Tonya Hopkins

Tonya Hopkins
Tonya Hopkins Clay Williams
Title: Culinary Historian
Location: Brooklyn, New York

Legacy Cook & Culinarian
Tonya Hopkins, a.k.a "The Food Griot" descends from a long line of professional cooks in America, traced to enslaved African Americans in our nation's earliest days who skillfully toiled under harsh conditions and without recognition in plantation kitchens of Maryland and Virginia, for centuries. Her American artisan forebears with pre-industrial intel, ingenuity and innovated techniques mastered open fire cookery and fostered farm-to-table' dishes informed by the seasons and incorporating imported ingredients, aromatic herbs and traded spices to maximize flavor. In later generations, her emancipated ancestors cooked in wealthy white homes and private and public eateries, their work was integral to the development of dining throughout the MidAtlantic and Northeast. Akin to Black culinary professionals throughout the Americas, her predecessors carried on traditions of unmatched culinary expertise in enterprising ways: her great-grandmother was a speakeasy 'entrepreneur' and professional chef; a favorite great aunt owned and operated a family restaurant in South Jersey. Not only was Tonya blessed to spend time with exceptional elders like them in the multigenerational family of her youth, their collective kitchen wisdom and talents transferred to Tonya's grandmother, her mother, and ultimately to Tonya herself.

Connector & Contributor 
Growing up engulfed in a "UN" of extended family & friends (an Ecuadorian great grandfather, two immigrant uncles – one Cuban, the other Italian; a Japanese step-grandmother and another from Germany + Irish-Jewish play cousins) not only made for deliciously different holiday meals but also gifted Tonya with an early ability to make meaningful connections across cultures. Throughout college (University of Pennsylvania) she worked in hospitality and retail, after graduating with her BA she eventually landed in advertising as a brand strategist, qualitative researcher and trend spotter at both multicultural and mainstream agencies (LA, the UK, NYC). After years of unearthing consumer insights and developing impactful ad campaigns for food/beverage, wine/spirits and luxury brands, she segued to work as an independent food & drink scholar on special projects. Along the way she's researched and written for: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Foodways Edition), Food History News, and Essence Magazine (first ever wine issue) and studied at The New School, ICE, the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Windows on the World Wine School with Kevin Zraly and trained with renowned storytelling company, Narativ.

Content Creator, Consultant Collaborator
Tonya founded The Food Griot LLC, a storytelling platform through which she produces nonfiction audio/podcast and video content (for broadcast and online) intended to offset the historical omissions and systematized obscurity of foundational Black contributors to "The Makings of America's Cuisines, Cocktails…" Her role as griot (historian & nonfiction storyteller) also extends to the James Hemings Society, a nonprofit she co-founded with Chef Ashbell Mcelveen to help lead the charge to remember, uphold and continue timeless Black culinary creativity that profoundly influenced American foodways. Hopkins is a main advisor for the Museum of Food and Drink's "African/American: Making the Nation's Table" groundbreaking exhibition (lead curator Dr. Jessica B. Harris); was the first and only food historian featured on ABC's iconic daily show, "The Chew"; lead food historian for Chef Carla Hall's book: "Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration"; taught and mentored Black and Brown culinary students at the Brownsville Community Culinary Ctr, and is cited in award-winning author Michael Twitty's 2-time James Beard Awarded book "The Cooking Gene." 

Custom Drinks Designer, Wine & Spirits Specialist
In the beverage arena, Tonya creates customized cocktails for a range of clients and events including drink design & wine curation for the James Beard House in support of several chefs doing seminal dinners there. Her work often takes place at historic Northern sites linked to early American slavery (e.g., Morris Jumel Mansion, Wycoff Farmhouse Museum) including her ongoing work with The Old Stone House of Brooklyn's Food/Drink & Public History Program, where she launched a spirits sipping series to narrate nearly lost, more inclusive American history through the "liquidy lenses" of pillar potations. For Harlem Hops, the nation's first 100% African-American-owned craft beer bar, Ms. Hopkins conducted original research and wrote the "African Origins of Beer" narrative prominently displayed at the bar (+ designed the wine list and flagship cocktails). Tonya works her wine magic by teaching classes and conducting talks and tastings at Good Wine: A Food Lover's Wineshop, a Black and woman-owned wineshop in Brooklyn, NY. 

About The Spruce

The Spruce, a Dotdash brand, is a new kind of home website offering practical, real-life tips and inspiration to help you create your best home. The Spruce family of brands, including The Spruce, The Spruce Eats, The Spruce Pets, and The Spruce Crafts collectively reach 30 million people each month.

Dotdash is among the largest and fastest growing publishers online, and has won over 50 awards in the last year alone, including Digiday's 2020 Publisher of the Year. Dotdash brands include Verywell, Investopedia, The Balance, The Spruce, Simply Recipes, Serious Eats, Byrdie, Brides, MyDomaine, Lifewire, TripSavvy,, and TreeHugger.

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