THE Q&A: Food historian to cook up kosher soul locally

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

BALDWIN HILLS — Michael W. Twitty is a cook, food historian and cookbook author whose credentials prove he knows his way around a kitchen.

A James Beard and National Jewish Book Award-winner, Twitty, 47, who shuns the title of chef, has made a meaningful impact on the culinary world.

Twitty, who is Black, gay, Jewish and married, is also shaking things up in the literary world with his two books, 2018’s “Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.” which won the James Beard Award for best writing and book of the year. and 2022’s “Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew” (Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year. The first time a Black author won).

On May 15, the Washington, D.C. native will take over the open kitchen at Post & Beam restaurant with a unique culinary experience, “Michael Twitty Presents: A Koshersoul Pop Up.”

“I first became familiar with Michael several years ago when his first book came out,” said Chef John Cleveland, owner of Post & Beam. “I started following him and was impressed by his breadth of culinary knowledge. It’s important that we gather and educate and experience his food. You don’t see what he does very often. The Black and Jewish fusion is a new kind of experience.”

“Michael Twitty Presents: A Koshersoul Pop Up” is a one-of-a-kind back-to-back dinner experience featuring Black/Jewish fusion recipes from Twitty’s books prepared by Twitty and his team.

The first service, Koshersoul Shabbat, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., will lean into Twitty’s Jewish background with Matzo ball gumbo, Kneidlach with yassa sauce, West African braised-brisket, Grammy’s chicken, Koshersoul collards, Farfel-Cornbread Kush, Jollof Rice, vegan tofu curry, roasted vegetables and rice peach kugel. 

The second service, Koshersoul Cookout, from 8:30-10:30 p.m., is less formal. It will feature collard lox wraps, Texas caviar shots, Yiddish brisket, chicken Kati Kati, lamb bacon baked beans, couscous salad, coal-roasted sweet potatoes, preserved lemon potato salad, picnic vegetables, Chow Chow, and Caribbean compote.

I recently caught up with Twitty to talk about the upcoming event at Post & Beam.

DD: What do you get out of events like this?

MT: I want to show some variety in Koshersoul Shabbat. As Jews, we have Shabbat dinner every Friday. There is also for some Black families Sunday dinner. Muslims get together on jum’ah on Fridays. All of those elements feed into that first meal — celebrating breath and diversity of food culture.

DD: Why are you doing the dinners at Post & Beam?

MT: I have a friend who works there. They hosted me for a conversation when I first got to Los Angeles. This dinner is a goodbye to L.A.

DD: What do you want people to walk away with?

MT: I just want people to understand we are all dealing with strenuous culture wars. I gotta be real with you, I want this to be a healing. Come as you are. Let’s enjoy each other’s company. Let’s do what we gotta do to feel connected. I don’t have a lot of answers. All I know is that we can come to the table together.

DD: You don’t refer to yourself as a chef. You would rather be called a culinary historian. Why?

MT: Being called a chef is nice. I don’t bang out consistent food to order. I don’t want to be flattened. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for chefs. I’m a scholar and a writer first. I cook to express my work and who I am and to honor my culture. It’s mainly for the outsiders.

DD: What makes you a culinary historian?

MT: Culinary history does have its own walls and boundaries and merits and responsibilities. You can study. It’s one thing to study food. I like to study the history of our people — consumption, pleasure and function.

DD: What was your life like before cooking? What did you do?

MT: I really did try. It wasn’t for me. I had a successful stint working as a contract employee for the federal government. After 911, they took the money out of softer jobs and moved it to security. I also taught Hebrew school for 15 years.

DD: What is your relationship with food?

MT: The kitchen was the babysitting place. In every household, the kitchen was the meeting place. Not the dining room. Not sitting at the good table with good chairs. Not the living room. It was for company. The kitchen was a sacred place for conflict, grief, fun, laughter and complaints. That’s how I grew up.

DD: What does cooking do for you?

MT: Sometimes it stresses me out. Sometimes it’s therapeutic. I don’t cook fast. Trying to cook something in 30 minutes like they do on some of these cooking shows is ridiculous. In 30 minutes, all I can do is watch the water boil. My grandmother — time-honored. It took time to make food. For me when I have to cook, you start early in the morning and it’s like working out at a gym. You’ll be exhausted but you have worked through something.

Cooking brings me to other cultures and identities and forces me to live outside my bubble. It’s like expressing a problem in terms of ingredients and solving it in terms of a dish.

DD: What is your favorite thing to cook for a dinner party, and why?

MT: Barbecue and other braised meat, and greens are great. It takes a long time and your love comes out. You show people how much you love them. 

DD: How does food define Black people?

MT: First we’re human beings. Our search for food to quench our hunger is the story of early African history. Crops we domesticated, fish we caught. Pushing on our food for the next sustenance. Forging iron is part of our study. Our engagement with the rest of the world. 

We are sitting at the center of the planet. Then comes our diaspora. It’s also about class. To be frank, the world has taken a lot from us, stolen a lot, and then tried to make us subsist on just a little. It goes back to the womb of the Black woman, which was counted on for a kind of cheap, imprisoned labor. We can’t separate the oppression that has been set against us. 

Part of my work is to never forget about the pain of the past. People who eat off our culture, don’t understand. We have an eternal bond with family and friends. Love is an important eternal aspect. Something is being communicated in a way that no one would understand.

DD: What is the connection between Jewish and Black food?

MT: One thing is that they come from East Europe and beyond and Ethiopia. One of the biggest things is it comes from want and need. How do I make this work? There is often oppression built into the food. People made do with what they had. Make the best out of what you have. Decorating a life under the thumb of others with as much beauty as you can muster. It often comes from the dinner table.

We have a lot of stuffed and wrapped foods. Why not stuff collard greens and egg rolls? People don’t think of it this way. A lot of times those diasporas have been in the same place at the same time. My food blends all those narratives and gives people an appreciation of what happens when they mix and play.

DD: You are a Black, gay and Jewish man. What does that mean? All three of those bring a bullseye. How have you navigated your life?

MT: I came out at 16 in the school newspaper. So boldly. My biggest ingredient is vulnerability. I realized at some point that life is only as scary as you let it be. I even had to come back to my 16 or 36-year-old self and remind myself who I am and not to look back. Stop being afraid. Stop letting things block you. 

It helps with food too. You gotta be willing to put yourself out there. I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

DD: What is your next book?

MT: I’m working on a book for Phaidon Press. It’s a cookbook Bible of the American South. I want to write a book on the food of the great migration.

DD: You were the first Black author to win the National Jewish Book Award in 2023 for your book – “Koshersoul.” Talk about that.

MT: A sista from Uganda won also. Her name is Shoshana Nambi. She won for her children’s book. It’s a blessing to have a Jackie Robinson moment. It feels good. You understand that you gotta keep that door open.

‘Michael Twitty Presents: A Koshersoul Pop Up,’ May 15, 5:30-10:30 p.m., $165, Post & Beam, 3767 Santa Rosalia Drive, Los Angeles. Both of Twitty’s books along with his signature Spice Tribe blends will be available for sale.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at