With technology, you can easily Google a recipe without having to flip through pages of a cookbook. However there are more than recipes in Chef Bryce Fluellen’s new book, “Food: A Vehicle for Healing (The Fruitful Journey) Pt. 1”.
His dual memoir and cookbook is a quick and compelling read in which Fluellen weaves very personal stories ranging from his dream of opening a restaurant being deferred to his mother’s substance abuse and his father’s ailing health with simple recipes including chicken strips, macaroni, a salad and steak.
In an exclusive interview with the L.A. Sentinel, Fluellen gets candid about his journey to becoming an author, why African American males need to pay special attention to their health and what readers can expect from his next book.
LAS: From vision to fruition, when did you conceptualize the book and how did you decide that you wanted to be so transparent with sharing so many personal stories?
Chef Bryce Fluellen: It was over the course of four years. When I first started working with the American Heart Association (AHA), I was brought on as a volunteer consultant for the program that I run now, Kids & Teens Cook with Heart. Within the first year of teaching kids and working within L.A. Unified School District, I met so many people within the world of food around policy, access and education who were working towards ensuring that our children are not only educated properly but are healthy. Initially, I wanted to do a book that highlighted all of the people I’ve come in contact with. I started conducting interviews but in the process, some of the people fell off, then I got busy and put the book on the back burner.
A few years later a friend asked me what was up with my book and I hadn’t even mentioned it to him and it wasn’t on my radar anymore but he thought I had a story to tell. Finally, after about two years of working with AHA, God spoke to me and said I needed to tell my story and explore the relational connection and healing spirit of food and there were all of these situations in my life that spoke to that. From my work with kids to the opening of the book where I talk about my mother’s substance abuse–growing up I never went to counseling; I just closed my heart and moved on. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work at the Dream Center, where I was finally able to understand addiction from another vantage point then I was able to truly forgive my mother. And that’s something that happened through my conversations with the former [drug] addicts and alcoholics that worked there. As we were cooking and they were seeing my passion for food, they began to open up about some of the regrets that they had and some of the people that they hurt and I realized it was a story that came about from food that could help people heal in different ways.
LAS: What’s the takeaway from reading your book? Do you want people to better understand their attachments to certain comfort foods or is the goal to simply start eating better?
CBF: My vision [with the first installment] was to simply get people’s attention through the art of storytelling. Even though I talk about the importance of health and wellness in part one, this isn’t necessarily a health book; part 1 is a memoir exploring the relational and connecting spirit of food. While there are healthy recipes in the book, the recipes are attached to the people in the story.
Part 2 will be more health based with recipes and tips for families and kids. In part 1, I wanted to share my journey and hopefully people will see themselves through my life experiences. Some people can relate to the situations with my mother, others gravitate to the story about my father and his struggle with kidney disease while some people are moved by the stories about the kids. There are a lot of takeaways in the book from the power of forgiveness, the importance of sitting around the table with your family and nurturing those relationships. As well as the power of health and wellness and the impact it can have on your loved ones if you don’t take care of your self.
LAS: What’s the importance of young black men knowing how to cook and looking at the culinary industry as a viable career option?
CBF: Young men need to see people of color in different industries. We all love sports and entertainment but we can do so many different things and if we don’t go back to the community and show what we can do then they don’t think that it’s something that’s attainable. They see so many athletes and entertainers so it’s understandable that they think those are the only careers that exist. As adults, sometimes we forget how impressionable children are and how important it is for them to see something in order for it to be more tangible to them.
In the book, I talk about a young man whose behavior in school changed because he saw someone of color in the culinary industry, that’s an impact that you may not even think about.
For African American men, it’s important for us to focus on our health because we make up 50% of the high blood pressure and stroke suffers and we’re only 12% of the population. So getting back to learning how to prepare your own food is so important in order to take control of your health. When I work with young people, my objective isn’t necessarily for them to be a chef, it’s about helping them to understand how to prepare their meals in a healthy way so they can fall in love with fresh, healthy foods.
I meet kids in urban areas as well as more affluent areas that go to school after eating hot Cheetos and drinking soda. Then we wonder why they’re not being successful in school because how can you focus if that’s in your body at 7am? I’m bringing that awareness to them because as a chef I have an obligation to share the knowledge I have to help others.
I was recently in D.C. speaking at the Library of Congress and there was a question about why people of color, particularly African Americans haven’t become more health conscious because this information has been around for years so what can we actually do? I said there’s no silver bullet but I don’t use that as an excuse not to do what I can do to make a difference, especially with the next generation. My father said, ‘your job is to share your information and do what you do with passion. When people change, that’s not something you can control.’ My mission over the last five years is to continue to educate people on what they can do to make healthier choices for their future because I don’t want to see people have shorter life spans because of something that they could have prevented.