(Photo: Charlotte Lyons in the Ebony Test Kitchen, featured in the November 1992 edition of Ebony Magazine. Provided by Charlotte Lyons.)
April 2, 2019
Landmarks Illinois recently spoke with former Ebony Food Editors Charlotte Lyons and Charla Draper, who each spent time cooking in the iconic former Ebony Test Kitchen in the Johnson Publishing Company Building in Chicago. In 2018, Landmarks Illinois removed the test kitchen from the Chicago landmarked building on South Michigan Avenue and took ownership of it to ensure it was preserved. Landmarks Illinois is now seeking a new owner who will reassemble the kitchen for educational use or public display. Request for Proposals from interested parties are due May 1, and can be found here.
Designed by Palm Springs-based interior designers William Raiser and Arthur Elrod in 1971, the Ebony Test Kitchen featured orange, swirled psychedelic wallpaper and bright colored cabinets and appliances. As Lyons and Draper said, the bold colors and patterns may have required some getting used to, but it also sparked joy and awe in anyone who saw it. Below, we share insights from our conversations with both of the former food editors.
Typical Reaction to the Test Kitchen: “Wow”
When Charlotte Lyons became the Food Editor at Ebony Magazine in 1985 and stepped inside the Test Kitchen at the Johnson Publishing Company Building, her first reaction was, “Wow!” Celebrities, guest cooks and other visitors said the same thing at first glance: “Wow.” People couldn’t pass the kitchen on the building’s 10th floor without stopping to check it out.
“Most people were curious,” Lyons said.
The test kitchen’s location made it hard to miss. It shared the 10th floor with the cafeteria for Ebony’s employees. Like so many kitchens in people’s own homes, the test kitchen was a gathering place for guests, too.
“They just always liked to hang out in the test kitchen,” Lyons said. “If I was cooking, they were tasting.”
Lyons, who worked as Ebony’s Food Editor for 25 years, said she had a number of memorable visitors in the test kitchen as she worked – from actor Gregory Hines, who snatched one of the Christmas cookies she was baking, to boxer Mike Tyson, who requested a piece of a chocolate cake she spent four hours making. The cake, by the way, needed to be photographed for the magazine after it came out of the oven, and Lyons made Tyson wait until after the professional photos were snapped to cut him a slice.
Lyons also recalled times when Eunice Johnson, the wife of Ebony’s editor-publisher John Johnson and director of Ebony’s Fashion Fair, would come to the kitchen and ask for help in preparing a recipe she wanted to try.