Food, Community & Government

Case Study: The Cooking Gene

Michael W. Twitty

Lesson time 09:14 min

Get a glimpse of Michael’s process for discovering his culinary roots with a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of his book The Cooking Gene.

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Topics include: Shaping the Mosaic Story • Finding Inspiration in Roots


[MUSIC PLAYING] MICHAEL TWITTY (VOICEOVER): When following the clues and the food stories and migratory patterns of my ancestors, I decided I want to communicate them in a way that would engrave and honor their memory, and so "The Cooking Gene" was born. - I originally started on a journey called the Southern Discomfort Tour, obviously a play on Southern Comfort, back in 2011. And I didn't know how I was going to pay for it. All I knew was I was going to do this journey. And I talked with my then partner, and I said, well, let's go on a journey through the entire former antebellum South and colonial South looking for my food routes and family roots, and foodscapes past and present. And so I never done crowdfunding before. We did that. It was successful. We got on the road, went all the way from Maryland to Texas and Missouri to Florida over the course of three or four different journeys from the summer to the fall of 2012. To imagine what it'd have been like to pick 40, 50 acres of cotton. I had all this information, all these pictures, all these photographs, all this video, all these interviews, and was just sort of sitting on it until a certain food personality was now in the public light for some negative press. And I used that opportunity to talk about the fact that, here we were focusing on this one element, and we still didn't have a concept of what Black Americans, African-Americans, people of African descent in the Americas-- the impact we made on food. And that was a lot of the food that she was cooking and other people around her were cooking, but you didn't hear our stories. And that letter to her, that open letter, went viral. My phone began to ring off the hook. And by that afternoon, "Huffington Post" got a hold of me and said, can we republish your piece? And I'm thinking to myself, how the hell did "Huffington Post" get a hold of me? And why do they care? But it was getting so much traffic, and it created a platform for me to finally be able to take those stories and those interviews and that research I had done and move it to the next level, which was a book. And so I went from having not one single opportunity to talk to a literary agent to a dozen calling me overnight. And I had to whittle it down to the best that I could find. And then I was always asked the question, do you have a book idea in mind? And I said, well, well, why yes, I have this project. And I think I want to call it "The Cooking Gene." Well, why "The Cooking Gene"? Because, you know, there's that phrase. Some people will say, oh, I don't have the cooking gene. And I wanted to talk about our food history and our culture, but not just kind of in an amorphous, sort of generic way. I wanted to be able to say, I am the descendant of the blank, and because of that, this is my relationship with this food or this tradition or whatever. So "The Cooking Gene" wasn't just going to be, for me, some cookbook where I di...

About the Instructor

Through years of unearthing his African American heritage, bestselling author of The Cooking Gene Michael W. Twitty discovered undeniable ties between his ancestors’ past and his own palate. Now he’s teaching how you can get a taste of your family history through food. Explore the migrations that informed the ingredients in your kitchen—then re-create the dishes that helped shape who you are.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Michael W. Twitty

James Beard Award–winning author of The Cooking Gene teaches how to trace your culinary roots through the food your ancestors ate.

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