A Feast Fit for King

I'm ready if ever asked.

You know that age-old interview question about which famous person, dead or alive, you'd like to have dinner with. (I recall such an essay question in my application to college.)

My top four picks are all dead. And what I'd do to make the evening possible is make some calls and inquire about their availability for a few hours. In exchange for their time and collective wisdom, I would prepare dinner, a home-cooked meal comprised of dishes with historical relevance, in honor of the birthday boy.

Seated at the table, you'd find aviator Amelia Earhart, the dame who kept pushing the envelope with her solo flights across two oceans and her 1937 groundbreaking attempt to fly around the world, which led to her disappearance over the South Pacific.

Ms. Earhart had such style, and I can only imagine she'd show up wearing one of her silk scarves that made her look so cool.

The other great lady at the table would be Ella Fitzgerald, whose recording of the nursey rhyme "A Tisket A Tasket " made her famous just a year after Earhart's disappearance. To say they both had guts and did ground-breaking work, is a gross understatement, but I remain in awe of these two great women achievers of the 20th century.

Seated inbetween the girls would be Gordon Parks, another icon of style and magnetism (I've had a crush on him for years). An unstoppable artistic force, Parks did so much more than shoot Life magazine covers; he documented the economic and racial injustices of the 20th century, both in the American south and abroad. You may know him for his movie, Shaft. Shall I keep going? In 1989, he composed and choregraphed Martin, a ballet dedicated to my fourth guest, birthday boy Martin Luther King, Jr.

What a grand birthday party we'd have. I'm not sure that I'd be able to eat what I'd prepared -- I'd be so nervous in the presence of such forces of greatness -- but here's what I'd prepare in honor of Dr. King's 79th birthday and his legacy of nonviolence and pursuit of equality for all.

Born, bred and perished in the south, it seems only appropriate to prepare a feast of southern specialties but with historical relevance.

To that end, we'd sup on red rice, a dish with historical ties to the South Carolina slave trade that I've described as the risotto of the south.

And I'd fry up some fish, which Southern Foodway Alliance's John T. Edge has characterized as "working people's food," as it's tied to the history of the textile mills, a connection that I think the guest of honor (and champion of the worker) would appreciate. And let's not forget that politicians in southern states use the fish fry to bring people together -- be it for ideas, fundraising or constituency building.

For dessert, some may assume I'd serve peach cobbler, but those famed Georgia peaches are hard to come by in the middle of January. I've read that pecan pie was one of Dr. King's favorites, but I'm still not able to confirm this preference. Instead, I'd bake him a marble cake, a homey chocolate-vanilla swirl one-layer cake that over the past year has held great personal meaning. Nearly one year ago, I made such a cake to pay my respects to my dear friend and Washington jazz piano player Hilton Felton, who died suddenly in February, 2007. Later in the year, I was given yet another marble cake recipe , passed down from my friend Jeff's late aunt, who'd bake this cake to break the fast at Yom Kippur.

I hope to have my wish granted this Sunday night, when I'll fix a feast fit for King and my other dinner guests. I've got my fingers crossed they'll show up, but if not, that's okay. Their spirits do live on.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 18, 2008; 11:16 AM ET African-American History , Kitchen Musings
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I read this blog every day, always looking for new recipes, but this one touched my heart today. Thanks Kim!

Posted by: Peanut Butter Kelly | January 18, 2008 11:57 AM

Wow. Can I join you for dinner? A great selection indeed. I guy I used to date the the awesome opportunity to photograph and interview Parks right before died. He attended his funeral and shared a great story of Mr. Parks.

And fish fry? ha. I just wrote on my blog about how southern food is bad! well you know what I mean...Since I've moved from DC, I've gained like 10 pounds eating grits, sweet tea, peach cobbler and waffles!

Happy MLK!


Posted by: FlaNBoyant Eats | January 18, 2008 12:18 PM

Ella Fitzgerald has always been a favorite of mine. She had an exquisite instrument
and superb technique. But I would very much enjoy sharing a meal with Coretta Scott King. She could out-regal royalty!

Posted by: martha_hb@yahoo.com | January 18, 2008 12:49 PM

Your post reminds me of My Last Supper (http://www.amazon.com/My-Last-Supper-Portraits-Interviews/dp/1596912871/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201128733&sr=8-1) which I got for Christmas. It's a beautiful book with some interesting thoughts and pictures by a number of food industry heavy. I'll have to print your post and add it to the book myself.

Posted by: DC | January 23, 2008 5:55 PM

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