This May, Alabama Chanin is featuring two of my personal heroines (and, now, dear friends) as part of our ongoing Chef Series at the café. They might not be chefs, but Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are The Kitchen Sisters—independent producers who create radio stories for NPR and other public broadcast outlets. Davia and Nikki are two of the most genuine and real women I know. Without their dedication to telling the real story, I would not be the person I am today. Route 66 changed my perception of storytelling in the autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks; in the third story of a rented house on a square in Savannah, Georgia. Just like that my life changed.
Davia and Nikki met and began collaborating in the late 1970s, hosting a weekly radio program in Santa Cruz, California. Their name was taken from two eccentric brothers—Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen—who were stonemasons in Santa Cruz in the 1940s. One night, they were discussing the Kitchen Brothers, who were featured in a book about Santa Cruz architects, as prep for an interview with the book’s author—while also cooking dinner for a group of people on the commune where Nikki lived—and got caught up in legends of local masonry (chimneys, yogi temples, Byzantine bungalows…), and food prep fell to the wayside. Dinner that evening was a disaster, and The Kitchen Sisters were (laughingly) born.
Oral histories heavily influenced their style of radio production. Over the years, they have produced a number of series, such as Lost & Found Sound, The Sonic Memorial Project, The Hidden World of Girls, and Hidden Kitchens. Regardless of topic, Davia and Nikki find a way to build community through storytelling.
Hidden Kitchens focuses on below-the-radar cooking, legendary meals, traditions, cultures, clandestine cooking, tiny kitchen economies, and secret rituals—past and present. Davia and Nikki have described the kitchen as a place of conversation and comfort. It is the room where families gather, where good parties begin (and end), and it is the room in which the best stories are told. The hidden kitchen that started it all was a secret, middle-of-the-night cab yard kitchen in San Francisco. Listen to the story here.
The Kitchen Sisters are story collectors, telling the B-side of history. They believe that good radio seeps into the listener, allowing their imagination to create a visual dimension within the medium of sound. Davia and Nikki never fail to create moving art.
The Factory Café will be featuring select recipes from the book Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters. Stop by the café this month to experience recipes such as poached eggs, fennel cakes, vegetarian chili, and banana bread.
Hidden Kitchens returns to NPR’s Morning Edition on May 6th. Learn more about their radio programs and support The Kitchen Sisters’ public broadcasting efforts here.
Photo courtesy of The Kitchen Sisters.