Chicken yassa (poulet yassa or yassa ganar in French and Wolof, one of the languages of Senegal) was a linchpin dish for me. I first tasted it in 1972 on my first trip to the African continent, and it was indeed love at first bite. I learned how to cook it from friends and recipes, substituting the broiler for the feu malgache (wood-fired grill), over which it traditionally gets an infusion of wood smoke. I consider it my good-luck recipe and have included a version of it in almost all my cookbooks.
Celebrated culinary historian, author, scholar, journalist, and educator Jessica B. Harris has dedicated her life to researching and chronicling the cuisines and foodways of the African diaspora and is widely recognized for her unparalleled knowledge on the subject.
In the 1970s, Harris traveled to West Africa while working on her doctoral dissertation and to the Caribbean as the first Black woman travel editor for Essence magazine. These experiences gave her a taste of the similarities between the regions’ cuisines, igniting her passion for studying African American food, history, and culture.
Throughout her decades-long career, Harris has received numerous honors for her trailblazing research and writing, and in 2012, she helped conceptualize the award-winning Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Harris retired in 2018 after fifty years of teaching at Queens College, but she continues to write, consult, and lecture in the United States and abroad. She splits her time between Brooklyn, New Orleans, and Martha’s Vineyard.