Mayukh Sen’s New Book Is a Love Letter to the Immigrant Women Who Defined Food as We Know It

The act of preparing food may seem elemental, but if there’s one thing the reckoning in food media over the past few years has shown us, it’s that there’s no such thing as a “simple” food story. The historical and cultural context behind food is more talked about than ever, but too often the contributions of marginalized chefs and creators—particularly women, and particularly women of color—are still erased by a predominantly cis-hetero-patriarchal food industry.

This is the territory that James Beard Award–winning food writer Mayukh Sen wades into with his new book, Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, a group biography that tells the story of Marcella Hazan, Elena Zelayeta, Norma Shirley, and four other immigrant women whose cooking has helped define what we now think of, broadly, as “American food” (with a heavy cross-cultural influence). Recently Vogue spoke to Sen about his perspective on food writing as a queer child of immigrants, the scourges of industry racism and xenophobia that still plague the food industry, and the writers and publications that give him hope for the future. Read the full interview, below.

Vogue: How are you feeling these days, with the book-release date coming up so soon?

Mayukh Sen: Oh, man. I mean, it varies from hour to hour, minute to minute, but I’m just trying to enjoy this time as much as possible, because I know that this whole month will be unlike any other that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Every single day is just packed with a million different things.

What sparked this project for you?

The genesis of this book was early in 2017, when I was a 25-year-old staff writer at a website called Food52, which readers might be familiar with. During my time there, I had begun amassing a small body of work of stories focused on figures in the food world who came from marginalized communities: those who tended to be women of color, queer people, queer people of color, immigrants, immigrants of color, what have you, and folks who fell under more than one of those umbrellas. A friend was looking at those stories, and he suggested that maybe there was a larger project that lived inside of all these stories. He just straight up said to me, “I wonder if you’re the person to write a book about immigration and food.” Of course, there have been books about those two subjects before, but I really heard what he had to say and put it in my back pocket. At 25, I was definitely not ready to take on a project as massive as a book, so I tabled it, but then I revisited it in 2018 when I went freelance of my own volition.