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Chef Spotlight: Emily Meggett

Chef Spotlight: Emily Meggett

Photography by Clay Williams

Emily Meggett: "The Matriarch of Edisto Island"

Emily Meggett was born in Edisto Island, SC in 1932. She grew up in Gullah Geechee culture - a community of African Americans who live in the southeast states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, also known as the lowcountry. Originating from enslaved Central to West Africans, the Gullah Geechee created a culture to preserve their African heritage as well as their food and crops such as Carolina Gold rice, Sea Island okra and benne. The Gullah descendants of enslaved Africans in these areas continue to maintain the food traditions of their ancestors. Emily’s dedication to preserving her culture and educating a new generation of Gullah Geechee cooks earned her the title of “The Matriarch of Edisto Island.”

Emily began cooking at a very young age and eventually became head cook at the Dodge House, home to a wealthy white family, for almost 50 years. Her family grew their own vegetables, beans, and fruit. They even had their own rice pond. She was a beloved cornerstone of Edisto Island and was always feeding her community, leaving her kitchen door open when she was cooking so her neighbors could feel invited to join. She is the first Gullah Geechee professional cook to publish a cookbook on Gullah cuisine with a major American publisher and earned her book deal opportunity at the age of 81. 

In her own words she cooked “with my brain, my hands and my heart” and strongly believed that food is one of the most important ways to take care of each other. She never followed a recipe and was taught to cook by using her instincts and measuring using sight and touch, making her culinary technique unique but also highly skilled. Her love of cooking was only surpassed by the love of her kids, of which she had 10. 

Emily passed away in April of 2023 at the age of 90 but her legacy is timeless. She dedicated her life to reminding her community of the invaluable contributions Gullah Geechee people have provided the region. Her efforts not only preserved her heritage and that of the Gullah Geechee culture but also made this food and this culture an important representation in the narrative of Southern cultural history.

Learn how to make Emily's incredible Red Rice Recipe.


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