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The Cooking Gene

The Cooking Gene

A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

Michael W. Twitty
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A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both Black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.

From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.

As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

Illustrations by Stephen Crotts


Michael W. Twitty is a culinary and cultural historian and the creator of, the first blog devoted to African American historic foodways and their legacy. He has been honored by the website First We Feast ( as one of twenty greatest food bloggers of all time, and named one of “Fifty People Changing the South” by Southern Living. He’s also been honored as one of the “Five Cheftavists to Watch” by TakePart.Com. Twitty has appeared on NPR’s The Splendid Table and Morning Edition and has written for the Guardian, Ebony, Local Palate, and the Washington Post. He’s given over 300 talks in the U.S. and abroad, including audiences at the Smithsonian, Yale University, The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in England, and the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. He was a 2014 Smith Symposium Fellow of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a 2016 TED fellow and speaker, and was recently honored by Taste Talks with their first Culinary Pioneer Award. Twitty’s blog, Afrioculinaria was honored with both the readers’ and editors’ choice awards from Saveur for the best food and culture blog. Twitty is also a Judaics teacher and writes on Jewish cultural issues. He is the first Revolutionary in Residence at Colonial Williamsburg.

Favorite Southern foods: barbecue (beef ribs though not necessarily traditional—all the noms), a decent and proper biscuit, red rice, collard greens--no vinegar!, buttermilk pie, okra soup, country captain, sweet potatoes, étoufée, gumbo, jambalaya.

Diva of Choice: Julia Sugarbaker from "Designing Women" or Whitley Gilbert from "A Different World"

Favorite Expression: Bless yo' heart.

Person Likely to Play Me in a Movie: I really want Idris Elba, but I'm getting Anthony Anderson.

If I had Kids I would name them: (All girls) Portico, Verandah and Lanai... I always thought Zephyr would be a cool name for a son.

Nicknames: The Chocolate Chosen TM, Mr. Kosher Soul

Influences: August Wilson, James Baldwin, Marlon Riggs, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Roy Lichenstein, Romare Bearden, Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves, Zora Neale Hurston.


  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition (July 31, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062379275
  • ISBN-13: 9780062379276
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.6 inches
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