• Tracy Hrajnoha

Shavonda Sisson

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

Shavonda chose to cook in honor of her two greatest protectors, her aunt, Carone Martin and cousin, Johnterry Martin. She talked to me about their roles as superheroes in her life, her relationship with cooking, and how the intentionality and creativity of breakfast makes it the superior meal.

Shavonda is authentic in all aspects of her life- her work, relationships with family and friends, and numerous personal projects. Her cleverness, biting sense of humor, insight, and unwavering pursuit of continuous learning and growth is what makes her a motivating leader and provocateur. These traits, combined with her compassion and deep love for people, is what makes her the beautiful and powerful woman who saw the value of sharing her story with the CFSYL community. Read on to learn more about her struggle with choosing her recipe, her love of breakfast, and the vulnerability of discussing two of the most influential people in her life; her aunt, Carone Martin, and cousin, Johnterry Martin.

CFSYL: Can you tell me what you made?

SS: I made fried chicken today, which I struggled with, like, I don’t want to be the black person making fried chicken. But it got me thinking about relationships with food, cultural things, like soul food and black cuisine that we don’t share outside for a couple reasons; people appropriate and make hella money off of our recipes, and we get shamed for the food that we eat. So I went back and forth with it, but I wanted to be true to the person I wanted to honor, and this was important to make.

CFSYL: Who did you cook in honor of?

SS: I cooked in honor of two people. My Aunt Carone, who passed away in 2011 and my cousin John, who was her third oldest son, who passed away just this past September. For my aunt because she made the best fried chicken I’ve ever had- I still haven’t quite captured her recipe, even though she taught me. And my cousin John, because we would often have Friday fish frys growing up and my cousin was very allergic, so whenever we had a fish fry there was always chicken there for him. This is kind of a way to be in the company of their spirits at the same time as preparing it.

Shavonda's aunt, Carone Martin

Shavonda's cousin, Johnterry Martin

CFSYL: Is the recipe you made a specific family recipe? Did you follow your aunt’s way of cooking it?

SS: That’s the thing, there’s no specific recipe. You just get shown how to do it, and try to do it. It’s really hard to tell if there a teaspoon of this or that, I don’t know. You would just shake seasoning on it until she tapped you on the shoulder and said, “That’s enough.”

Shavonda preps the chicken before frying

CFSYL: Can you tell me about both of them?

SS: My aunt was the most unique person I ever met- I still have never met anyone like her. Big personality- she had a walk that was like a strut; always very proud, very beautiful woman. Very bold in the way she dressed, she always wore mismatched earrings, she never had a pair, they were always two different earrings. She was the person who would always solve everything, she was my mom’s older sister. If you think about your mom being your hero, her older sister obviously had to be a superhero. Especially when I became an older teenager and a young adult, I would often times go to her house, like when I was not happy at all on campus, I would go to her house and want to spend time with her. She had five sons and I was like her daughter because I was the closest to her I think, living in Milwaukee. I had tons of cousins, but living in Milwaukee was my aunt and my mom. So my five cousins were like my brothers and my aunt was a second mom.

My cousin John was very much like a big brother- we're both Geminis. We would talk in our Gemini way for hours, and often time he was the only person in the family who really understood my perspective on family and responsibilities. He was very protective, I never had to worry, they were both like heroes. He would pop up in places, like if I was anywhere I shouldn’t be, he would tell me to just go home. Like, how did he magically end up being there? With him being gone, I feel like two of my biggest protectors are no longer here, feeling that absence of folks I grew up looking up to so much. Yeah.

CFSYL: When you are cooking, do you think about them?

SS: I think about my aunt a lot. My mom is one of 18, so I have a lot of aunts. My Aunt Carone was the only one who lived in Milwaukee with us. I think about them a lot when I'm cooking, either wanting to remember something they taught me about cooking or remembering a really good family memory or remembering those Friday fish frys.

I think I’m always thinking of family when I'm cooking certain things.

Candied yams

CFYSL: How often do you cook?

SS: These days I cook once a week, but I cook for the whole week and I really enjoy that.

CFSYL: Why do you, personally, cook?

SS: It’s a way for me to love on my family. So, my partner works opposite shifts from me, and I really like the idea of, even if I am not able to spend a lot of time with him during the week, that he is eating food that I prepared.

CFSYL: If somebody wanted to show you that they love you, what would they cook for you and why?

SS: Breakfast. I love breakfast. If somebody wanted to make me my dream meal it will be breakfast potatoes, bacon, waffles with warm maple syrup, two eggs scrambled (laughs) and like a big glass of orange juice. I love breakfast. I love me some breakfast and brunch.

CFSYL: What is it about that meal that you love?

SS: It’s so simple. Breakfast is like - honestly you can take the simplest breakfast ingredients and make it something extra special. And then you have to get up early, so if I want to make someone breakfast I have to be intentional- get up early, think about what I’m going to make, make sure the ingredients are here. If you are going to make dinner, you could potentially run to the grocery store at like 2pm, but with breakfast it allows a lot of space for creativity. So if you haven’t really prepared, you can get in there and dig around and grab two eggs and sour cream and think, “How can I make this happen?” And as long as you have some eggs and bread and milk, you can make a decent breakfast. I think the simplicity, the space to be creative and the intentionality. I think about getting up early in a quiet house before the rest of my family and preparing a meal for them to wake up to.

CFSYL: My grandmother always said, “There's always eggs.” When in doubt, if you don't have enough time or money, there's always eggs.

SS: There’s always eggs.

CFSYL: And you’ll always be full. Do you think your aunt and cousin would be happy with the meal you made?

SS: I think they would. I made a side of candied yams because they are one of my favorite things. I actually had a lot of anxiety around preparing this. I couldn’t really settle on who I would cook in honor of. With my cousin’s death being so fresh, and the way that he died, and how I have still been grappling with accepting and not being so angry, I wasn’t sure how I would do talking about him. I’m still very much a person who is not really okay with being vulnerable and showing my emotions in a big way. And thinking about how public this could potentially be, I wanted to shy away from talking about him, but it just didn’t feel right to not. So I think he would be happy, he loved fried chicken and really liked my candied yams. I was always asked to make them from such a young age, it’s really simple. When you wanted to take a picture of the plate, I thought, “It’s not a balanced meal!” and it’s not, but it’s actually two things I really like. I had a lot of comfort in making and eating the meal, and not as much anxiety talking about my cousin as I thought.

Delicious, non-balanced meal

Shavonda and the final product

Fried Chicken

by Shavonda Sisson in honor of Carone & Johnterry Martin


Follow your standard fried chicken recipe, and make sure you add mustard. Use your instincts.

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