BE Modern Man: Meet ‘The Soul Foodie’ Michael Twitty
Name: Michael Twitty
Profession: Food writer and historian
One Word That Describes You: Dedicated
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
It’s a very cool thing. What I do, bringing not only the cooking, but the stories, struggles, and triumphs of our forefathers to life, is something you don’t often see honored. So, this is great.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
I took a cue from soul food: use what you have, spice it up, cook it right, and make people want your recipe. I didn’t wait on ceremony. As a Black, Jewish and gay man, I took challenges and honored where I was when those challenges presented themselves. You have to respect and embrace your limitations, and then you have to push your boundaries. It’s like resistance training for life.
At first, I didn’t have the cooking utensils or the heirloom or heritage breed food ingredients. Then I didn’t have the historical clothing. I did what I could with what I had, checking off boxes; now I’m the first full-fledged antebellum black cook since the Civil War. In a time when everyone is looking to mine the past to discover forgotten elements of our food cultures, it’s turned out to be a very good place for me to be. In the spiritual tradition of my Akan (Ghanaian) ancestors, we call this idea Sankofa—going back to the past to recover what’s important for the future.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Loyalty, positive encouragement, and patience. I believe these are reciprocal, ongoing connections that have to be nourished and not taken for granted.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I’m currently finishing my book, The Cooking Gene, about my journey to discover the roots of African American cuisine in the Old South for HarperCollins.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“Your real intentions always manifest. So, think wisely about your course of action, because everyone will know.” That was from one of my professors at Howard University. It means that simply giving lip service or faking it to make it will not stop things from falling apart. Your real intent will show, that’s why vision, intention, and manifestation are critical.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
You can’t do it all. You can do a part. The part that you choose to do must be done well. People will respect your attention to detail, flexibility, your perseverance, and your ability to learn as you go, but you have to focus and get clear on what you your vision is for making an impact.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I pour libation. My ancestors are my “board of directors.” I invite them into my life events and earthly affairs on a regular basis.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
I actually cook! That seems counterintuitive, but cooking with others on their terms on their turf is a vacation of the mind. You let go of how you think things should be and give yourself permission to be inspired and learn from the culinary wisdom of others in a casual way.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
London is my absolute favorite city to travel to. I’ve been twice now, and I am continually awed at the layering of history, the present, and the future from corner to corner, street to skyscraper. It also has an incredibly long engagement with the global black experience and some of the most exciting black diaspora communities on the planet.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Read it in my book