The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. DeVonn Francis is the definition of a Renaissance man. As the founder of Yardy, “an island for queer, Caribbean dreams,” he specializes in food-focused events and art production, and has collaborated with brands including Le Labo, Papi Juice, and Gucci. At his apartment in Brooklyn, he taught us how to make green curry with prawns — a recipe reminiscent of his Jamaican roots.
When my mom wasn’t working, we were cooking together. It was a bonding exercise for us. Cooking was how I started to care about food — not just as a final product, but how I cared for people.
My parents migrated from Jamaica, and my dad also had a small restaurant as I was growing up; I think I was maybe 11 or 12 when he opened a restaurant in Virginia. I went to art school, so I look at food through the lens of art and design. I was always making things and telling stories through my work. Because I was also working in restaurants, I started incorporating the West Indies into the work I was making in school. In college, when I had an apartment, I really started cooking for people, and now I host parties often. When it comes to food, I want everyone to actively participate.
When it comes to food, I want everyone to actively participate.
Yardy is about making people feel like they’ve learned something that they didn’t know before. From the farmers that we work with to the feeling you get attending our events, Yardy runs off of collaboration. It’s an integral part of how we build community. When we work with partners, it's important that they are genuinely invested in the purpose and vision of Yardy. Bills are bills, but my team and I become attached to the work we produce due to its impact on our community — we want to be sure our partnerships are the right fit ethically as well as financially. We are working with a lot of creative, art, and fashion partners at the moment. We're expanding our approach to use food as a vehicle for building community outside of the typical food experiences.What I say to people starting off in food is to be open to criticism. Find a mentor. Stay off your cell phone for longer than feels comfortable. Go touch and taste things. As far as finding balance, you have to be strict about running your personal health schedule just as much as, if not more than, your professional calendar. I block out days that I need to recover, and tend to book two days off in a row right after something that requires a lot of energy. Also, asking for help and asking others to help keep you accountable is a really useful tool.
What I say to people starting off in food is to be open to criticism.
What I cook when I'm home is typical of what I made for the shoot. Jamaica's history is tied to one-pot meals and thinking about ingredients that come from different places, like Indian and Spanish cuisine. This green-curry dish with prawns reminds me of something my family would make. Build the flavor foundation with garlic and onions; cook them down in some sort of fat or oil. Add coconut milk to capture all those flavor molecules. Peppers are really indicative of Caribbean cuisine, as are herbs like thyme. In The Dutchess, create the curry base with coconut milk, garlic, a bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, salt, black pepper, pimiento peppers, ginger, and Scotch bonnets. Cook those ingredients down to allow the flavors to come together. I add in curry paste and lime leaf, too. In a separate pan, like Small Fry, toss cleaned prawns (shells on) in chili and ginger paste, and sauté on medium to high heat for a couple of minutes on each side until color has developed. Remove the curry from heat and pull out the bouquet garni. Add the cooked prawns, lime juice to desired acidity, and halved Sungold and Green Zebra tomatoes (or any smaller tomato you prefer), and then serve with steamed rice.
We always want people to educate themselves not just on food as a product, but also as a cultural component. I think the best experience is someone making a meal in front of you and for you.