DC native and culinary historian, Michael W. Twitty, heats it up with Dr. Christina Greer this week as he answers this question and more. With an appetite for destruction, will he scrape the plate?
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Promo [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:05] Hi, and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we asked our guests five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s the way this works. We have five rounds of questions about us Black history, the whole diaspora, current events, everything. With each round, the questions will get a little bit tougher and the guest has 15 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they will receive one symbolic Black fist and hear this…. If they get it wrong, they’ll hear this… But we’ll still love them anyway. And after the five questions, there’ll be a Black bonus round at the end just for fun. Our guest for this episode is D.C. native Michael Twitty. He’s a culinary historian, independent scholar, food writer and professor. He’s a historical interpreter, personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African-American foodways and its parent traditions in the African diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. He’s an award winning author of The Cooking Gene and can be seen on Netflix’s High On The Hog, and he teaches a master class on tracing your roots through food. Michael, thank you so much for joining us here at the Blackest Questions.
Michael Twitty [00:01:27] Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:29] I really just hope that at some point we can be in the same city and I can just accidentally have you like stumble into my kitchen and maybe make some things. What’s your favorite… What’s your favorite soul fool to make?
Michael Twitty [00:01:43] Oh, Lord. Okay, so I’m going to call it like it is. Fried chicken.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:49] Fried chicken? You know, I’m not.. I can’t say that I’m really skilled at fried chicken. My mother and my grandmother both. But, you know, I have my grandmother’s sweet potato pie recipe. And so I will say that if I had to sort of go toe to toe with someone to sort of show my Black card, I’m going to pull out my sweet potato pie recipe.
Michael Twitty [00:02:06] Heard that. Heard that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:07] And how did you get started in the culinary world?
Michael Twitty [00:02:12] Just like you said, mother and grandmother. And also my father, bless his memory, was a great cook. And a lot of the men were great cooks in my family as well. So everybody cooked. It was expectation. My grandmother also had an expectation that all of her boys would cook and not go into marriage unskilled. And my mother certainly, my mother and I certainly had like a special relationship based on the kitchen. So that did it. But, you know, it is deeper than that because my mom would have me copy down definitions of different like culinary terms. And I was tested on those terms and asked, you know, what’s a quarter dice, how much a teaspoon, etc., you know, you know, all those kind of things. And I would watch culinary shows on the weekends because back then we didn’t have no Food Network, right? Cooking Channel was always PBS Saturday afternoon. So I would watch Floyd on Fish and Natalie Dupree’s new Southern Cooking and Martin Yan’s show, Yan Can Cook. And I would just absorb everything I possibly could.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:18] Wow. I am so excited to talk to you today. Are you ready to play the Blackest Questions?
Michael Twitty [00:03:23] Come on, bring it on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:25] Oh, Good, I love it. I love that confidence. Okay. Michael Twitty coming in with the Heat. First question. He was born on August 22nd, 1936, in Gaston, North Carolina, but he later became known as the Godfather of Go-Go music. Who was he?
Michael Twitty [00:03:41] Chuck Brown.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:42] Oh, ha! Charles louis Brown, a.k.a. Chuck Brown. The DC legend was an entertainer, guitarist and songwriter. He capitalized on Funk’s percussive pulse to help shape the sound of Go-Go music. His family moved to D.C. when he was only eight years old, and his signature hit, Bustin Loose, spent four weeks atop the R&B singles chart in 1979.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:10] And is now played every time the Washington Nationals hit a home run inside Nationals Park. Which is amazing when you think about Go-Go music going sort of mainstream. When speaking of the Go-Go’s genre, he said, quote, “It’s about love, the communication between performer and the audience. There’s no other music like it.” He sadly died on May 16th, 2012. And Chuck Brown Memorial Park was built in 2014 to honor his legacy and memory. Did you ever happen to see Chuck Brown in concert growing up in D.C.?
Michael Twitty [00:04:38] Not growing up, but I that was a part of everything. Everything from my youth onward. I mean, that was the that was the big thing. If you could if you could say that you were in a Go-Go band, if you were a teenager, you would have the height.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:54] Right. Thats peak. Now, I didn’t learn to appreciate Go-Go music until I had a roommate in college from D.C. because I was more into, you know, Baltimore club music. But when you cook or and you have two very successful cookbooks, when you write, do you write to music or do you cook to music?
Michael Twitty [00:05:13] Yes, I do two things. I when my writing. One of my friends told me who was who was an editor, he said to me, I want you to to not go too deep or go too soft. I want you to talk to me as if we’re at the same kitchen table. And we’re having a conversation that has no boundaries in terms of time. And so that’s one element. It’s a it’s like you and me sitting down the kitchen table preparing the food, doing mise en place while you know Chaka Khan is in the background. Mm hmm. You know, it could be Celia Cruz. Celia Cruz is what I play when I need to hurry up.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:52] Oh ha!. That’s right.
Michael Twitty [00:05:54] She, you know, it’s like. Yes, she gets it going.
Michael Twitty [00:06:11] And if if I’m just, like, you know, camping out. Next thing I know, it’s Irene. Cara.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:17] Mm hmm.
Michael Twitty [00:06:18] You know, I have very specific, very specific things. If I’m making jollof rice, you know, Fela is going to come on.
Michael Twitty [00:06:37] Water Get No Enemy.
Michael Twitty [00:06:48] You see now that I know my DNA stuff, I’m just like, I know where I get my different parts of my identity from. It’s kind of cool.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:01] Okay, well, listen, let’s. Let’s strike while the iron is hot. You ready for question number two?
Michael Twitty [00:07:07] Yup.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:07] What was the name of the person who was an enslaved chief cook for George Washington and later ran away to freedom?
Michael Twitty [00:07:15] Hercules Posey.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:16] Hmm. Born in 1754, and he was a member of the Mount Vernon slave community, widely admired for his culinary skills. Hercules arrived at Mount Vernon as a teenager in 1767 when President George Washington purchased him from a neighbor. He later married Alice and had three kids Richard, Eva and Delia, and he sold kitchen leftovers and kept his earnings. On February 22nd, 1797, for Washington’s 65th birthday. Hercules ran away and ended up in New York as a cook, and he sadly died of tuberculosis in May. On May 15th, 1812. And so you knew that one quick, fast. And so you mentioned that you, you know, learned about your ancestry when you learned that our ancestors were serving the first president and later escaped to their, you know, their own freedom. What emotions that bring you as you sort of write these cookbooks and you and you cook in the kitchen.
Michael Twitty [00:08:07] Is incredibly powerful because, you know, these women and men did not play. They were strivers. They were entrepreneurs. One of the two details about Hercules life I love the most. One is that he had this gold tipped cane and he was so well dressed that he took great pride. It was like you were not going to look at me and call me a slave. You’re going to look at me and call me a man. And he expected that of his whole family. He was very it was. And then when he runs when he runs off and he absconds, it’s because Washington demoted him and had him out there in the wintertime in Virginia, mucking and throwing mud and doing all of this and digging, you know, tunnels. And he’s like, no, no, you don’t. And so it made Martha so mad. I love that part. It made Martha so mad that she had to get in that kitchen and figure things out. And the greatest part about it is the story where I think it I don’t know if it’s Lafayette or another Frenchman asks his granddaughter. “Aren’t you sad that granddad’s gone?” And she’s like, Nah, my grandfather’s free. So that’s all, all you need to know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:17] Right. Wow. So it’s, you know, in doing research for your books, you know, there’s such a long legacy of Black chefs who have been in all different types of echelons, whether they’re working just for their families, you know, cooking, and they work just in the home or they’re serving some of the most powerful men and women in the world. Where do you see yourself kind of trying to live up to their legacy, or is it a different relationship you have with them and you just see yourself as a part of the lineage and part of the chain that connects us as African-Americans in the culinary world.
Michael Twitty [00:09:54] These are our ancestors. And so I you know, I think about Miss Lucy’s bakeshop. I think about what was her name, Sylvia. It was a was a woman, an elder in Alexandria, Virginia, who sold tomatoes to buy her husband’s freedom. I mean, I think about these people all the time. And, you know, you know, famously, Maya Angelou once said, “because we have forgotten our ancestors, our children, forget us.” So for me, the act of cooking. And I cook and I cook it. You know, Colonial Williamsburg, other sites on occasion, I cook in the clothes of the 18th or 19th century. I do the work. I show people with colleagues how it was done and the skill that it took. And, you know, I don’t let people fantasize about the good old days. I always let them know how it actually was and why we take so many things for granted, but that we need to put respect back on their names as not only our ancestors, but the ancestors of American food, period.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:58] Right. Because I mean, I keep bringing this line and saying Black history is American history. That’s right. And we don’t know enough of it. And this is why I started this podcast. But White Americans should feel angered and ashamed that they don’t know their own history. Because if you don’t know Black history, you don’t know your own American history. All right. You’re coming in hot. I love this. You want to try for number three?
Michael Twitty [00:11:18] Come on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:20] Keep it going?So on October 2nd, 1977, as Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers, this person was there to welcome him at home plate. And by doing so, co-created this particular gesture. Who was the person and what was the gesture?
Michael Twitty [00:11:39] It was a high five.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:41] That’s right. Do you know who did it with Dusty Baker?
Michael Twitty [00:11:44] Was it Hank Aaron?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:45] No, it was Glenn Burke.
Michael Twitty [00:11:48] Glenn Burke. Ahhh!
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:50] Close Right. But he was born in Oakland, California. And Glenn Burke played for the Dodgers from 7678, and then the Oakland A’s from 78 to 79.
Michael Twitty [00:11:58] I don’t know why I went with say hey.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:00] Well, you know, listen, you can’t win them all, but you’re you’re still you’re still doing a great job. But Glenn Burke was the first Major League Baseball player to come out as gay to teammates and owners during his career. And he once told The New York Times, prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have, but I wasn’t changing. And so, sadly, he died of AIDS complications on May 30th in 1995, but was part of the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. And so, wow, you know, are you a baseball fan?
Michael Twitty [00:12:30] No. But I was going to make a joke 2 seconds ago about, oh, Lord, I’m gay. And she asked me a question about sports. But I guess ancestor Burke is like “Nah, no excuses.”
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:40] No excuses.. So did you. You did not watch baseball. You were were you more of a kid who was like, listen, I’m in the kitchen. I’ll have to be playing stickball or watching baseball with these fools? Or were you sort of a little bit of both.
Michael Twitty [00:12:52] Kind of hanging on? Baseball was not as big for us, you know, in our culture at that time. Basketball was bigger. I had no interest in basketball or football, but football, baseball was more like because in D.C. and Maryland, Maryland, you know, we had the Orioles. So everybody everybody was about that Cal Ripken life. And, you know, even if you did nothing and didn’t know anything about the game, you went with your friends to games. You know, a lot of parties were held at games or you just kind of chill. I mean, this was a big part of who you were, whether you like it or not. My favorite sport is horse racing.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:33] Oh, interesting. Which Baltimore, you know, close to D.C. has a long legacy in Pimlico. Now, when you mention Cal Ripken, I was like, listen, I will say those blue eyes can sometimes… Be a little dreamy. I must say it. Imma say it.
Michael Twitty [00:13:51] Like for me he wasn’t rocking zaddy status at that point. So but you know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:56] The great thing about this podcast and this is why we love having such interesting guests on is because we can talk about sports. We can talk about pioneers being inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. We can talk about all the ways that Black people have contributed to making this country much more inclusive and holistic. Okay, so let’s keep this train going. You ready for question number four?
Michael Twitty [00:14:17] Come on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:19] Who was the first African-American cookbook author?
Michael Twitty [00:14:24] Okay, so this is a trick question. So it’s actually Melinda Russell.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:29] Yes, you are correct.
Michael Twitty [00:14:30] In that Abby Fisher. Abby Fisher was known to be the first one for quite some time. It’s actually Melinda Russell. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:37] So in 1866, Melinda Russell self-published a domestic cookbook containing a careful selection of useful receipts for the kitchen. The book concentrates on baking recipes, savory dishes, and also methods for preparing household items like cologne and shampoo. And it was also the first book to offer culinary advice by an African-American woman. She she published it as a free woman living in Papa, Michigan, as a fundraising effort to return to Tennessee, which, you know, caught my attention because my great grandparents are from Tennessee. And when did you first learn about Melinda Russell.
Michael Twitty [00:15:13] From from Dr. Lenny Sorensen, who I can count as a friend, as a mentor. Dr. Lenny Sorensen was for many years the African-American research historian at Monticello and made it her passion to dig up these narratives about the Monticello community and beyond. So we were talking about this when they actually kind of nailed down Melinda’s narrative and cookbook. But, you know, Abby Fischer was cool, too. But, you know, it’s interesting that you look at these cookbooks, these receipt books, and you don’t really see what you it’s like the the shadow of what you recognize in today’s southern kitchen is not really the whole thing. So, for example, I was on a program with a digital program with Hannah Hart, and we made Abby Fischer’s jambalaya and you call it jambalie, that’s more like red rice, that is actual jambalaya. So people were just like, they ain’t no jambalaya. I’m Louisiana. And then da da da da da da. I’m like, Y’all got to calm down. These things evolve, and they change over time.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:15] Mm hmm. Now, what inspired you to write a cookbook? Because there are a lot of chefs who just like being in the kitchen, and that is where that’s where their intellectual and emotional space thrives. It seems as though because you’ve got a new cookbook coming out, which I want you to tell us a little bit more about. But it seems as though you were trying to balance these two very big passions, one which is being in the kitchen and creating this environment for us to nourish us physically. But then you’re also creating this ancestral legacy through education. And, you know, as a professor, I love the fact that you’re writing some of these stories down. You’re writing down some of these emotions. What made you shift out of the kitchen and realized the necessity to write certain things down?
Michael Twitty [00:16:59] We don’t have enough Black food memoirs. So we have we have little snippets. There are snippets in Zora Neale Hurston’s work. There are snippets in Black Boy by Richard Wright. There are snippets in all these classic works. We need we need, let’s say, talk about Vernon Mae Grosvenor, you know, or into Zackie Schank. Mm hmm. You know, both of them wrote short but important culinary narratives that weren’t necessarily cookbooks. So for me, The Cooking Gene, the purpose of that book was to take the reader through my family history, through food from Africa to America, from slavery to freedom. Because I wanted to be able to do what ancestor Alex Haley did. And when I actually began to write the book. And I knew I had things, things in the works. I went all the way to Henning Tennessee to the front yard of his grandmother’s house where he’s buried. And I poured libation, had a little talk with ancestor Alex about this. And it’s a that’s a for me, it’s like we have to be willing and able as Black people to extend that vulnerability, extend that honesty and, you know, to the reader and let them know this is what it’s like. It’s not just about the food or the techniques. What is it? What I remember, you know, that look that our elders had and we we we inherited, but the children we have of walking in house Black. Mm hmm. After a long day. Mm hmm. And I remember everybody in my family walking into the kitchen. And you know, the lynching stories poured out, the venting poured out or the jokes poured out, you know, the hugs, the kisses, the emotion. And I grew up in a very diverse area. I never saw people walk in the kitchen like this. And so for me, I wanted to let people know that all that other stuff that they think is superfluous is very much a part of the food, the generosity, the hospitality, the community and gathering.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:11] You know, it’s when you said that that piece about walking into a kitchen, you know, I think about my grandmother, who was it was in Yulee, Florida, which is a tiny, tiny town in northern Florida, north of Jacksonville. And there was something about that kitchen where, you know, she told me when I was a kid, you know, she had, you know, our grandmother’s wore those house dresses, you know, those cotton house dresses with those little pockets.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:38] And so she said, whenever I came to visit, she could always feel my little hand creep into her pocket because she kept cookies in there. Can you imagine just sitting at the sink washing dishes and she’d look out at my grandfather and all this land where he raised hogs. Wow. And so she said she’d feel this little hand creeping, creeping inte her pocket and she knew it was me. waiting for a little afternoon cookie. And then later on, many years later, when I went to college. And you, of course, you know, you going to college, it’s like I don’t eat beef. I don’t eat pork, you know? You know, everybody goes through those phases. I know our listeners. I’m sure some of you have gone through this various phases.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:15] And my grandfather looked at me and said, What do you mean, you don’t eat pork? And he was like, “the hog Put your mother through college!” Because he worked in a paper mill, but he raised hogs on the side for extra money. And that’s what helped pay for my mother to go to college. And he took it as an insult that I wouldn’t eat a particular food, that he had A raised and B, it had served as such an important food in our family, in our family history. And he looked at me in the eyes and he said, “Never trust a man with no facial hair and never trust a man who doesn’t eat meat”.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:48] Now, granted, fo oour listeners out there, this is my grandfather, and he was born in 1920. So he’s allowed to have certain views. But I think the facial hair was, you know, basically someone who’s in law enforcement. And so, you know, you want somebody with facial hair, which means that they’re they’re not. And then the meaning that, well, why why can’t I do someone who doesn’t eat meat? And he said, a man who doesn’t eat meat isn’t concerned with putting meat on your table. And I was like, Oh, okay. So it’s been fascinating to think about how my grandfather viewed food as a way to show his sort of authority as a provider for the family. And the hog was literally a symbol of sort of the hard work that he felt he was expressing toward my grandmother and his three daughters, which, you know, and it’s so funny because my White friends, their grandfathers always said, never trust a man with facial hair. My grandmother’s that never trust a man without facial hair. So here’s how these things work out.
Michael Twitty [00:21:49] My grandfather used to tell us that when he was coming up, his parents would say to him, Don’t drink, no coffee. You going turn white. And so the first time he ever worked in integrated space in South Carolina, this White man told him, he said, I don’t drink coffee neither. I said, Wow. I said, How come? He said, “Because my parents told me, don’t drink no coffee. You go in turn colored”. And they left because they had been told basically these are both depression era people who were told to leave alone one of the most expensive things in the household. So they laughed. They became very good friends. But, you know, it was also that kind of like joint space of honesty, like. Mm hmm. Okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:29] Well, I mean, and before we get to the to the next question, but, you know, in the kitchen, the kitchen in many ways is a vulnerable space, you know. So, like, what are some of the conversations that you’ve been able to have? I mean, you are a Black man who identifies as gay. You have grown up in DC, but you’re from this. It seems like a very strong tradition of people who believe in cooking. So it’s not like you’re rebelling against the family to do this necessarily. But what are some of the conversations that you’ve had with people, either Black folks or not Black folks in the kitchen, that that have changed your life?
Michael Twitty [00:23:05] Well, I think one of the biggest things is, you know, we tend to talk about our people who are kinfolk and how different people relate to that. The things. One of the best times I ever had on Twitter, which is can be a hell sometimes..
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:20] But it can be so great too.
Michael Twitty [00:23:22] Is when I was preparing for the Masterclass and I asked people from Black American, Afro-Latin, Caribbean, Haitian, Brazilian culture, I said, What’s in your kitchen? What do you what do you have to have in your kitchen? And what made me my heart swell and made me so happy, it made me smile was that 80% of the artifacts people have in that kitchen was exactly the same no matter what part of the Black world they came from. So the spider plant was in there and those big ass spoons, it was in there. And, you know, the the either the the embroidered or black lighted or whatever thing of whatever state or country you came from.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:06] Mm hmm.
Michael Twitty [00:24:07] So it could have been the Virgin Islands. Could have been St. Kitts. It could have been Antigua. Could have been Alabama, Georgia, wherever. You know, things like that. The hot comb. Let’s get all of those elements. And don’t forget the grease jar, just the three grease jars.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:23] Listen, Michael Twitty, I was about too say say grease jar. It’s like, no, you get your fish grease, you get chicken grease and get your bacon grease.
Michael Twitty [00:24:31] That’s right. That’s right. And then um, Chock Full O Nuts
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:35] Yeah. My God. Okay, listen. I’m a little fancy because I keep my bacon grease in the refrigerator, so it’s not sitting. On my stove. But let me tell you the scandal. That is Christina Greer, because as I mentioned before, my grandparents, my mother’s grandparents, you know, lived in Yulee, Florida, when I was growing up. My father’s mother, unfortunately, passed before I was born and his father passed when I was in high school and he was in Miami. So it was a very kind of felt northern when I was visiting my dad’s dad. But when I visited my mom’s parents, you know, it’s a swamp. You know, there’s that sandy soil there, those marsh trees everywhere. So, you know, my grandmothers grow a massive piece of okra in the backyard, you know, 14 inches long. You were I’m like, oh, I’ll go get it. She said, Watch out for the snakes. I’m like, Never mind. You know, like, I don’t do snakes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:21] But the biggest scandal was one time Chrissy Greer thinks that she’s helping cleaning the kitchen. I’m young and I just pour the grease into the wrong grease can. And my grandparents looked at me like, what is wrong with this northern child? Like, Gloria, this is my mother’s name. It’s like essentially you ain’t raised this girl, right? Like, how does she not know that you don’t just put the grease anywhere like she she doesn’t know the difference between bacon grease and chicken grease like she can’t look. So I’m going to say I have come a long, long way. I’ve come a long, long way, but I still got a long way to go. Okay, so are you ready for this last question? You were doing amazing.
Michael Twitty [00:25:59] Absolutely.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:00] Okay. Last question. Of the numerous awards this chef received, who was the only Black person to be featured in the Celebrity Chef postage stamp series in 2014?
Michael Twitty [00:26:12] Edna Lewis.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:13] Oh, my goodness, you’re hot Today. So edna Lewis You are correct. The stamp was released September 26, 2014, and 4 million were issued. Edna Lewis was born April 13th, 1916, in Freetown, Virginia. And while living in New York, she began throwing dinner parties and later worked in a cafe serving Southern inspired dishes. She opened her own restaurants and a few jobs. Later, she wrote the Edna Lewis Cookbook in 1972. Then in 1976, she wrote The Taste of Country Cooking. She wrote two more books and won the first James Beard Living Legend Award, and she sadly died February 13th, 26, in Decatur, Georgia. So did you ever cross paths with Edna Lewis?
Michael Twitty [00:26:51] I never knew Ms.. Edna personally. I did have the opportunity to often rub elbows with Leah Chase and Mama Dip. Mm. And of course, I know that living legend, Miss Ellie Anne Robinson. And it’s, you know, it’s important because we have a whole generation that people. Who are that kind of like the the bringers, the bearers of the tradition. And it’s so critical that we ask them everything we can learn from them. And also, remember what Edna Lewis said. The most famous thing she said was to when a mother, teachers and friends and mentors Tony talk to Martin. She said, leave no stone unturned. It ain’t just about the being just about me or what I did, what I know. There’s lots of us out here that need to be, you know, interrogated as to what we know so we can pass it on.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:49] Absolutely. Now, when you think about sort of passing that on, what what kind of influence are you trying to make with younger chefs who are getting started?
Michael Twitty [00:27:59] First of all, I want them to reclaim their identity. We’ve been working on we’re going to finally go back to the continent next year. We’ve been doing a group tour with Roots to Glory Tours. That’s culinary based. And so we’re going to Cameroon. We’ve been to Ghana. We’ve been to Benin and Togo. We’ve been to Senegal and Gambia. Now we’re going to go to Cameroon, which I’ve been to before. And the whole goal is to get Black diaspora chefs who have ever been to the continent or want to go back to the continent to have a full on gastronomic culinary experience where we learn from and teach. So while we’re learning about the foodways of different ethnic groups in the continent, we’re also out there teaching them about African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Brazilian and Haitian food. So it’s a true exchange between the members of the family and, you know, to see some of these chefs walk out of there. And it’s not just chefs, but Somalis, nutritionists, educators, people from all different walks of life, of food and drink, to walk out of there with a sense of pride and identity. And of course, we always have like a naming ceremony. And some people actually do trace their roots back to whatever country we’re in. So we always make sure we, you know, we meet up with the people and have that kind of thing. So it’s it’s it’s thrilling. It’s very exciting because I just want people to understand our food has roots and our food has wings.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:31] Right. Well, I mean, you know, as you were saying this, I was like. Okay, how do I. How do I hustle myself on this trip? Like I got one one sweet potato pie recipe, how do I make it to Cameroon? And obviously I was like, well. I’m a birder. Maybe I should go and just like, you know, interview some folks while I’m birding and see. But when you say our food has wings, I mean, I always think about, you know, something like rice or something like okra. Right. You know, I’m a rice connoisseur. Everyone who knows me knows if you’re Dominican, if you’re Haitian, if you are a Nigerian, if you’re Ghanaian, I’m going to come to your house. I’m going to eat you out of house at home. I don’t care if you’re cooking, your mama’s cooking, your grandmother’s cooking. I’m going to forget that My name is Dr. Christina Greer. I’m going to sit at that table and I’m going to eat about seven bowls of rice. And I’m not getting up until I’m done. And so I have no shame when it comes to being a rice connoisseur. And I love all the different types of rice, but I also think about okra and how we can find it in so many different cultures, you know, no matter where we travel.
Michael Twitty [00:30:27] And it’s and it’s that, you know, I’ll tell you one old story. I am so in Africa, you can easily buy too much of something because you don’t think about the numbers and exchange. So I ended up with a bag full of okra, which I forgot about. And end up in my luggage in America. And as. Ms.. Ms.. Ms.. Ms.. Anne is walking past her dog. The okra started falling out. Apparently they didn’t notice. Anne was like, No, no, look over here. And I, you know, I planted okra. Beautiful, beautiful okra from Benin. That’s right. Oh, birding. Birding. You will want for nothing in Africa, I’m telling you. And in the Gambia, we were at this space bar between the Gambia River and the ocean. And one of the most beautiful things in the world. It’s the sea, the flamingos and the gulls. And it turns and the cormorants and all the different kind of birds and all the little beautiful, colorful birds show up. But they are so loud, they will wake you up.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:32] Absolutely. I mean, I spent some time on the east and the west and these birds are like, let me let me let you know who’s who’s running things.
Michael Twitty [00:31:41] One gunshot and they all start flying away.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:43] Right. Michael Twitty, it has been such a pleasure to talk to you about food and writing in our ancestry. Before I let you out here, you have some time for the Black bonus round.
Michael Twitty [00:31:54] Sure.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:54] Okay. These are fast and furious. You ready?
Michael Twitty [00:31:57] All right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:58] Okay. Sweet tea or unsweetened tea?
Michael Twitty [00:32:01] Oh, sweet.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:03] Macaroni cheese. Is it a side dish or a main dish?
Michael Twitty [00:32:06] It’s got side dish. Sorry.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:08] What city or region has the best food?
Michael Twitty [00:32:11] New Orleans.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:13] What is your Thanksgiving must have?
Michael Twitty [00:32:16] My mother’s a cornbread dressing.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:20] If you could rename the Arnold Palmer, which is the lemonade and iced tea. Who would you rename it after?
Michael Twitty [00:32:26] The Prince.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:27] The prince. Okay. And in Baltimore, you know, they call it half and half, which I love.
Michael Twitty [00:32:31] Yes, yes, yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:33] I was like, I’ll take a half and half. What is your go to seasoning?
Michael Twitty [00:32:35] I said that before.., go to food?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:37] Go to seasoning.
Michael Twitty [00:32:39] Go to seasoning… Seasoned Salt.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:44] Seasoned salt. Okay. And here’s the controversial one. I’m going to share a little secret with you after you answer this. What do you put on your grits?
Michael Twitty [00:32:52] Mm hmm. Okay, so I’m going to want the White answer or the Black answer?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:01] I want both.
Michael Twitty [00:33:04] Butter or sugar.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:06] Okay. Now, Michael, I’m going to share something with you that a few people know. I as I said before, my grandparents really struggle with this grandbaby from the north. I love grits. I love fried fish and grits. That’s what we eat in our family with little bit mustard on yellow mustard on the fish and some fresh lime and some hot sauce. I can only eat grits one way. And I need you to promise me before I tell you this, that we can still be friends and we can work together, and hopefully we can go on the continent and go birding and talk about food. And maybe we can listen to some Go-Go music. But I need you to promise me that you are not going to abandon me once I tell you the truth about myself.
Michael Twitty [00:33:47] Okay. come on
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:49] I can only eat grits with ketchup and mustard until it’s fluorescent orange. And I’m telling you the honest to God truth. And I know that my more grandmother is rolling around in her grave so ashamed of her baby. So ashamed. All my awards and accomplishments mean nothing because I can only eat my grits with ketchup and mustard until they fluorescent orange. And then I put a piece of hot fried fish on top with my hot saucem my lemon juice or my lime juice and my yellow mustard. And on that note.
Michael Twitty [00:34:16] I will forgive you.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:18] Okay.
Michael Twitty [00:34:18] In the background, in my head, I’m literally hearing Ms Tony, say How you want to carry it .
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:26] What’s up what’s up?
Michael Twitty [00:34:26] Westside
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:29] Oh, okay. Promise me that we’re going to cook together one day.
Michael Twitty [00:34:34] We ain’t going to make that, but we’ll cook together.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:37] We won’t make grits. We won’t even allow it. Hmm. Okay.
Michael Twitty [00:34:41] That’s my. That’s my kryptonite right there. That’s a certain condiment. It’s like, okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:45] What is?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:47] Mustard? Ketchup?
Michael Twitty [00:34:47] The other one. The red one.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:49] Oh, the red one. Okay. Interesting.
Michael Twitty [00:34:50] Do not have it even in the house. Mm hmm.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:52] So when you come back, next time, we’ll have to do a deep dove into why it is that we don’t have the k word In the house.
Michael Twitty [00:35:01] It’s the devil.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:02] Okay, well, listen, you did an amazing job on Blackest Questions. I can’t thank you enough for joining us. And I want to thank our listeners for listening to the Blackest Questions. The show is produced by Richard White, Cameron Blackwell and Camille Cruz. If you like what you heard, please download theGrio app and listen and watch many more great shows and share it with everyone you know.
Promo [00:35:21] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrio Writing Black Podcast hosted by me, Maiysha Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember, that’s Writing Black every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.