Michael W. Twitty

TED Fellow and two time James Beard Award winner, Michael W. Twitty covers race, culture, food, faith, history with an extra dose of truth.

Speaking Options

Kosher/Soul?: Black-Jewish Identity Cooking

Being African American and Jewish is for many a combination that many can’t wrap their heads around. However, for thousands of Jews of color; having heritage, faith and family in both Diasporas—African and Jewish—and their many intersections means creating material, social and ideational lives that interweave identities and histories. For Michael, this includes food and the ways Black and Jews have mediated otherness and oppression using what they eat as well as the global stories Diasporic foodways have to offer. Join Michael on an exploration and a taste of what he calls, “Koshersoul.”

From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Amplification: Our Next Steps as a Society

Since the emergence of the second phase of the culture wars, no phrase since “reverse racism,” has so much ink been spilled over like “cultural appropriation.” Join Michael for a lively dialogue defining what appropriation is and is not, and how we can advance this complex and emotional conversation in ways that empower and push our society to a more nuanced inclusivity. 

The Cooking Gene: Tracing My African American Story Through Food

For African American culinary historian Michael W. Twitty there was a giant hole in the story of American cooking as big as the one in the story of most African American families. Putting the microscope on himself, Michael decided to fully trace out his family history through the story of Southern and American food. Using genetic research, historic interpretation, nature study, heirloom gardening and interviews with contemporary voices in food, his journey led him back to his family’s origins in West and Central Africa and a front ring seat in the debate over race and food in American life.

The Price of Hyper (In)visibility: Being Gay, Black, and Male in America

From Lil Nas X, to Empire, from Ru Paul to Pose, Black gay men have never been more hyper visible in American culture and yet Black gay men are still facing unique struggles and challenges that are unique to their diverse journeys. Join an actual Black gay man, openly gay author Michael W. Twitty for a discussion on the dichotomy between visibility and invisibility and slow acceptance. Learn the history of Black gay men in America and take a peek at solution points for a brighter future for the LGBT community and beyond.

From a Haunted Plate: Becoming an 18th and 19th Century Black Chef

Michael takes you on journey through the practical arts of food sourcing and cookery through the lens of a colonial or antebellum era African American cook. He will take the audience from lecture to discussion on the ways that traditional West and Central African food traditions met and melded with each other, those of indigenous peoples and Western Europe and then morphed over decades into centuries. Michael discusses the history of the cuisine as an extension of the foodways of Africa in early America with emphasis on the cooking techniques, cultural transformations, and flavor principles unique to this translation of Western cuisine by early African American chefs.

You Don’t Get to be 400 By Being Stupid: The Genius of African American Culture

Black culture in America endures a constant tug of war in the court of public opinion between hype, marvel and hypervisibility and being seen as a detriment, a pathology or degradation. Worse, some don’t really believe there is a Black American or African American culture. Join Michael for an exploration of seven secrets to the endurance of African American civilization and how those will be building blocks for the future. What has African American culture been? Where is it going? 400 years after the tragic beginning at Jamestown, Virginia; let’s have a birthday party for Black America celebrating its cultural resilience and rootedness. 
 
Culinary Justice: Defining a Theory of Gastronomic Sovereignty

Michael W. Twitty HeadshotFood justice, social justice, environmental justice, food sovereignty—and entire language has developed around how we want to see and live in a better world where fairness and right action prevail. In an extension of these concepts, Michael has begun to promote his notion of culinary justice—the idea that historically oppressed peoples have a right to authority, sovereignty, prosperity and acknowledgement in their contribution to national and global foodways. Join Michael for a lively discussion to explore the way the preparation of food unites and divides out narratives and how we can use it for the good.

Selected Media

London (England)

On Roland Martin:

On PBS NewsHour

Genetic Reveal (Stagville Historic Plantation, N.C., USA)

Press

Testimonials

“He blew us away! We never have students stay behind to talk with a speaker like they did with Michael. Thanks for everything!” – Philip Ackerman – Leist, Faculty and Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project , Green Mountain College (VT)

“Michael was an absolute joy to have on our campus. The crowd was very engaged I had many people approach me after the event talking about how much they learned. I even had someone state that this was the best event they had seen on our campus! Michael was an absolute joy to work with and very gracious throughout the process. I learned a lot from him and his truth was more than I could have asked for in a speaker.” – Anneliese Wilson, Speaker Event Coordinator, Cultural Events Board, University of Colorado (Boulder)

“Michael’s dynamism drew together people from many backgrounds, and his energy to engage with everyone he met was boundless.  He was able to take on difficult issues such as race, the legacy of slavery, and continuing discrimination of our own time in ways that encourage thoughtful participation from the audience. Michael’s confidence and perseverance in pursuing his mission of historical justice for the contributions of African Americans is truly inspirational.” – Maria Kennedy, Folks Arts Coordinator, The ARTS Council of the Finger Lakes (representing Corning, NY engagements including Corning Community College and Corning, Inc.)

“Michael’s event was an absolute hit. All the students and community members had a fantastic time.” – Lazarus Fellow at Yale’s Sustainable Food Program (CT)

“Michael’s visit to Shippensburg was outstanding! One faculty member said it was one of the best, most memorable visits for a speaker that he could remember. Students reported that they really enjoyed working with him in the kitchen and that is was a truly unique experience. His talk was also well attended and my students got a great deal out of it. We were still talking about it in class almost a week later. His morning session turned out to be quite well attended also, and he had a great discussion with students.  His overall theme really resonated with the students – reflecting upon the nature of food, our alientation from what we eat in a fast-food society, and the importance of recognizing and taking pride in foodways and traditions.  Our new Director of Social Equity was hoping that speakers brought to campus by the Black Heritage Committee would become more than just a one night event, but might inspire action that would have a lasting impact. I think Michael’s visit did that.”  – Dr. John Bloom, Associate Professor, Dept of History and Philosophy, Shippensburg University (PA)

“I just wanted to take a moment and let you know how pleased we were with Michael’s recent Kosher Soul presentation to Beth Israel.  I was really not sure what to expect but you kept assuring me not to worry and that Michael would deliver.  We all loved the personal nature of his stories. He captivated the room from the moment he took the stage and his hour and a half presentation seem to go by in five minutes. I believe everyone in the audience would have stayed and listen to him speak for another hour and a half.  He generously stayed afterwards to make sure everybody’s questions were answered. The consensus was that the event was a homerun and I believe some in attendance were so impressed they will be reaching out to you to book him for other groups.  Thanks to you and him for making this event a huge success.”  Scott Nawy,  Beth Israel Congregation

About Michael

Michael W. Twitty is a recognized culinary historian and independent scholar focusing on historic African American food and folk culture and culinary traditions of historic Africa and her Diaspora. He is a living history interpreter and historic chef, one of the few recognized international experts of his craft—the re-construction of early Southern cuisine as prepared by enslaved African American cooks for tables high and low—from heirloom seeds and heritage breed animals to fish, game, and foraged plant foods to historic cooking methods to the table. Michael founded www.Afroculinaria.com, the first website/blog devoted to the preservation of historic African American foods and foodways. He has conducted over four hundred classes and workshops, written curricula and educational programs, giving lectures and performed cooking demonstrations for groups including the Smithsonian Institution, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Carnegie-Mellon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Library of Congress, the Association for the Study of Food and Society, and Oxford University’s Symposium on Food and Cookery. He has been profiled in the Washington Post and Washington Prost Magazine, the New York Times, Grist, PittsburghPost-Gazette, Cuisine Noir, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Jet Magazine, Ebony.com, and other periodicals. He has also been interviewed multiple times on NPR including the acclaimed food program The Splendid Table and Poppy Tooker’s Louisiana Eats. In 2013, he made several major appearances on television connected to his work including Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, PBS’ Time Team America, and Many Rivers to Cross with Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Michael was one of 20 people selected globally as a 2016 TED Fellow (you can hear his talk here). His book, The Cooking Gene, won two James Beard Awards in 2018 for Food Writing and Best Book and his piece in Bon Apetit, I Had Never Eaten in Ghana Before. But My Ancestors Had was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award and was selected to be included in The Best American Food Writing 2019. In 2020, The Cooking Gene was named #2 on Book Authority’s list of the Top 60 food books of all time. Michael’s next book, Kosher Soul, is slated for publication in 2020.

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