Ask A Chef is a part of an on-going series in which 5280 poses a single question to a local culinary luminary.
Here’s something about Adrian Miller: he doesn’t do anything halfway. The Stanford and Georgetown Law grad was a special assistant to Bill Clinton and worked with former Colorado governor Bill Ritter. In his spare time, he devoted himself to becoming a certified barbecue judge, a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and a culinary historian. His book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time (UNC Press, August 2013), traces the roots of the traditional food of African Americans in all parts of the country and includes 22 recipes. 5280 asked the Aurora native to dish about what gives soul food its, well, soul. Miller did more than that, he also recommended his favorite places to eat in Denver.
5280: How would you describe the difference between soul and southern food?
These cuisines are easily confused because there is a lot of overlap in terms of ingredients, techniques, and dishes. A typical meal of fried chicken or fish, greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, candied yams, cornbread, and sweet potato pie is something that black and white southerners would claim as their traditional food.
I think of southern food as the mother cuisine of the region we called the American South. Soul food is really a limited repertoire of southern food that African American migrants took with them when they settled in other parts of the country. When they landed in the new place, they tried to recreate home just like any other immigrant group and that was often done through food.
I think soul food is more intense than southern cooking—it's got more seasoning and spice, more fat, more salt, and more sugar, and it relies more on a variety of meats. Locally, I think the best soul food (outside of being invited to someone’s house) is found at Cora Faye's, Kirk's Soul Kitchen, and the Welton Street Cafe.