F.A.Qs: V. Sheree Williams of Cuisine Noir

V. Sheree Williams, Cuisine Noir founder
V. Sheree Williams, Cuisine Noir founder

As the first food and wine lifestyle magazine for African-Americans, Cuisine Noir has built a widely respected reputation on its explorations of culinary trends and traditions viewed through the lens of cultural relevance. On September 20th this year, the magazine celebrated its fifth anniversary with an evening of food, wine, and music. Cuisine Noir founder V. Sheree Williams, Wine Editor Greg Shaw, and Certified Wine Specialist and Wine Contributor Amerilis Ersery recently agreed to talk to me on multiple subjects, and I’m excited to share insights into some of the minds behind one of the most important culinary publications of our time.

Flavorful World: What would you say has been Cuisine Noir’s most significant contribution to its readership on the subject of Black and African-American culinary professionals? What has been its most significant contribution to Black and African-American culinary professionals themselves?

V. Sheree Williams: A significant contribution to readers is the awareness of Black and African-American culinary professionals. The reason Cuisine Noir exists is to show and tell the stories of culinary professionals of color who are trendsetters and industry leaders, but just reading mainstream media outlets like Food & Wine magazine and The Food Network magazine, you wouldn’t know about them. Another significant contribution is that we are sharing history and enlightening our readers to the amazing contributions of Black and African-American culinary professionals. Lastly, just as we are diverse, so are the talents of the culinary professionals we feature and it is great to show their careers and what they have been able to do and are doing and as a result, readers have shared that they are inspired.

As for the professionals themselves, they have shared that they appreciate having an outlet where they can tell their stories as well as connect with other professionals. The networking opportunities have been great. In addition, we have been able to share various opportunities with professionals based on our connections and network. For instance, I am the culinary stage manager for the Travel and Adventure show and as the person doing the booking, I am able to give chefs a chance to expand their brands and further build an audience. This is huge for me as a black professional to be in the position and therefore share this platform with black culinary professionals because if you look at most major events that have food and wine, Marcus Samuelsson is as black as it gets.

FW: In terms of reader/viewer reception, what have been some of the most memorable responses (for better or worse) to Cuisine Noir, and what if any impact has that feedback had on the direction of the magazine’s message and/or features?

VSW: The memorable responses are always when a new reader discovers us. I love getting these emails and most praise us for having a publication that showcases blacks in food, wine and travel. They love seeing black culinary and wine professionals doing great things. We do a reader survey and the feedback is important and does drive content. We listen to who they would like featured and what types of tips and resources they would like to see to enhance their own culinary experiences. We do our best to deliver as we plan for growth each year. We haven’t really had any negative, just perhaps someone wanting more of this but otherwise readers are happy. We, however, want to stay on top of trends and what is going on to keep content fresh and exciting.

FW: Among topics like dining out, chef profiles, and simple gourmet recipes that readers can attempt in their own kitchens, Cuisine Noir also devotes an extensive archive to various forms of etiquette. Tell us how the decision evolved to include guidance in this area which, despite being quite helpful and well-researched, could be said to deviate somewhat from culinary subjects.

VSW: Good question. We try to make sure there is an element of food, wine or travel in each article to make sure it doesn’t deviate too much. So if we are talking about a bridal showers, we talk about the food and the entertaining part of it. For business network, we bring in the food element as well so I always tell my expert to include this or we don’t do the article. Some articles have a heavier emphasis than others but overall, all should and surprisingly, Etiquette is one of our most read columns. If we are thinking or have experienced it, chances are readers are too.

FW: Tell us about the CN Review scheduled to make its debut this October, and what other new/upcoming feature developments readers and viewers can look forward to in the future.

VSW: We used to have CN Esentials and The Pairing Weekly but have decided to combine the two and make this a more robust column to let readers know about new products, wine, etc that enhance their culinary experiences so in this new column, we are striving to do just that: Be in the know about what is hot while being a great resource to readers at the same time.

We want readers to say things like, “What are some great wine recommendations from Cuisine Noir for my dinner party?” and go to the column to see. Or when they are preparing for a trip, they can go online to see what fun travel gadgets are out there that we have reviewed and like.

FW: Of all Cuisine Noir’s online publishings, tell us which piece is your favorite in each of the following three article categories, and what aspect(s) of it make it your favorite: Design and Dine™, Delicious Life, The Pairing.

VSW: For Design & Dine, I love Tiffany Brooks and her story is so inspiring. I live this column because I can throw a mean party but can’t “design” to save my life, so everyone featured is my hero with their tips and helpful resources that I refer to when in need.

Delicious Life – Wanda Hennig who writes this column lives in South Africa so she is my eyes over there to bring the stories from that part of the world. I have so many favorite pieces but my favorite is on Mozambique, a country on my bucket list. I love the international flavor that the column brings to the publication.

I love discovering black winemakers and professionals around the world and we have the honor of telling their stories. It is 2014 and I still hear ” I didn’t know there were black winemakers,” and I just shake my head. So this column is very important in debunking the myth that we don’t exist in this space.

FW: If your visitors and readers come away from Cuisine Noir with even one changed perception about Black and African-American culinary and winemaking professionals, what would you hope for that perception to be?

VSW: That black culinary and winemakers are no different than Tyler Florence, Wolfgang Puck or Robert Mondavi or Wente, they are just black and the quality is there. Another thing is that black chefs are so diverse so now they know that some love to just do BBQ, others soul food and some enjoy preparing gourmet meals like foie gras. You can’t put all black chefs in one category like so many continue to do and I have heard this a lot and will continue to be an ambassador of this information.

FW: Between the increasing globalization of cuisine and the foods/wines coming out of Black- and African-American-owned kitchens and vineyards across the U.S., which do you feel has a greater impact on the other, and why?

VSW: My thought is that Blacks with kitchen and vineyards, etc are doing what they do because they love doing so. Now that globalization of cuisine is hot and people are opening up to a variety of food and wine experiences, black culinary professionals and winemakers can position themselves to be seen and be of influence to what is happening in the world today. So globalization of cuisine has helped to push the brands of black culinary professionals and winemakers closer to the forefront to be seen where as before they were producing great work but it went under the radar until now.

FW: A question for each member of your contributor staff: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?

VSW: I would name it… “Morsels From An Expected Foodie.”

Greg Shaw: “Lots of Glasses…but not for Your Eyes.”

Amerilis Ersery:Taste Around the World.”

FW: A question for each member of your contributor staff: When you aren’t writing and reporting on delicious food and drink, how do you most enjoy spending your time?

VSW: I am beach bum and love hanging out by the water.  In addition, I love traveling, trying new restaurants, wine tasting, cooking, gardening and shooting food.  I also enjoy hiking and just spending time with family.

GS: I spend a lot of time researching what I write about. I enjoy reading about wine, beer, spirits, olive oils, and other foods and drinks that are major contributors to agritourism industries around the world. I’m a hobby weightlifter and work out whenever I can. It’s the one physical thing that I do. I’m a big Disney geek and love teaching people about Disney movies, theme parks, merchandising and real estate. Photography, especially of architecture, is another major hobby.

AE: Enjoying my children and grandchildren, marveling at their accomplishments, and planning my next trip.  Who knows where the next great taste will come from?  🙂

*Note to Readers: Visit Cuisine Noir to learn about the latest happenings in the world of black cultural culinary professionals, and check out its blog, The Culinary Scoop. If quick, informative bites are more what you’re looking for, then you can also keep up with all things noir and all things cuisine on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Or, you could do all of the above. Go on; no one will judge you.

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