Michael Twitty is an “Orthodox-Jewish, African-American, and gay” chef, writer, historian, and teacher who re-creates the dishes of the American colonial south. His food sounds amazing, and his project is fascinating and admirable:
“Once all the guests were seated, Twitty gave a speech about the meal he had prepared for them. ‘Science, history, statistics, genetics, culture, food, and the culinary arts bring me closer to my Southern ancestors. They were my forebears, but truly they were yours as well.’ The crowd applauded and dove their forks into catfish stew and piping-hot French rolls buttered with sweet horse-pulled sorghum. Fried chicken, which was particularly popular that night, had been prepared from a recipe by Rufus Estes, a former slave who in 1911 self-published Good Things to Eat, one of the earliest-known cookbooks by a black railway chef. But nothing garnered as much attention as the cush. ‘I had a black nanny growing up who used to make a dish like this,” a blond woman in her 50s told Twitty. It wasn’t uncommon for Twitty to hear stories like this on his tour, and he savored them as much as the guests savored his barbecued pork. A bluegrass band had been hired to play, and one of the members approached Twitty to tell him that he hadn’t seen pork cooked over saplings since his childhood, when a black family down the road used to make it that way. Twitty was particularly intrigued that they used burlap sacks to hold the meat. For Twitty, the cooking demonstrations are an opportunity to gather stories from his guests that will help him better understand the South’s long culinary history.
‘When people start testifying about their stories, that’s a break in the wall,’ Twitty said. ‘I get a lot of “colored-mammy” stories from white people who are usually between the ages of fifty and ninety. They tell me stories that they’ve never shared with anyone else in their family.’ In moments like this, Twitty becomes a historian, quick to grab pencil and paper and interrogate his guests: ‘What town are you from? Do you remember her name and what she cooked for you?’
‘In sharing their stories, they become part of my story,’ he explained. ‘They may not be able to embrace everything that I am, and that’s OK, but it shows that they’re starting to get it, and that’s just enough to get the ball rolling.’”
If anything, click through for the amazing pictures.