In part three of this special miniseries focusing on the historic sailing of the Mayflower from our shores to America 400 years ago, we focus on the heart-warming story, known in every American home to this day – as Thanksgiving.
After a grueling 66-day journey at sea the Mayflower and its passengers finally reached the New World November 21, 1620. They suffered terribly from sickness and by the end of the first winter 50 of the 102 passengers lost their lives.
However, the settlers soon built a strong relationship with the native Indian Wampanoag tribe who taught them to hunt and grow crops. In the autumn of 1621, a bumper harvest was achieved, and a three-day feast was celebrated, which to this day is known as the first Thanksgiving.
Just before Thanksgiving a few weeks ago I met up with two American Chefs Jerome Grant and Justin Walker.
Chef Jerome is Executive Chef at Sweet Home Café at the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and Chef Justin Executive Chef at Walkers Maine. Both flew over as part of the Thanksgiving Culinary Diplomacy programme, in partnership with the US Embassy in London, and began their tour in Rotherhithe where we met up. Later that afternoon after a Sunday roast at the Mayflower Pub, I caught up with them to find out what Thanksgiving means to them today.
This is Your London Legacy.
“I was sort of born into it—my grandfather was a cook in the US Army during WWII, and when I was a kid I would spend every Thanksgiving preparing food.”
Justin grew up in Lake Placid New York and attended college in Vermont, interestingly enough with a focus on competitive skiing. He jokes that they don’t have ski teams at culinary school, but once he settled that he wasn’t going to race professionally he settled into expanding his cooking abilities.
After moving to Main he met his wife in 2000 and at the time she was a waitress in the restraint he worked at. History is an important part of their family, as his wife can trace her lineage back to Devon England, and her family came over to the United States in 1627.
Justin finds that tradition lies at the heart of Thanksgiving, and each family has their own—with his own making octopus for their son on Christmas eve. Justin and his wife now have their own restraint where the close down on Thanksgiving to volunteer and give back to the community—a true embodiment of the holiday if there ever was one. He’s excited to share traditions and pick up on new ones while travelling around our lovely city.
“It all started off with my mother and my grandmother. The backbones of our family—always watching them cook, always enjoying a meal with them.”
Jerome started off flipping burgers and making pizzas – learning the ins and out of the kitchens in his teens, going to culinary school, and eventually jumping on a flight to St. Croix to work on a beach resort. He soon became the chef there at the age of 21 and pulled a lot of long days and weeks as he dove headfirst into the culinary world.
Jerome sees cooking as a constant giving—it’s not about cooking to the best of his ability for himself, but it’s to create a snapshot for someone else, becoming a part of someone else’s memory. Over the last ten years he has delved into museum dining with a large focus on cultural dishes. Figuring out how to showcase those cultures in edible exhibits makes Jerome a perfect chef to come to our city to learn more of our styles of cooking and share them back in the United States.