When writer Mayukh Sen published his profile of Princess Pamela — a legendary soul food proprietor who suddenly disappeared in the late 1990s — the piece was an instant sensation in the food world.
His piece in Food52 explored Pamela’s legacy while also connecting her work to the long tradition and impact of Southern cooking on the United States. “You could call her the doyenne of soul food for New York, when the city had precious few soul food restaurants,” he wrote. “She earned this title during a time when her black skin, her womanhood, and her Southern accent weren’t just signifiers of identity; they were handicaps that limited her possibilities in the culinary world.”
— Mayukh Sen (@senatormayukh) April 30, 2018
The in-depth profile would go on to win a James Beard Award in the Profile category and was particularly notable because it spotlighted Sen’s unique voice as a journalist. As Abigail Koffler recently noted in Forbes, Sen’s “voice is distinct: he looks for the stories of overlooked or forgotten women in food and he candidly writes about his identity as a queer Indian person.”
Another recent overlooked woman in culinary history Sen has spotlighted recently was Fatima Lakhani, the author of a “heart healthy” Indian cookbook Sen says changed the way his family approached food.
for @bonappetit, an essay on the indian "heart healthy" cookbook my family depended on for many years, and what little i could find about the woman who wrote it: https://t.co/HDp7PKatwN pic.twitter.com/WfBaTkhKvF
— Mayukh Sen (@senatormayukh) June 27, 2018
“This mysterious Mrs. Lakhani gave my mother lessons she found invaluable: She stopped using chicken legs, instead only breasts, and removed all the visible fat from the chicken,” he noted. “She cut out red meat. She used oil sparingly. This was terrible news for my father, who bragged about how he once ate 20 luchi, flatbreads my mother deep-fried punishingly in oil until they inflated into pimply little saucers, in a single sitting.”
Now-obscure cookbooks are a particular goldmine for Sen, as they are often a jumping off point for him to dive into an examination of the way society thinks about food both in the past and present. His first piece for the NewYorker.com took a look at the ways food shaped Salman Rushdie’s literary work.
good morning, in my first piece for the @newyorker (dot com), i wrote about food in salman rushdie's fiction, his sister sameen's 1988 cookbook, and what they ate in 1950s bombay: https://t.co/hunnhWHkse pic.twitter.com/ncyvfcL0eD
— Mayukh Sen (@senatormayukh) June 7, 2018
Having worked at both Food52 and the Vice vertical Munchies, Sen is currently a freelancer and, as Forbes reports, is currently working on a book proposal while continuing to push the rest of the food journalism world to dive into more diverse stories.