A year ago, New Orleans-based Afro-Honduran baker Bryan Ford took the bread world by storm with his first cookbook, “New World Sourdough.” Not only did the book captivate home bread bakers stuck in lockdown, but it generated a space for nonwhite cookbook authors with the inclusion of his Latin American pan de coco and semitas de yema recipes.
In July, Ford’s show “The Artisan’s Kitchen” will debut on the Magnolia Network. With his audiovisual media company Flaky Biscuit Media and a Patreon grant mentorship program for the Black, Indigenous and people of color community, he’s using his voice to raise other nonwhite voices in the food and drink industry. Currently, Ford is working on his second cookbook, which will focus exclusively on Latin American baked goods.
My father is of Jamaican and African descent. He’s from La Ceiba, Honduras. It’s what landed us in New Orleans, really. That connection between Honduras and New Orleans started in La Ceiba with banana plantations. They would seek out slaves from Jamaica to work those plantations and get those bananas to New Orleans. That’s why New Orleans has a huge Honduran population [the largest in America]. With my mom’s Honduran heritage, at some point European colonization occurred. What really went down is not something that they teach you in history class. They make it sound all nice and pretty. What really went down was not great, but that’s what birthed the people of Central America. I’m a hybrid of that, and I was fortunate enough to be raised in the United States after they made their way to the Bronx in the ’80s. I consider myself Black. I consider myself Hispanic. I consider myself Afro-Honduran. I consider myself American. I consider myself Honduran. There’s a lot of things I consider myself because of the way colonization occurred, because of the way slavery occurred. I am those things. I’m multiple things.
“Using the term people of color — it sucks. White people are just people, but we’re people of color. No one way to describe us is going to work, because it’s always going to imply that we’re different. It’s always going to imply that we’re not good enough.”
I grew up in Louisiana, so unfortunately I am used to being discriminated against and being racially abused. I’m used to being called a nigger or a spic. Growing up in high school, that’s what they would call me. Even my teammates on the soccer team — they would literally call me nigger. That was my teammates, who would smile at me and pass the ball to me. I’ve been spit on — you name it. I was always the Black kid. Always. That’s something that’s unfortunately a part of how I was raised. I didn’t really tell my parents about much of this. I just kind of dealt with it. I didn’t tell my brother or anything, until recently. Some of my good friends knew. Even in 2021, my family and I are going to be called names. My brother was driving through Montana and stopped at a CVS with my dad, and as he walked in the CVS, an employee said, “Get out of here. Your kind isn’t welcome here.” It was a year ago.
In general my work highlights the voices of people who look like me or look like my parents or sound like my parents. Oftentimes when your parents are immigrants, you don’t really have a backup plan. There’s nothing to fall back on. I think a lot of us struggle with that. We don’t have saving accounts or trust funds, or anything that generational families who are not minorities — I hate to use that word — so we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage. Using the term people of color — it sucks. White people are just people, but we’re people of color. No one way to describe us is going to work, because it’s always going to imply that we’re different. It’s always going to imply that we’re not good enough. People in underrepresented communities — again, negative. People of color — negative. Minority — negative. As identification continues to evolve, hopefully there’s a way at some point people are just people, but it’s definitely not today.
If I went to a restaurant here in New Orleans, one of the big fancy old-school restaurants, most of them are owned by white families. But guess who’s in the kitchen? Guess who’s actually cooking the food? It’s brown hands and black hands back there. That’s not necessarily racism, but it’s an indicator of the fact that we need to provide more opportunities in food media and in the restaurant industry for us to be in control. I made a cookbook that not many people would expect from someone who looks like me, and that’s really important to open the door for people to be more proud of the flavors that their culture has to offer and not to get made fun of. There’s so much work to be done. That’s why it can feel overwhelming to me. At the end of the day, we need more representation. We need more help. And most importantly we just need to keep pushing forward and support each other.
“Why do people open bakeries and the first shit they have is croissants? ... One country eats croissants. One country. The world doesn’t eat that. How can we get people, when they open bakeries, to make different stuff?”
I just want to see people bake more unique things. I would love to see less croissants and baguettes, and more African flatbreads, more Middle Eastern flatbreads. My naan recipe is on point. I would like to see Latin American breads. Why do people open bakeries and the first shit they have is croissants? First of all, they’re a tremendous waste of butter. What is the driving force behind wanting to make that? What is the reason behind wanting to make just those things, and how can we create more of a yearning for different types of baked goods? I know the answer: Because Western Europe and white culture dominate. That’s just it. How can we get people to make the bread that represents the world? The world is brown and black, if you really think about it, and the world doesn’t eat croissants. One country eats croissants. One country. The world doesn’t eat that. How can we get people, when they open bakeries, to make different stuff?
There needs to be more respect when it comes to non-Western, non-European cuisine. I feel like there’s an unequal footing in the way they are perceived and represented. There’s always that higher price point, higher marketing, higher exposure level for those European counterparts, which are mostly of the white persuasion. The goal overall is not to say, “Wow, it’s weird that someone wants to make semitas and they’re white.” That’s not going to weird me out. I’m going to celebrate that. But also at the same time, I want to make sure that there is a respect and a credit where it’s due, and an understanding of these baked goods not as a novelty. It shouldn’t be a novelty to make semitas. This is just what people make in Latin America. They make pan dulce, which is sweet bread. And they make it in a very delicious and unique way, and it shouldn’t be something that’s trendy or cool. It should be something that you bake and eat.
When I see people in Kansas or in Missouri making semitas de yema, to me it’s a win. It’s people getting more familiar with different types of baked goods from different countries. My goal when it comes to writing the second cookbook is to help bring awareness to the artisanal nature of the way people bake in Latin America. At the end of the day, I’m just a kid trying to eat good, trying to go on hikes, trying to enjoy this precious life and trying to take care of my family. Every day I look out the window and I’m just very thankful.