Michael W. Twitty sitting with a plate of biscuits in front of a large open fireplace.
Photo: Johnathan M. Lewis

Michael W. Twitty Unpacks the Overlooked History of Southern Food

The culinary historian deftly examines the connections between culture and cuisine.
By Aileen Kwun
October 10, 2020
2 minute read

The award-winning African-American Jewish author and culinary historian Michael W. Twitty got his start in food writing after a formative childhood visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia left him intrigued about traditional cooking. Many years later, in 2010, he launched his popular blog, Afroculinaria, as an outlet to document and celebrate the rich cultural histories of African-American fare and the vital role they have played in shaping what we simply refer to today as “Southern” food. A frequent public speaker and figure of the food world, Twitty made waves with his 2017 memoir, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old Southnot to mention his open letter to Paula Deen, in 2013, that went viral, even as it was left unanswered by the disgraced Food Network host. Reflecting upon his own background, Twitty often draws parallels between the diasporic cuisines of African-American and Jewish communities. “They’re both oppressed cultures, where the luxury of terroir isn’t a reality,” Twitty said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s also simply survival—through the mental fortitude of humor, the mental fortitude of memory, and the mental fortitude of resistance.”

We’ve been following Twitty on Instagram (@thecookinggene) to keep abreast of what he’s cooking up next: a new non-profit called the Muloma Heritage Center, located on South Carolina’s historic St. Helena Island. Dedicated to educating visitors on African Atlantic culture, cuisine, and traditions, the organization will spend the next several months building three kitchens and farming the area, setting the stage for Twitty’s vital work to flourish for many years to come.