Food & Drink
The Texas author, blogger, and television personality Jocelyn Delk Adams talks gratitude, inner joy, and celebration with food
By Cora Schipa
March 14, 2023
photo: Brittany Connerly
Like many Southerners, Jocelyn Delk Adams loves an excuse to celebrate. That’s why her new cookbook, Everyday Grand: Soulful Recipes for Celebrating Life’s Big & Small Moments, advocates treating seemingly mundane activities like public speaking, sharing with a newfound friend, or even just resisting the snooze button as triumphs ripe for applauding—particularly through food. That’s an attitude that the author and television personality has long championed on her blog, Grandbaby Cakes, where Adams honors both tradition and innovation by giving cherished family recipes her own flair. For Everyday Grand, though, she didn’t want to conform strictly to the typical headnotes of a cookbook; each dish comes along with a story that fits into an overarching narrative, peppered with self-care rituals and daily affirmations (including the recipes for jerk salmon croquettes, dirty rice risotto, and chocolate pecan pie shortbread bars she shared with us). Here, Adams reveals more about the road to authenticity, what the South has taught her about living in the moment, humble beginnings, and the wonderfully unknowable future.
Tell us a bit about your blog, Grandbaby Cakes, and the start of your culinary journey.
The name came from a mix of two things: My muse for my brand was my grandmother, Big Mama, and I was, of course, her grandbaby. And when I started baking cakes for customers, I had this nickname, Babycakes, so I merged the two together.
I got my start by making these cakes in my small, one-bedroom apartment in Chicago with a tiny oven, which was a complete hot mess. I was staying up all types of hours to bake cakes for people. My claim to fame was pound cakes. Originally, I was always just cooking for family or for me personally, but one day I brought a cake to work and everyone loved it and started asking me to bring them in for birthdays and celebrations and work anniversaries, so that’s how my side hustle developed. I started my blog in 2012, so it’s been almost eleven years and counting.
Everyday Grand has an overall theme of finding purpose, gratitude, and inner joy by celebrating everyday accomplishments. How do you find ways to celebrate among mundanity, or even at times when it seems like nothing is going right?
I know this sounds really cliché, but I think it starts with an attitude. Having gratitude just for the moment itself, for the simplest of things, even if it’s just the fact that you were able to get up this morning, or that you made it home safely from work, or met a friend for a drink and shared a laugh, those really simple things that we never put a spotlight on being as important as everything else. But we can shift our perspective to give those moments equal importance in our lives.
Your grandmother seems to be an anchor for you. How has she, along with your family, inspired and maintained what you do?
Food was just a huge part of my family. Being with them, food was crucial. We had massive meals. If it was five of us, there was enough for twenty people. We always turned even just a simple gathering into something really over the top and outrageous, so I got that celebratory vibe from them. The food was always made with so much love, so much purpose and intention, that I feel deeply connected to the recipes in our family and wanted to preserve and continue them. I felt like that was sort of my calling: How can I keep these recipes, keep the things that have brought our family together, and also share them with others? I ended up building a community of followers that sort of adopted me as part of their families. Those recipes became part of their households. I think that was really cool.
In the book, you mention honoring the African American experience. Could you elaborate a bit more on that idea?
I think this book is so me, in terms of my personality and who I am, how I’ve grown through life, but I also wanted to share my perspective on the African American experience and what it meant for me to be Black, because it’s not a monolithic experience. I wanted to share what my culture has meant to me, what it’s meant to my cuisine, to my family, and I continue to share that perspective with my audience.
That really translates in the cookbook; the recipes aren’t just, “Here’s the ingredients, it’s delicious, try it.” You tell stories.
I personally love to read cookbooks. I know a lot of people skim through them or head right to the recipe or just look at the photos and maybe never even make anything. [Laughs.] I wanted to create a book that had a strong narrative. A real glimpse into the person who wrote it. I’m interested in what connects someone to a recipe.
How has living in the South affected your craft?
I moved down to Dallas from Chicago two years ago, and that shift has really grounded me in a way that only the South can ground you. It’s been so welcoming here. The South has slowed my pace down and provided me with more space to develop recipes. It’s not always so chaotic and rushed, which happens when you’re in a big urban city. The South has centered me. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a major mind shift for me. Right before that, I was insanely busy, working crazy hours, traveling a lot, and there was no space for me to just be. My literary agent would always ask if I was ready to write a book, but I didn’t have time to even think about that.
All of a sudden, I had massive amounts of time. Everyone did. Everything slowed down. There weren’t any obligations to fill our calendars with. That time was hard for me but also very inspiring. I thought: What can I creatively make out of this time? That space changed my perspective on life and what I give importance to, what I think is worth celebrating in general. We couldn’t have those classic celebratory moments: no massive Thanksgiving with tons of family members, because we were all huddled together in our bubble. So we had to make it work, we had to make it exciting and special and that’s sort of what grounded the book.
Your cookbook is rooted in moments. What’s a memorable childhood moment around food that inspires you?
This is one I talk about in the book with the French Onion Sheet Pan Chicken. Once, when I was a little girl, about ten years old, we got all dressed up and my dad took us to a really nice French restaurant in downtown Chicago. I’d never been to a French restaurant before, so I felt like such an adult and ordered the French onion soup and was like, wow, this is crazy! [Laughs.] It was an experience I really treasured. Now I realize there are ways to take experiences that influenced me from childhood and beyond, like when I went to Paris, and create recipes from them. You can bring Paris to your house in your own way, with your own twist.
That theme of revising tradition comes up in other recipes as well.
Yeah, I’m all about creating whatever the hell I feel I want to make. I don’t take it seriously. I think that’s the thing with a lot of cookbooks…you feel like you have to be some trained chef when you start reading the techniques and you can get intimidated, but I just wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be joyful. I want you to feel at home with the book.
What is next for you?
A nap. [Laughs.] Writing this book taught me so much about being in the moment. So I don’t know what’s next, and I love that. The book was as much for me as it was for whoever picks it up and reads it, because it’s a lesson I’m learning as well: to enjoy every single day, to take it as it is, to enjoy the moment. So we’ll all see what’s next. Who knows?