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On Point: Rediscovering African-American Roots and Cuisine

Michael Twitty is a culinary/cultural historian, a chef, and an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg's Peyton Randolph kitchen. Twitty recently appeared on NPR's On Point to discuss his latest book, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South. and his views on antebellum southern history. In this interview he explains how enslaved African-Americans created contemporary American southern cuisine. For example, Twitty describes the roles of James Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson, and Hercules, the enslaved chef of George Washington, in creating a cuisine that blended techniques and ingredients from European and Afro-Virginian cultures. This cuisine might be considered proto-soul food; both chefs made collard greens, and Hemmings made a macaroni pie that was not entirely unlike macaroni and cheese. Twitty explains that, in his mind, soul food can be defined as "memory cuisine of the great-grandchild of enslaved people." Interested readers can listen to the entire conversation here and check out a number of related resources, including some of Twitty's recipes and his 2016 TED talk about culinary justice.
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