Michael Twitty posing on book cover
Michael Twitty has made a name for himself by exploring the intersection of food and culture. His latest book — “Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew” — invites his readers to learn the story of what is on the plate of African American Jews. Similarly, his first book, “The Cooking Gene,” follows some of Twitty’s genetic history to tell the story of food diaspora and evolution.
Twitty uses his writing to document food traditions and previously underrepresented food migrations, much of which he connects to food traditions in the American South. Twitty’s newest book provides a unique blend of personal tales, recipes, and food history to construct a cohesive story from what would otherwise seem like disparate narrative threads. It is no wonder, then, which sources had the biggest impact on him. In an exclusive interview, we asked Twitty about his biggest food influences, and his responses were entirely on brand.
Early Cooking Shows
New Southern Cooking book cover
With Michael Twitty’s unique blend of story and recipes in his writing, it is no surprise that many of his influences come from early cooking shows. In our interview, Twitty named “Martin Yan, Justin Wilson, Graham Kerr, Nathalie Dupree, [and] Joan Nathan” as some of his biggest influences. These people each had their own shows — many related to Southern cuisine — that provided both food instruction and cultural documentation.
Twitty explained, “Nathalie Dupree had a show called ‘New Southern Cooking.’ For me in particular, that show was really extraordinary because it illuminated that part of my heritage. A lot of things that she talked about, my grandmother could have referred to. I would often watch the show without her and then run to ask her to verify the things that I had seen and heard on the show.”
The show was incredibly impactful on Twitty, and as he built his food career years later, he could get in touch with and even befriend the person that had such an effect on him. “Many years later, I got to befriend Nathalie and stay in her house. It was really weird. I stayed with her a couple times … Everything comes full circle,” he said.
Twitty’s Family Influences
Michael Twitty posing for headshot
Of course, it wasn’t just celebrity chefs of the late 20th century that made an impact on Michael Twitty. In addition to his grandmother, Twitty made clear that there was one family member whose impact on him could not be questioned.
“My mother was my absolute most important food teacher, bar none. My mom was the smartest human being I think I’ll ever know in this life. She was extraordinary. The thing that made her unique wasn’t only [that] she pick[ed] up the tradition from my grandmother, but she could do anything. If she was interested in something and wanted to learn something, she could do anything.”
As so much of Twitty’s writing is about heritage and food traditions, it’s unsurprising that his mother was so important to his food journey. Twitty notes that his family was not “tightly woven,” but food helped bring them together. “She was the one person I would watch some of the cooking programs with, her and my father,” he said.
“Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew” is available now.