I'll Bite

5 reasons you need to hear Michael Twitty

Living history presenter Michael Twitty at the Stagville Plantation in Durham in 2013.
Living history presenter Michael Twitty at the Stagville Plantation in Durham in 2013. News & Observer

Need to wake and shake your mind this week? Grab a ticket to see Michael Twitty at “Feast on Culture,” put on by the Harvey Gantt Center on Thursday night at Founders’ Hall. Here are five reasons you need to make space in your schedule for this one:

1. Yes, he’s a culinary historian and living-history interpreter who focuses on the cooking of enslaved people in the South. But he also has a long list of other titles: He’s a 2016 TED fellow, he’s done historic cooking demonstrations at the Smithsonian, Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and Oxford University, and he embraces both his African and Jewish heritage on his website Afroculinaria.com.

2. He’s thought-provoking: When Twitty talks about Southern cooking history, he takes it a lot farther back than the 20th century. He looks at several hundred years of history to put Southern cuisine into a very wide perspective. Whatever you think you know, Twitty usually knows something that will challenge your expectations.

3. He’s a chef who embraces heirloom and old-variety ingredients such as sorghum. The event Thursday night will include a tasting of dishes including okra soup, fried chicken, Madeira ham, cornbread kush, sorghum butter and peach cobbler while Twitty talks about their histories.

4. He says what he thinks. When TV cook Paula Deen was criticized for racially charged language, Twitty’s blog post, An Open Letter to Paula Deen, became a part of the conversation and brought Twitty to the attention of a number of food writers. When I wrote a story earlier this year on the divergent styles of cornbread (sweet vs. nonsweet), Twitty was one of the first people I called, for help with the long history of corn-based breads.

5. His cooking has brought attention attention and support to slave cooking at historic sites like Stagville Historic Site in Durham.

Intrigued? Tickets for Twitty’s talk and tasting are $28 ($20 for members) at www.ganttcenter.org.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis