Former White House aide Adrian Miller started writing his book “Soul Food, The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time,” in humble circumstances, but it wasn’t long before the James Beard Foundation Book Award winner took it to another level. “We should have soul food in space,” he said of a sit-down he’d had with folks about NASA.
Many forms of soul food do indeed taste heavenly, and whether they are bound for space travel any time soon is a topic that could be posed in person to Miller, who’s in town in Washington as part of the 2014 National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown. The one-time aide for President Bill Clinton, who worked as part of 42’s Initiative for One America before heading to Colorado to work for the Bell Policy Center and later as a senior policy aide for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, decided to write the book almost on a lark.
At the end of Ritter’s term of office, Miller said to himself, “You know, I’m just going to go for it,” and cashed in his retirement to buy himself time and resources to research and write about his passion: a truly American food that is itself a melting pot story, a misunderstood part of our culture and a vanishing tradition. “I’m a risk averse person. It probably wasn’t the best financial decision, but I’ve never been happier,” he said.
The Beard award was “totally unexpected,” he said, and has given him and his work a level of appreciation that many books published by university presses (in this case The University of North Carolina Press) don’t enjoy. It’s an important topic as well, as it touches on issues ranging from nutrition, race and disappearing culture. Driving home the point about soul food’s endangered status, two of the local D.C. establishments I wanted to recommend to Miller for his trip to the capital city — The Rib Pit and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish — are no longer around, and it hadn’t been too long since I’d visited each.
Miller, who is now executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, speaks as part of the Culinary Arts pavilion from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on Saturday at the convention center. He’ll be signing copies of “Soul Food” from 11 a.m. to noon.