The Cooking Gene

The Cooking Gene

A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South

Book - 2017
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"A memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces the paths of the author's ancestors (black and white) through the crucible of slavery to show its effects on our food today"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York, NY :, Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2017]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062379290
Characteristics: xvii, 443 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : color illustrations ; 24 cm


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Feb 28, 2018

Michael is an amazing food historian, chef, food revolutionary, and a kind, curious, and honest guy. His book is as far-reaching, innovative, and surprising as he is. It’s a memoir that starts in the kitchen and radiates out into everything else. But somehow this book is not just about Michael's life, it’s about all of the African American experience, and therefore, about all of the American experience. It's a gumbo of culinary traditions, historic recipes, local foods, mixed families, culture, sexuality, spirituality, and politics. It helped me better understand what being an American is all about and how our food connects us with the rest of the world.

Yes, it could have used a little more editing here and there, but a page later we’re off on the next intriguing adventure. And there are so many passages of searing brilliance, as when Michael observes, “The privilege of living now is that I can seat myself at the master’s table — the table of my white ancestor, a slaveholder — and interpret his world, and he has no say.” Yep, we’re finally getting to hear the rest of the story.

Oct 20, 2017

The impetus behind this book can best be summarized with this quote: "When you are oppressed, how you survive your oppression is your greatest form of cultural capital." African American slaves and their descendants used food not only to feed themselves, but also to communicate the story of their origins in Ghana, the Congo, Angola, Senegambia, Nigeria, and many other places in west, central, and southeastern Africa. Of course, the majority of African Americans have at least some European ancestry, and the food traditions brought over by those ancestors, as well as the indigenous American cultures they interacted with, are also part of the story of African American food.

Twitty tells this story as part of his journey into his genealogy. (While modern DNA testing has helped many tease out ancestry that was obscured by captivity, some holes still remain.) He goes backward in time, beginning with his own childhood in D.C. and his first inklings of his family's food culture, and ends up in both Liverpool, England (the site where many slave ships were built and financed), and describes a friend's "reverse Middle Passage" to Ghana. At every point, he sees a contribution to the food legacy he inherited.

Twitty is a terrific writer and kept me engrossed as he told the painful story of slavery, both in his family and in the country writ large. (He also, not incidentally, gives some of the clearest descriptions of the rituals and meaning behind Judaism, the religion he converted to). Warning: don't read Chapter 17 in public; it's here that he explores the auction block, and it wouldn't be surprising if you started tearing up while reading it.

Sep 03, 2017

Brilliant, thought-provoking......AND a easy-reading style that makes turning the pages of this magnificent book about identity, history, and finally finding and appreciating your own self and culture addictive.


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