She was like, “You honored him.” And I was like, okay. And you know, they had been married, they’d been married for like 15 years. So like she knows him quite well and she’s a part of our family obviously. And you know, it still is like, you know, kind of a hard conversation when he like brings up like, “Well, why did you even have to put me in the book?” And I said, “You are everything to me, and why I need to go write about you in this book.” But he’s that old school that they’re just like why, why?
– My dad is like that too, especially with social media. “I don’t know why everyone has to share personal information on the Internet.” He is voice.
– I did see your dad, I saw you dad just now.
– Yeah, yeah .
– I swear I saw your dad. You know, he is… I think he skimmed through it, but–
– Yeah, yeah.
– I don’t know if he’ll read it cover to cover and that’s okay too, but there’s a lot of fear. And like even my brother like getting it, my sister, I was like, oh gosh, they’re gonna be like, “Why did you say that about daddy?” And I’m like, “It never came.” And I was like, okay, okay, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
– I don’t know, yeah, It just needed to be what it was, so there it is.
– So beautiful. I knew this was gonna be… I love talking to people who are so like you can’t not be as soulful as you are, there’s no like top level conversation, like we’re going in and we’re going deep and this is happening. Happens at my kitchen table. I was like, I don’t even know this person, but she clearly is meant to be at my kitchen table, my dining room table, whatever. So is there anything… I just kind of like to wrap up with this question sometimes, is there anything I didn’t ask you that either you were hoping I would, or just based on the conversation we’ve had just feels important to share, to like kind of complete or wrap up the conversation? You know, I like to talk a lot about like where inspiration comes for me and it’s kind of a nice thing ’cause it lightens up some of the weight of the book. ’cause the book, it’s a lightweight book , but it’s got a lot of body and base to it. And I’d like to talk about how music is this like thread that interviews me in every aspect of being a chef an artist, a creator, an author, a mother, a daughter like music is the thing that we used in the poetry, it’s a thing that we use in the book. But music is still so such a part of my life and people always, you know, like we created a soundtrack to go with the book when the book launched.
– That’s cool.
– ‘Cause I wanted people to like, you know, understand that there’s inspiration comes for many chefs in different lights and I hold so dear to my heart and music is a big part of that. And listening to artists from the past to the future and seeing how that is always gonna be in my world. And so I like to share the story of at my first restaurant, Saturday Dinette, we always… Sundays was hip hop Sundays and it was only ’90s hip hop.
– And it was like anything from Rawkus Records to going anywhere in the West Coast era of like the bay area, you know, to bringing like music to this small dining room and playing that era of music of hip hop. That meant so much to me and having this dance because that’s what we do in the kitchen, we dance for our lives, we dance to the rhythm. And I just want people to remember that you don’t have to ever feel like cooking is hard and that it’s like you’re getting it wrong. Like throw that shit out the window and remember that whatever it is that kind of gives you that momentum, that vibe, that feeling, that thing that can kind of connect you to what you’re doing, embrace it. Because music is that for me. You know, going back to Pete Rock and CL Smooth, to listen to the earliest Nas albums, to listening to Grace Jones, to Peter Tosh, you know, music has been the thing has that has kept me going in the kitchen, even in the moments where I’m like dead tired and I’m like, “All right, y’all, service is over, let’s put a song on, let’s crank it up and let’s clean so we can’t clean no more and that’s the thing.” So, you know, just to your listeners, I’m thanking everyone for being a part of our conversation today and understanding that food is this healing element, it’s one of the five elements that… Five or six elements of an element that I feel like are some of the most important. It’s one of the most important things that we could all find a connection through. Whether it’s our love of cooking, whether it’s our love of celebrating and sharing food, whether it’s having food for energy and nourishment, but we need it to live. We need stories to help us continue to live, we need music to inspire us, to keep cooking and finding the connections, finding the intersections of how and where we have come and where we’re going and that anything and everything can fit on your plate and take every bite with the same attention and knowing the many hands it took to build and craft and nurture you in that moment. So thank you, Elizabeth, thank you, listeners, thank you for this. This was the best interview I’ve had for the release of the book. It’s been very busy and you kind of get in your head, and you get into that rhetoric of what you need to say, you only have five minutes, we took a moment to breathe.
– Yeah, we don’t do talking points on my show .
– Yeah. So now let’s talk about this and it’s like, yes, okay, let’s go .
– I know it’s like abruptly switching gears and you’re like, “I was not actually with that, but okay.” Listen to each their own, that’s just not my style .
– Okay, so where do you like people to find you? Where’s the best place if they wanna get the book? Do you have a preference? Does the book have a website, like all that social media, anything?
– 100%. Definitely check out my website, suzannebarrfood.com. Super easy, suzannebarrfood.com.
– We’ll put in the notes too.
– You know, obviously, for those that go online and find an easier way to buy and purchase books, you can buy it from Amazon, but I’m gonna push you even further to go to your local bookstore and support your local bookstore. So that’s in whatever city you’re in. We have not made it overseas 100% yet, but it is coming. The book has been out for two months, it’s doing really well.
– And please, on my website, you can also… there’s threads there to buy, purchase a book from my website. And yeah, keep your eyes and ears out. I’m going on a bit of a food journey right now and cooking in some different cities and cooking with incredible friends and talking about not just my story, but like food stories and connecting those thoughts, yeah.
– I love that. Thank you so much, we’ll see you later.
– Definitely. Bye, y’all.