Zella Palmer, author, professor, filmmaker, curator and scholar is the Chair and Director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture in New Orleans, Louisiana. Palmer is committed to documenting and preserving the legacy African American, Creole, Indigenous and LatinX culinary history. As the Chair of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program, Palmer filmed and produced the Story of New Orleans Creole Cooking: The Black Hand in the Pot documentary and the Legacies of American Slavery: Food, Music & Tourism film series. In 2020, under Palmer’s leadership, Dillard University launched a Food Studies Minor, 1 of 2 accredited academic Food Studies programs at a (HBCU) Historically Black College & University.
Palmer also is the author of three books and many articles. Her latest publication, Recipes and Remembrances of Fair Dillard: 1869-2019 shares archival recipes and stories from Dillard University. In 2016, she was guest speaker for NYU Food Studies, Nicholls State University, and Maryville University. Palmer serves on the board of Hermann Grima + Gallier Historic Houses, James Beard Black & Indigenous Fund Committee.
Palmer’s research and articles appeared in the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 64 Parishes, Essence and For the Culture magazines. In 2019, Palmer performed as Nellie Murray, a 19th century New Orleans Creole caterer for La Cocina in San Francisco, California. Nellie Murray was the most sought after caterer in nineteenth century New Orleans, the Leah Chase of the era. Palmer and a group of prestigious New Orleans women curated the Nellie Murray Feast in 2016 which raised funds for the Leah Chase documentary and the Dillard University Ray Charles Program. Palmer received the 2018 ‘Cultural Bearer Award’ from the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, 2020 New Orleans Magazine ‘People To Watch’ and 2022 Dine Diaspora Black Women in Food ‘Trailblazer’ Honoree.