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The Cooking Gene: Southern Food’s Deepest Roots

Evening Program with Book Signing and Tasting

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, August 10, 2017 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1W0007
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
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Michael Twitty (Photo: HarperCollins)

For culinary historian and cook Michael Twitty, his ongoing investigation of American Southern food is an exploration of both national and personal legacies, each of which is marked by complexities. Twitty’s research focuses on identifying and bringing to light the often-overlooked roles that Americans of African descent played in shaping Southern cuisine from pre-colonial times and beyond. It also is part of his process of claiming a place within that food tradition for a man who is a descendant of both African and European ancestors—and a convert to Judaism.

Southern food is an integral part of American culinary heritage, yet the question of who "owns" it is linked to wider issues of race and history. Twitty discusses how he traced the roots of his own family, as well as the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and Southern cuisine as he wrote The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South (HarperCollins). 

He reveals how the foods of his ancestors and his immediate family provided the foundations for much of his investigation, as well as how he used stories, recipes, genetic tests, historical documents, and travels that took him from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to black-owned organic farms in Georgia as he researched the book. 

He also discusses the main insights that emerged from search for his ancestral culinary history: that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past, and that food holds the power to bring the descendants of the enslaved and their former slaveholders together at the table.

Copies of The Cooking Gene are available for sale and signing, and a tasting follows the talk.

Other Connections

“As an African American who happens to be Jewish, or a Jew who happens to be African American, I am obligated to love two things—macaroni and cheese and kugel,” says Michael Twitty. He brings them together in his recipe for Kosher Soul Mac and Cheese Kugel.