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Kitchen Sisters to Serve Up Heaping Helping of Stories

Check out campus menus for Julia Child Day and more information

What the Kitchen Sisters dish out on their award-winning National Public Radio show Hidden Kitchens doesn’t only concern food and its preparation.

They talk about food, to be sure. But they also talk about community and how people interact, share their lives and grow together. They tell inspiring stories of struggle and triumph, about women, children and people overcoming daunting odds to succeed.

The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva (who are not related), have been on the air  for 25 years shining a light on the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

Hidden Kitchens won the 2006 duPont-Columbia Broadcast Journalism Award, considered the top honor for radio shows. They will soon give Smith College a sampling of their work.

The Kitchen Sisters will visit Smith on Thursday, Nov. 15, as part of the college’s fourth annual Julia Child Day. They will give a highly interactive, multimedia presentation titled “How Communities Come Together Through Food” beginning at 4:15 p.m. in the Campus Center Carroll Room. A gala reception will follow. Recipes of Julia Child and the Kitchen Sisters will be featured during the day at the Campus Center Café, the Smith College Club for lunch, and at the reception and in residence dining rooms.

It’s difficult to predict what the Kitchen Sisters’ presentation will entail because they are committed to remaining flexible and working with and involving their audience.

“We would much rather be in conversation with the audience than lecturing,” said Nelson during a recent telephone interview from her home in San Francisco, where she also works as a screenwriter and casting director. The presentation will include readings, radio broadcasts, PowerPoint presentations, posters, multimedia, people telling their stories, and more, she said. “We’ll play a lot of music, display photos, share some food. It will be rich and deeply textured.”

As in their popular Hidden Kitchens series, the Kitchen Sisters’ live presentations impart the stories of people’s secret lives, the angles not often seen or displayed through media. One such story tells about Robert “King” Wilkerson, who spent 31 years in prison—29 in solitary confinement—before being released in 2001 after his case was overturned. Following his release, he built a booming business in New Orleans, his hometown, selling the delectable pralines he had learned to make in prison using a stove made from cans and tissue. Attendees to the Kitchen Sisters’ presentation on Julia Child Day will be able to sample Wilkerson’s pralines.

Nelson encourages attendees of the event to bring their stories of food and community to share during the presentation. Also, she welcomes those in the Smith community to email their stories in advance, to, for use during the event.

It’s fitting for the Kitchen Sisters to visit Smith, Nelson notes. They have emphasized stories about women cutting new paths and breaking new ground during their radio careers. The duo’s newest series, called The Secret Lives of Girls Around the World—“about the world of girls and the women they become,” Nelson says—is expected to begin airing on NPR in January 2009.

And while the Kitchen Sisters’ presentations are about food, the content transcends preparing and consuming meals. “It’s more than the food,” said Nelson. “It’s the fellowship. And it’s not just for people who like to cook. It’s for people who eat as well. And people who want to cook for each other. The one thing we all have in common, the thing that brings us all together, is food.”

The Kitchen Sisters also produce the NPR series Lost & Found Sound, which explores American life through recorded sound; and they produced the Peabody Award-winning The Sonic Memorial Project, which created an archive of NPR listeners’ personal recordings and remembrances following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nelson says she’s honored to be visiting Smith on the auspicious celebration of Julia Child.

“Julia built this community of cooks across the nation,” she said. “Though we’re not cooks like Julia, we’re interested in bringing people together through kitchens and food.”

About Julia Child

The late Julia Child ’34, author of a dozen cookbooks and host of the long-running PBS television series The French Chef, is credited with changing the way we think about food in America. Her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, provided culinary aspirants with one of the most accessible collections of French recipes available in English.

Child donated her house in Cambridge, Mass., to Smith, which she had lived in from 1956 to 2001. In 2002, proceeds from the sale of the property supported construction of the Campus Center.

Child died on August 12, 2004. An etching on a window of the Campus Center Café honors her generosity to Smith.

11/9/07   By Eric Sean Weld
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