James Beard Book Award Winner Explores His Many Identities Through Cuisine
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to one of our favorite subjects - food. This is the time of year when the James Beard Foundation announces its annual awards. Named for the renowned cookbook author and champion of American cuisine, the James Beard Awards are one of the hospitality industry's highest honors. Time Magazine once called them the Oscars of the food world. And this year's winner for Book of the Year, as well as for writing, is "The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History In The Old South" by Michael Twitty. The book traces Twitty's family history through food and explores his many identities.
MICHAEL TWITTY: I am a big guy. I'm African-American. I'm Jewish. And I'm gay. And I feel like those are not uncommon identities, just the fact that - all in one person.
MARTIN: "The Cooking Gene" pulls together some of the culinary traditions Twitty grew up with. He traced his grandmother's famous red rice dish back to her roots in Sierra Leone. And the challah bread his mother used to bake for him, she picked up that recipe from Jewish neighbors in Cincinnati where she grew up. Twitty says his success as an author and chef has to do with this combination of experiences.
TWITTY: You put them all together and amazing things happen. It's about survival. It's about humor. It's about being oppressed and overcoming oppression. It's about having wits and having a sense of the irony of life, all of that. So it's something that gives you a wide berth to talk about what humanity has to offer.
MARTIN: Twitty says "The Cooking Gene" is just the first of three books he has planned about food and identity.
TWITTY: The next book is about my journey through the world of Jewish food. And the third book is going to be about my journey as a gay man in the kitchen and how that affects, you know, the perspective on food, the body, relationships. And it's just looking at food through the lens of not so much how do we make the food but how the food makes us.
MARTIN: The James Beard Awards Gala is tomorrow at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. And while we're at it, congratulations to another James Beard Award winner, NPR's own Melissa Block and Elissa Nadworny for their radio segment on the legacy of the Mississippi Delta Chinese.
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