New Traditions and Holiday Fun with DeVonn Francis
As a queer first-generation, Jamaican-American, DeVonn Francis conceived of YARDY as a space to explore his connection to the home cooking he loved and the community that raised him. YARDY WORLD was founded in 2017 and has become known for its artfully-curated dinner parties and consciousness-raising conversations around gender, identity, culture, and activism. In its current iteration, the platform has evolved into a full-time creative studio, developing and consulting on brand campaigns, food and beverage programming and pop-up experiences.
To celebrate and kick off the holiday season, The RealReal invited DeVonn to curate a dreamy tablescape and gather his family for an intimate dinner. In this shoot DeVonn, his mother Jennifer Francis, and YARDY friends – chef and cultural connector Gabby Ramos and architectural designer Sekou Hayes model the boldest holiday party fits. Below, DeVonn discusses the importance of chosen family, how he’s being more intentional this holiday season, and he also shares a recipe for Torched Banana Cake.
DeVonn sets the holiday mood with an artful table.
Photographs throughout by Hunter Abrams.
What were some of the holiday traditions growing up in your household?
DeVonn: Holidays – from birthdays to Christmas, Easter, kind of just any time to celebrate or get together – were always really big in my family. We always made time to do it. There was always a party with food and music. Someone would host at their house, we would get dressed up. Around Christmas and Thanksgiving, my mom would cook for, like, a small army. It was really fun for me to help her in the kitchen and watch her make all these different dishes. And then she’d have the satisfaction of watching people enjoy her food. That was always really fun for me because it really taught me how to be an entertainer. Those events taught me that entertaining is really about taking care of people.
Jennifer Francis and Sekou Hayes.
What was your favorite dish at family dinners?
DeVonn: There are actually two. The first dish is a stuffed fish that my mom would make, which is really beautiful. It had all these different aromatics and spices. She also makes this really incredible crab quiche. It’s sort of like a really decadent crab frittata with cheese. It’s baked in the oven in a pie crust. It’s really incredible. I love those dishes and anything that reminds me of being home and cooking with her.
What was the first dish that you cooked for your family?
DeVonn: The first dish that I unsuccessfully cooked for my family was bread. Essentially, I put water, flour, and salt into a baking dish and thought that I would get bread. Obviously, that’s not how you make bread. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was really excited to learn that there were actual recipes and lots of history on bread making that could have saved me a lot of time and heartbreak, but I persisted.
The first dish that I successfully made for my family was some sort of stir fry or rice dish. I probably looked at one of the recipes that my mom had for fried rice and added beans and potatoes, and paired too many condiments with it and gave that to them. I think they either really liked it or they were just being really nice to me.
DeVonn and his mother Jennifer.
Have you woven your family’s traditions into the YARDY WORLD platform?
DeVonn: The whole premise of YARDY WORLD was about my focus on family traditions. When I started the company, it was really a way for me to show people that it’s totally fine to not come from an elite, very specific reputable restaurant background. You don’t have to go to cooking school. If that’s not your path, that’s totally fine. Everything that I learned was from watching and emulating my family members, and just thinking about the spirit of generosity in gathering, especially when it comes to Black families. Just the notion that when you have something that you’re excited about to celebrate it and put your full body and your full self into it, is so important. When we started a company and started hosting dinners, they were very much a reflection of that same energy. Just working with my community and also giving space for underrepresented communities and including more Black voices, working with trans rights organizations, working with immigration rights organizations. Doing the work to really just talk about activism in a way that wasn’t pedantic. Really using it as a way to also discover how to be in conversation and in community with other people. Those things have always felt really important to me.
How are you celebrating the holidays this year?
DeVonn: For the holidays this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who won’t be able to travel or see their families because of the pandemic. I’ve been thinking about the people who are trying to hunker down for the winter and figure out how they’re going to celebrate in their own spaces.
So we created this holiday box program. Each box is a collaboration between YARDY WORLD and six different artists, chefs, and makers who come from different cultural and activism backgrounds. The boxes were designed so that people can sit down with their pods or their chosen family right where they are, or even perhaps take the box wherever they’re celebrating.
We’re focusing on having the holidays mean more diversity and more inclusion. How do we make sure that we’re always rethinking what holidays can mean for people who have different perspectives? We’re thinking about what we can do to lift each other up, and also provide more perspective on the fact that a lot of our traditions leave other cultures and individuals out.
Who are some of the folx in your chosen family?
DeVonn: I think that my community and my chosen family are people who also understand that they bring a diversity of expertise and perspective to our relationships and that we build together through the fact that we don’t see things in the same way. For me, that’s what a chosen family should be and has been for me as I’ve learned how to navigate the food landscape with regards to art and culture.
Do you typically dress up when hosting a YARDY WORLD event? What do you usually wear?
DeVonn: For YARDY events I’m all about getting dressed up. I feel like if there’s any excuse to get dressed up at any point throughout the day, I’m probably going to do it. Specifically for the holidays I really like to be expressive and wear bold colors. I love an oversized pant or a big, crazy, printed jacket. I’m getting into wearing more accessories and jewelry. I got my ears pierced so I can wear a good dangle earring now which feels really fun and fab. I also really love to dye my hair. I feel like hair is a really great way to be experimental and creative and to express who you are. I might go with an emerald green this year for the holidays, to keep it festive and weird.
DeVonn serves up Torched Banana Cake for friends, Gabby Ramos & Sekou Hayes.
DeVonn’s Recipe for Torched Banana Cake
For the Caramel
¼ cup unsalted butter
⅓ cup light brown sugar
4 bananas, sliced lengthwise
¼ tsp kosher salt
For the Cake
1½ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup almond meal
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ cup grapeseed oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup coconut milk
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and salt → cook until dissolved, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and add to the springform pan. Press the bananas into the caramel. Set aside.
Combine dry ingredients. Set aside.
Combine wet ingredients → add the egg and yolk. Whisk until smooth. Combine with coconut milk.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Gently fold to combine. Do not over mix.
Add mix over the banana.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. Cool for 5 mins before releasing from springform.
Let cool until the caramel sets a bit, about 20 minutes. Add granulated sugar in a light even layer to the top and brulee with a torch.
Finish with Flaky salt.
Create your own new traditions with our edit of all things festive.