This year, the Middlesex Museum had the pleasure of tampharing the stories of African American Culinary Notables from the Middle Peninsula. Read on here for details about their illustrious careers and contributions to history and the culinary arts that we all continue to enjoy today.
Joseph C. “Joe” Cameron, Jr. (1903 – 1988) was a native of Barnett County, North Carolina who learned to cook from two of his uncles who were chefs.
Following his graduation from the famed Boston Cooking School in 1924, he spent several years as chief cook on the famous train, The Orange Blossom Special, and at Washington and Philadelphia restaurants. Joe moved to Middlesex County, Virginia, in 1929 and assumed the position of chief cook and dietician at Christchurch School. He retired from Christchurch in 1974 after 45 years of service.
Joe was a legend at Christchurch; generations of students called him “Mr. Christchurch.” Pulitzer Prize winner and Christchurch alumnus William Styron (Class of 1942), said of Joe Cameron’s cooking: “I recall cheese biscuits and pastries and delicately grilled fish, fresh from the river or
bay, which would have caused a French chef to salivate with envy.”
The Christchurch dining hall is named for Joe Cameron. In 2014, Joe was inducted into the Christchurch School Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement.
Robert Henry Cauthorne, Jr. (1883 – 1939) was a native of Ozeana in Essex County, Virginia. He worked as a waiter on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad off and on beginning in 1902, and continuously from 1928 until his death. For three months each year the B & O gave Cauthorne time off to return to Essex County to operate the federally sponsored Tri – County Canning Association, Inc. In a single season, the canning factory packaged 8000 cases of tomatoes under the brand name “Wil low Lawn.” Cauthorne was known for his specialty drinks and created an orange lemonade that became one of the B & O Railroad’s most popular drinks. For a nickel a glass, he sold $887.00 worth of the drink in 1929. The recipe was featured in the September 1929 issue of the Baltimore & Ohio Magazine . Cauthorne’s oldest son Alfred Cauthorne also worked for the B & O, holding the position of waiter – in – charge on The Capitol Limited.
Doris Townes Fleming is an Essex County, Virginia, native who grew up in King and Queen County. She began doing domestic work when she was 11 years old, learning how to cook, to set a pretty table, and to clean silver.
While working private family in Richmond, Doris met caterers Benjamin and Frances Lambert. So began her career in food service. The Lamberts were premiere caterer s in the city, serving parties for the city’s wealthy elite and for institutions such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Doris worked with the Lamberts until they retired and then went to work in food service for Reynolds Metals.
Doris and her husband Charles W. Townes, Sr. had five sons: Charles W. Jr., Theodore A. “Tony,” Martin “Tutti,” Marvin “Billy Ray,” and Stacey. When they were growing up they all worked with their mother in food service. Two of the sons, Martin “Tutti” Towne s and Theodore “Tony” Townes have pursued careers in the culinary arts.
Feeling that if she could work for someone else, she could also work for herself, Doris kept her job but started her own catering business. Eventually Doris started to work at the Virginia Governor’s mansio n on a part – time basis. She became the lead cook during the administration of Governor Gerald Baliles. Doris served as head cook and manager of the kitchen during the administrations of Governor L. Douglas Wilder and Governor George Allen. She and Tony cat ered all the special occasions held in the mansion and prepared all of the meals when they were employed there. Among the highlights that Doris remembers preparing at the mansion were the repast for the funeral of Arthur Ashe, a dessert party for Bill Cosby, and breakfast for President Bill Clinton. Doris retired in 1992, but continued to help during the administrations of Governors Gilmore, Kaine, and McDonnell.
Tutti has been employed as the butler at the Virginia Governor’s mansion since 1986 and is now serving under his tenth gubernatorial administration. Governor Jim Gilmore said that “He is the rock on which the private lives of the governor and his family are built.” Tutti was recently recognized as a “Living Legend” by Cedar Street Baptist Church for 32 years of consecutive service at the mansion.
Tony was always naturally talented as a cook, floral designer, and cake designer. He was hired as the butler at the Governor’s mansion under Governor Charles Robb, but became the head cook when the person wh o previously held the position became ill. When Governor Robb’s tenure was over, he hired Tony to work for him in northern Virginia where Tony remains today. Among his legendary cake designs are a gingerbread model of the Governor’s Mansion, a birthday cak e for Lady Bird Johnson, and a wedding cake for Loren Wilder, Governor Wilder’s daughter.
Cleveland “CG” Foster (1884-1948) and Lena Jones Foster (1888-1957) owned and operated a general merchandise store in King William County, Virginia. Initially built in 1910, it was one of the first two such stores in central King William County and the first in the county to be African American owned and operated.
The establishment was called Crossroads General Merchandise and Foster’s Grocery. The Fosters sold general merchandise and groceries as well as prepared foods. The menu included entrees such as roast beef, fried chicken, and fishes of the season. In the spring and summer months fresh vegetables were served; in fall and winter, the menu included vegetables that the Fosters had preserved. Their fresh pumpkin and lemon chess pies were especially popular. The Fosters operated the business until 1942.
Ralph Jackson (1942 – 1993), a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, grew up in Middlesex County, Virginia, and graduated from St. Clare Walker High School. Despite a very difficult childhood, he ear ned a Bachelor’s degree at Virginia State College, a Master’s degree from New York University, and a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law. Ralph first worked as a helper in the kitchen at Christchurch School and later worked as a cook to he lp finance his education.
Ellen Johnson is a native and lifelong resident of Middlesex County, Virginia, who first worked as a kitchen helper at Christchurch School. She moved up quickly and credits the older women with helping her along. Ellen was an a ssistant cook at the Urbanna Lodge for 13 years. Although she headed the laundry department at Riverside Convalescent Center for 32 years, she has never left the culinary world. She has catered parties and events in the county over the years, and served as the caterer for the annual picnic of the Urbanna Chamber of Commerce. The Urbanna Oyster Festival Silver Anniversary Cookbook notes that “Ellen’s grilled hamburgers are a must for one’s perfect picnic pleasure.” She continues to work with food – related eve nts, and assists with meal preparation and set – up at Christchurch Parish House.
Edna Lewis (1916 – 2006), a native of rural Freetown in Orange County, Virginia, learned to cook from an extended family that included grandparents who had been enslaved. An award – winning author and chef, she was renowned for her traditional Southern cooking that emphasized fresh and locally grown foods and later in life for her recipes. Edna Lewis served as the chef at multiple restaurants, including Café Nicholson and Gage and Tollner in New York City.
She was the author of The Edna Lewis Cookboo k (1972), The Taste of Country Cooking (1976), In Pursuit of Flavor (1988), and The Gift of Southern Cooking (2003), co – authored with Scott Peacock. The Taste of Country Cooking is considered a classic study of Southern cooking. In 1979, Craig Claiborne of The New York Times said the book “may well be the most entertaining regional cookbook in America.” In 2017, nearly forty years after its publication, The Taste of Country Cooking saw an
abrupt and newsworthy spike in US sales, ranking #5 overall and #3 in the cookbook category on Amazon’s bestseller list. The spike followed its thematic inclusion in an episode of the cooking competition show Top Chef.
The documentary Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie (2006) is a celebration of Edna Lewis’ life and influence. In 2014, Edna Lewis was honored with the issuance of a postage stamp with her image by the United States Postal Service. She is renowned as one of the greatest American chefs a nd as an African – American woman who almost single – handedly revived a forgotten world of refined Southern cooking.
Michael Irvin Queen was born in Japan and lives in Laurel, Maryland. He has deep family roots, though, in the Middle Peninsula Virginia counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, and Middlesex. Michael has been in the food industry for nearly thirty years. He got his start by working under a French chef while in high school. He then took culinary classes in Germany while in the United Sta tes Army and studied at the United States Army Culinary Arts School at Fort Lee, Virginia. Michael has been a Certified Executive Chef since 1980. As an Executive Chef, he has supervised and managed food and beverage revenues from $750,000 to $4.6 million a year. For 24 years he served as Executive Chef at several country clubs. Since 2014 he has been an Executive Chef for Hilton Worldwide. Presently he is Executive Chef at the Embassy Suites at BWI Airport in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2016, Embassy Suites re cognized him as Manager of the Year. Two of his specialty dishes are Maryland crab cakes and apple cobbler.
Seymour F. Scott (1933 – 2007), a Middlesex County, Virginia, native, first became interested in cooking when he was 19 years old and living in Richmond. He began his career as a cook in the Army and then worked as a “pot washer” at Christchurch School apprenticing under Joe Cameron. Seymour worked his way up and was named Head Chef at Christchurch when Joe retired. Seymour worked at Christchurch School for 32 years. In 1987, he became Food Service Manager at Makemie Woods Camp and Conference Center, a Presbyterian facility in New Kent County, Virginia. He served there for 11 years, retiring in 1998. When Seymour retired, the Makemie Woods report to t he Presbytery noted that he was most appreciated for his homemade breads and chicken soup. For many years Seymour operated his own catering service, Scott’s Catering Service – Service with Pride, catering numerous events in the region.
Segar’s Jazzy J’s, now operating as Segar’s Catering, is a family business owned and operated by Jean and James Segar of Dunnsville, Virginia. In 1989, the Segars opened Jazzy J’s, a restaurant in Warsaw, Virginia.
The unusual name was suggested by Jean’s sister Thomasine Derricks, because all of their names began with the letter “J” and she thought that they were all “jazzy.” In 1993, the Segars expanded their business to offer full-scale catering services. When a highway expansion forced a relocation, they moved Jazzy J’s to Millers Tavern, Virginia, where they operated the restaurant until 2010. Currently, the Segars offer catering services in their own Essex County event space as well as at other locations. They specialize in events such as weddings, retirement parties, baby showers, etc. One of their signature dishes is their “Jazzy Fried Chicken.” The Segars are joined in the business by their adult children Janeen, Jaynell, Jackie, Jamie, and Leah.