You may recognize some of the Smollett siblings from hit shows like Friday Night Lights and Empire, but their latest project had them spending quality time together in the kitchen.
Following their Food Network show Smollett Eats in 2016, Jussie Smollett, Jazz Smollett-Warwell, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jake Smollett have penned their first cookbook titled The Family Table. Filled with dishes they love to eat and recipes inspired by their travels and their African-American, Jewish and New Orleans roots, Jussie, 36, tells PEOPLE: “It’s a love letter to our childhood.”
The book also details their nomadic lifestyle and how they moved 13 times from New York to California for their dad’s job or when they sought new roles for the family of budding child actors.
“Our parents were very get-up-and-go,” Jussie says.
But no matter where they lived, food was always the one thing that brought them together.
Their mother, Janet, would build a large wooden table from scratch, creating a place for everyone to gather while Stevie Wonder or Fleetwood Mac played in the background.
“That was the vault,” Jussie says. “The place where you could say what you wanted. Whether you were happy or frustrated, you could lay it out on the family table.”
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It was also where the brothers and sisters (six in total) could challenge one another.
“It always turned into a debate,” says Jurnee, 31.
“Even if we would agree on the basis of an issue, we had to get to the nuances to find somewhere that we could debate,” adds Jazz, 38.
The big table (pictured on the cover of their cookbook) also helped teach them about self-sufficiency, especially during times when money was tight.
“You see a table you want, but you can’t afford it? Build it yourself,” Jussie says.
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And that DIY spirit prevailed equally in the kitchen: “We were sitting on the counter at 2 or 3 years old next to [our mom] while she was cooking,” says Jazz. “She had us add a little of this and a little of that, and then she let us go.”
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Adds Jake: “I can remember being really little, and Jurnee and I are making the salad.”
Each was cooking for the whole family, Jazz recalls, “by age 6 or 7.”
Now as adults (Jazz and Jurnee have kids of their own), the siblings still catch up over homemade meals.
“Whenever we’re at each other’s houses, we go through each other’s refrigerators,”Jurnee says. “Recently Jazz had a birthday, and Jake made an amazing feast. He was expressing his love for his sister through food, and we thoroughly benefited from that love. To take that time, to take that effort, it’s such a gift.”
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