Topic: Culinary

Photo of Michael W. Twitty

Michael W. Twitty

Two-time James Beard Award-winner, Michael W. Twitty talks race, culture, food, faith, history with an extra pinch of truth. Gay, Jewish and Black, Michael embodies diversity and intersectionality. His latest book, KosherSoul, drops in August 2022.

Appearances

 
Amazon
Github
Harvard University
Jewish Alliance
Salesforce
Southern Food Alliance
Yale University
Toyota
 

Speaking Options

Kosher/Soul?: Black-Jewish Identity Cooking

Being African American and Jewish is for many a combination that many can’t wrap their heads around. However, for thousands of Jews of color; having heritage, faith and family in both Diasporas—African and Jewish—and their many intersections means creating material, social and ideational lives that interweave identities and histories. For Michael, this includes food and the ways Black and Jews have mediated otherness and oppression using what they eat as well as the global stories Diasporic foodways have to offer. Join Michael on an exploration and a taste of what he calls, “Koshersoul.”

From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Amplification: Our Next Steps as a Society

Since the emergence of the second phase of the culture wars, no phrase since “reverse racism,” has so much ink been spilled over like “cultural appropriation.” Join Michael for a lively dialogue defining what appropriation is and is not, and how we can advance this complex and emotional conversation in ways that empower and push our society to a more nuanced inclusivity. 

The Cooking Gene: Tracing My African American Story Through Food

For African American culinary historian Michael W. Twitty there was a giant hole in the story of American cooking as big as the one in the story of most African American families. Putting the microscope on himself, Michael decided to fully trace out his family history through the story of Southern and American food. Using genetic research, historic interpretation, nature study, heirloom gardening and interviews with contemporary voices in food, his journey led him back to his family’s origins in West and Central Africa and a front ring seat in the debate over race and food in American life.

The Price of Hyper (In)visibility: Being Gay, Black, and Male in America

From Lil Nas X, to Empire, from Ru Paul to Pose, Black gay men have never been more hyper visible in American culture and yet Black gay men are still facing unique struggles and challenges that are unique to their diverse journeys. Join an actual Black gay man, openly gay author Michael W. Twitty for a discussion on the dichotomy between visibility and invisibility and slow acceptance. Learn the history of Black gay men in America and take a peek at solution points for a brighter future for the LGBT community and beyond.

From a Haunted Plate: Becoming an 18th and 19th Century Black Chef

Michael takes you on journey through the practical arts of food sourcing and cookery through the lens of a colonial or antebellum era African American cook. He will take the audience from lecture to discussion on the ways that traditional West and Central African food traditions met and melded with each other, those of indigenous peoples and Western Europe and then morphed over decades into centuries. Michael discusses the history of the cuisine as an extension of the foodways of Africa in early America with emphasis on the cooking techniques, cultural transformations, and flavor principles unique to this translation of Western cuisine by early African American chefs.

You Don’t Get to be 400 By Being Stupid: The Genius of African American Culture

Black culture in America endures a constant tug of war in the court of public opinion between hype, marvel and hypervisibility and being seen as a detriment, a pathology or degradation. Worse, some don’t really believe there is a Black American or African American culture. Join Michael for an exploration of seven secrets to the endurance of African American civilization and how those will be building blocks for the future. What has African American culture been? Where is it going? 400 years after the tragic beginning at Jamestown, Virginia; let’s have a birthday party for Black America celebrating its cultural resilience and rootedness. 
 
Culinary Justice: Defining a Theory of Gastronomic Sovereignty

Michael W. Twitty HeadshotFood justice, social justice, environmental justice, food sovereignty—and entire language has developed around how we want to see and live in a better world where fairness and right action prevail. In an extension of these concepts, Michael has begun to promote his notion of culinary justice—the idea that historically oppressed peoples have a right to authority, sovereignty, prosperity and acknowledgement in their contribution to national and global foodways. Join Michael for a lively discussion to explore the way the preparation of food unites and divides out narratives and how we can use it for the good.

Selected Media

Film Teaser – Michael’s African Culinary Journeys

London (England)

On Roland Martin:

On PBS NewsHour

Michael’s Genetic Reveal (Stagville Historic Plantation, N.C., USA)

Press

Testimonials

Michael (3rd from right) with Toyota Executives at Toyota’s HQ in Plano, TX (February 2020)

“He blew us away! We never have students stay behind to talk with a speaker like they did with Michael. Thanks for everything!” – Philip Ackerman – Leist, Faculty and Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project , Green Mountain College (VT)

“Michael was an absolute joy to have on our campus. The crowd was very engaged I had many people approach me after the event talking about how much they learned. I even had someone state that this was the best event they had seen on our campus! Michael was an absolute joy to work with and very gracious throughout the process. I learned a lot from him and his truth was more than I could have asked for in a speaker.” – Anneliese Wilson, Speaker Event Coordinator, Cultural Events Board, University of Colorado (Boulder)

“Michael’s dynamism drew together people from many backgrounds, and his energy to engage with everyone he met was boundless.  He was able to take on difficult issues such as race, the legacy of slavery, and continuing discrimination of our own time in ways that encourage thoughtful participation from the audience. Michael’s confidence and perseverance in pursuing his mission of historical justice for the contributions of African Americans is truly inspirational.” – Maria Kennedy, Folks Arts Coordinator, The ARTS Council of the Finger Lakes (representing Corning, NY engagements including Corning Community College and Corning, Inc.)

“Michael’s event was an absolute hit. All the students and community members had a fantastic time.” – Lazarus Fellow at Yale’s Sustainable Food Program (CT)

“I just wanted to take a moment and let you know how pleased we were with Michael’s recent Kosher Soul presentation to Beth Israel.  We all loved the personal nature of his stories. He captivated the room from the moment he took the stage and his hour and a half presentation seem to go by in five minutes. I believe everyone in the audience would have stayed and listen to him speak for another hour and a half.  He generously stayed afterwards to make sure everybody’s questions were answered. The consensus was that the event was a homerun and I believe some in attendance were so impressed they will be reaching out to you to book him for other groups.  Thanks to you and him for making this event a huge success.” – Scott Nawy,  Beth Israel Congregation

“Michael’s visit to Shippensburg was outstanding! One faculty member said it was one of the best, most memorable visits for a speaker that he could remember. Students reported that they really enjoyed working with him in the kitchen and that is was a truly unique experience. His talk was also well attended and my students got a great deal out of it. We were still talking about it in class almost a week later. His morning session turned out to be quite well attended also, and he had a great discussion with students.  His overall theme really resonated with the students – reflecting upon the nature of food, our alientation from what we eat in a fast-food society, and the importance of recognizing and taking pride in foodways and traditions.  Our new Director of Social Equity was hoping that speakers brought to campus by the Black Heritage Committee would become more than just a one night event, but might inspire action that would have a lasting impact. I think Michael’s visit did that.”  – Dr. John Bloom, Associate Professor, Dept of History and Philosophy, Shippensburg University (PA)

About Michael

Michael W. Twitty is a recognized culinary historian and independent scholar focusing on historic African American food and folk culture and culinary traditions of historic Africa and her Diaspora. He is a living history interpreter and historic chef, one of the few recognized international experts of his craft—the re-construction of early Southern cuisine as prepared by enslaved African American cooks for tables high and low—from heirloom seeds and heritage breed animals to fish, game, and foraged plant foods to historic cooking methods to the table. Michael founded www.Afroculinaria.com, the first website/blog devoted to the preservation of historic African American foods and foodways. He has conducted over four hundred classes and workshops, written curricula and educational programs, giving lectures and performed cooking demonstrations for groups including the Smithsonian Institution, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Carnegie-Mellon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Library of Congress, the Association for the Study of Food and Society, and Oxford University’s Symposium on Food and Cookery. He has been profiled in the Washington Post and Washington Prost Magazine, the New York Times, Grist, PittsburghPost-Gazette, Cuisine Noir, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Jet Magazine, Ebony.com, and other periodicals. He has also been interviewed multiple times on NPR including the acclaimed food program The Splendid Table and Poppy Tooker’s Louisiana Eats. In 2013, he made several major appearances on television connected to his work including Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, PBS’ Time Team America, and Many Rivers to Cross with Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Michael was one of 20 people selected globally as a 2016 TED Fellow (you can hear his talk here). His book, The Cooking Gene, won two James Beard Awards in 2018 for Food Writing and Best Book and his piece in Bon Apetit, I Had Never Eaten in Ghana Before. But My Ancestors Had was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award and was selected to be included in The Best American Food Writing 2019. In 2020, The Cooking Gene was named #2 on Book Authority’s list of the Top 60 food books of all time. Michael’s next book, Kosher Soul, is available on pre-order here.

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Alan Bergo

James Beard Nominee (2022) Alan Bergo is The Forager Chef, a wild hunter of plants. His stories of foraging in the woods teach us about innovation, nature, food, and our humanity.

Speaking Options

Foraging for The Win: The Final Frontier of Ingredients 

This talk is ideal for culinary professionals including culinary students, chefs, and the food service industry

The culinary world devours new ingredients. Obtaining those that others can’t easily locate is a competitive advantage for chefs and restaurants. Alan (the “Forager Chef”) takes you on a journey into the cutting edge of the culinary world—literally the final frontier of ingredients that he, a handful of chefs, and wild food authors are shedding light on including wild herbs, like kinome and galium, extremely obscure vegetables, like angelica and cow parsnip blossoms,  hyper seasonal parts of plants we never knew we could eat, like the shoots of squash, unripe pumpkins, and young elm seeds, and a legion of leafy green plants history has forgotten. Alan shares stories of how he began to forage and the processes he went through serving his unique finds in restaurants. He shares the challenges, including sourcing, the cycle of wild food harvesters that inhibit chef access, and how we might break those cycles to share these things with the world.

The Grocery Store Outside: The Food We Overlook

This talk is ideal for those interested in farming/growing,  including restaurants/bars

There is a world of food at our fingertips that we overlook and take for granted on a daily basis. With our current food system relying on conventional agriculture, we need to look at every angle we can if we’re ever going to attempt to feed more people with less inputs. A byproduct of searching for the finest ingredients for his restaurants was that Alan discovered the virility and extreme volume with which some particular plants grow, plants that are at our fingertips, and under our feet. We harvest corn and soy, but what if there were products we could harvest up to six times a year? It’s possible, and you don’t need a hobby farm to try out Alan’s ideas! A wide variety of people and organizations: community gardens, small farms, vegetable growers, restaurants/bars, thrifty eaters, vegetarians, and locavores will find great takeaways in this talk.

Consulting (Corporations and Restaurants)

Alan, a well trained chef who specializes in the bounty of foraged foods, is available for consulting also.  Fill out the form below to inquire.

Selected Media

Tastemade – Foraged+Found

Alan Bergo on the Today Show (2021)

Alan’s segment is the latter half of a story on Blue Zones. Click to view the full Today Show video.

Forager Brings Mindfulness to the Kitchen

The Wild Harvest: Early Spring

Testimonials

“Alan is my Yoda. He taught me everything I know about the kitchen, and the wild.” – Jeremy Bechtold, Executive Chef: The Happy Gnome, St. Paul MN

“Few chefs have the sort of culinary and field experience Alan does.”  – Samuel Thayer, Founder of Foragers Harvest and Wildwood Products. Author of The Forager’s Harvest, Nature’s Garden, and Incredible Wild Edibles

“When the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture asked me to sit on a task force to help author the statewide certification class for wild mushroom foragers, sellers and buyers, my first call after accepting that appointment was to Alan. I asked him to join me on the task force since I felt his superior knowledge would be valuable to the process. He didn’t disappoint.” – Chef Leonard P. Russo seven-time James Beard Nominee and Former Executive Chef/Owner of Heartland Restaurant, St Paul, MN Author of Heartland: Farm Forward Dishes from the Great Midwest

About Alan

Alan Bergo is the Forager Chef, a leading authority on culinary uses of mushrooms and plants. Thousands follow his work at Forager | Chef – a website dedicated to wild food seasonal cooking and kitchen industry life – for tips on how to maximize what is available to us via the woods (and our backyards, too). The website started as a journal and evolved into a mycelium-like network of wild food authorities and mushroom hunters from around the world.

A Midwestern native, Alan worked for 10 years under Italian chefs and then served as sous chef to Lenny Russo at St. Paul’s 7-time James Beard nominee Heartland. He led two restaurants as executive chef of the Salt Cellar and then at farm to table cornerstone Lucia’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He is a consultant on everything from foraging for unique restaurant menus to how mushrooms can be used for wild things like grain-free starch fabrication and even as a condiment.

Alan’s work has been featured in various print and visual media, including REI Coop, The Today Show, FOX, The Daily Beast, Heirloom Gardener, Experience Life Magazine, The Growler, The Heavy Table, Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, and Women’s Health.  2021 book titled “Forager Chef: Flora” is a study in rare and forgotten plants, herbs, vegetables, and culinary techniques is already in its 4th print run!  In 2022, Alan was nominated for a James Beard Award for Instructional Visual Media for his online show, The Wild Harvest.

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Meherwan Irani

A repeat James Beard Award nominee, Meherwan Irani is a storyteller as much as a chef, restaurateur, and food entrepreneur. His story is one of great risk and commitment, radical creativity and success, all starting with a huge leap of faith to open his first restaurant, Chai Pani, in 2009.

Speaking Options

Recruitment & Retention

How organizations can build great teams that last, and how we’ve done it for nearly a decade.

The Importance of Company Culture

What does it mean and how do you articulate and implement it in a way that feels meaningful?

Inside out: Why should a dishwasher have any less access to information than the CEO? Structuring organizations differently.

What’s the reasoning behind transparency, and why does it matter? How a simple change in the way we share information and knowledge can make employees feel empowered and engaged.

Embracing the Change: How to create a work environment where people aren’t living in insecurity.

We all know that most people are naturally afraid of change. Why? Most change in real life is exciting and looked forward to, so why are people afraid when it happens in a company? How do we shift that perception and make change exciting?

Thinking Differently: Why best practices are the worst

If you keep doing what everyone wants you to do, you sound like everyone else. How do you break out of that cycle?

How to make it easy to be a customer

How to gain customer loyalty and make people instinctually return.

Making India cool, one restaurant at a time 

Just like there’s no European food in Europe, there’s no Indian food in India. The first time Meherwan had Indian food was when he came to America. He was shocked and he vowed to change that. The story of Chai Pani.

How well are you telling your story? Use your brand, culture, and your background in an engaging way.

No matter what your business is, you have to tell your story. Hear it from Meherwan‘s perspective. 

Selected Media

Testimonials

Coming soon!

About Meherwan

Meherwan Irani is the CEO, Co-founder + Executive Chef of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group. He grew up in the mid-western state of Maharashtra in India and came to the United States at age 20 to earn an MBA. In 2005, he moved with his family to the mountain town of Asheville, NC to start a new career in the real estate development business. In 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession, Irani quit his day job to open his first restaurant – Chai Pani, a groundbreaking Indian street food eatery in downtown Asheville, NC. The self-taught chef’s current line-up includes Chai Pani Asheville, Chai Pani Decatur, MG Road, Buxton Hall Barbecue, Spicewalla, Nani’s Chicken, and Botiwalla. His restaurants and recipes have been written up in the New York Times (including NYT’s 2021’s “50 places we’re most excited about right now”), Wall Street Journal, GQ, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, USA Today, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Local Palate, and Bon Appétit, among others. Chai Pani has been named as one of the Best Indian Restaurants in America by multiple publications and Buxton Hall Barbecue was named by Bon Appetit as one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America. He’s been nominated three times for a James Beard Best Chef South-east award, and has been credited with redefining Indian food in America. But his proudest accomplishment is the groundbreaking culture and management style he and his team have developed and are being recognized for. He advises and consults within the restaurant industry and is a frequent speaker on growth, vision, and culture at industry conferences and panels including the Wall Street Journal. He credits his company’s success to the amazing people he works with each day, especially his business partner and wife, Molly.

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Ashley English

Eleven food books, a Southern upbringing, and a sociology degree make Ashley English who she is; a food personality with a unique perspective.

Speaking Options

No Taste Like Home

In this talk, author Ashley explores telling your personal culinary experiences and journey through your cookbook or menu. Using examples (and tastings when possible!) from her book Southern From Scratch, which showcases how her culinary upbringing informed and shaped the cook she am today. She’ll discuss ways to imbue dishes with both literal and figurative, personal flavor. 

So You Want To Write A Book?

Ashley guides you on the journey of creating a book concept, pitching it, working with agents versus being unaffiliated, recipe development and testing (where relevant), and more. She’s learned many helpful steps to catching an editor’s attention along her 11 book journey and she generously shares what insider tips have stuck, and what hasn’t, along the way. 

Recipe Development (aka What’s Your Flavor?)

Ashley invites you to more deeply explore the process of recipe writing. Having authored 11 food-based books, she’s learned quite a few tips and tricks for crafting recipes that are original yet personal, innovative yet familiar. This talk is geared not just for those interested in writing cookbooks of their own, but also for getting out of “safe” culinary ruts. 

Breaking Bread

For centuries, people bonded over food—building long-term relationships based on a need to collaborate in order to grow, harvest, and preserve food. Today, the easy access to food has eliminated the need for those relationships, leaving us with one less reason to interact. In this talk, Ashley discusses how eating together has the power to create scientifically proven social bonds, engender community preservation, and serve as a form of diplomacy.

Using Food as a Catalyst for Memoir Style Writing
This talk is ideal for those food professionals that enjoy writing as much as they enjoy cooking. We’ll discuss ideas for creating and nurturing food-based first person essays, articles, blog posts, and more, and ways to get out of food-writing ruts.

Press

Selected Media

Ashley on Whole Foods – Dark Rye 

Ashley on Wassail – A Holiday Toast

Ashley’s Book Trailer: Handmade Gatherings

Testimonials

“In a time when origin and heritage are finally enjoying the culinary spotlight, Ashley English emerges from the sweet hollars of Southern Appalachia as an honest and refreshing voice. You’ll find no truer heart and account of what it means to reject, embrace, interpret and celebrate the kitchen we come from. As a mountain girl myself and working in the TV food industry, I see many iterations of this new brand of home cook, but y’all, take notice — Ms. English is the real deal.” – Selena Lauterer, President, Artemis Independent

“As one of the leading local voices on food, Ashley combines a unique message with a relaxed stage presence and an articulate delivery of her thoughts. She is both charming and informative. She attracted a big crowd as the keynote speaker for one of our events in 2018 and wowed the audience with ground-breaking thoughts on our relationship with food. Can’t wait to have her back for an encore!” – Tennille Tracy, Publisher, Edible Asheville

About Ashley

Ashley English is the author of 11 books, including all 5 books in her “Homemade Living series” (Canning & Preserving, Keeping Chickens, Keeping Bees, Home Dairy, and Home Apothecary), as well as A Year of Pies, Quench, Handmade Gatherings, A Year Of Picnics, The Essential Book of Homesteading, and Southern From Scratch

She has worked over the years with a number of nonprofit organizations committed to social and agricultural issues, hosted a bimonthly column for several years in the popular blog Design*Sponge entitled “Small Measures with Ashley,” is an ongoing contributor to the quarterly publication “Taproot,” and regularly contributes to a number of international, national, and regional print publications. She has been a frequent guest on Martha Stewart Radio on SiriusFM.

She regularly teaches classes on topics such as chicken-keeping, bee-keeping, canning & preserving, pie-making, creating dairy products, making homemade health & body care items, and crafting homemade beverages.

She holds degrees in holistic nutrition and sociology, and is an alumnus of both The University of North Carolina at Asheville and Clayton College of Natural Health. She lives in Candler, NC with her husband Glenn, their young sons Huxley and Alistair, and a menagerie of animals. You can follow along with Ashley’s writings at Small Measure.  

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Vimala Rajendran

Vimala is an award winning (accidental) chef, community activist, domestic abuse survivor, immigrant, mother and grandmother. She’s got a lot to say about triple bottom line in business.

Speaking Option

People, Planet and Profit: Living Your Values in Business

Vimala Rajendran is a chef and restaurateur who deeply believes that we grow our community by engaging intentionally in the farm to fork process and living our vision of creative resiliency. She proudly states that food is a human right and her business motto is “Vimala cooks, everyone eats.” No one is ever turned away at her restaurant – yet she still makes a profit. Her business, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, prioritizes worker, environmental, and social justice; accessibility through affordability; and sustainability at every level. Her award winning restaurant, founded rather unexpectedly in 2010, pays a living wage. Their producers and investors are local, and their long-term goals are about transforming the local economy. They source produce and meat from nearby family farms; organize their workplace around joy and liberation; honor the land and our relationship to it; and practice interdependence with other organizations and small businesses with whom common values are shared. The idea to be a triple bottom line business came naturally to Vimala, given her mission to be sustainable on every level possible.  The three areas they focus on are people, planet and profit.  The people they are committed to caring for include the farmers who grow the food, the hands at the back of the house that prep the food, and all the others who contribute making the food come to the table and the guests who come to their business to eat. They pay the farmers a fair price for the food, pay the workers fair wages, and have some benefits like flexible hours, allowing staff with kids to be home with their families at dinner time, offer paid sick days and vacation. Care of the Planet Earth is honored by intentionally reducing waste. Vimala composts all food waste, utilizing all edible parts of vegetables and fruits by trimming off as little as possible, which keeps food costs down. The restaurant is mindful to keep an eye on making a profit.  This is surprising to some of their supporters and that is understandable because they are so thoughtful in everything done for the community’s farmers, workers, and guests. Vimala’s presentation takes us on a journey from India to Canada to the US – telling the story of a woman’s path from memories of her mother cooking, immigration, domestic violence, liberation and how she ultimately became a triple bottom line business owner. Her story teaches us  the power of ethical business and intention in our work – and that profit CAN be attainable through this model.

Selected Media

 

Testimonials

“Vimala is a warrior, builder, and weaver all rolled up into one.  She fights for women, immigrants, workers, and anyone who wants to participate in the culinary world.  She builds community one meal at a time, sharing and teaching people not only how to make beautiful food but how to run a business that centers on equity and inclusion. She weaves together people, ideas, and practices, connecting us to her story, her community, and her food. ” – Alice Julier,  Founding Director of Food Studies, Chatham University

“We sure enjoyed having you with us for our chef training during spring break!  You were terrific to work with… both during the planning process and during the training itself.  I am so glad that I’ve come to know you!” – Administrator, Oberlin College

“You are such a great role model to women everywhere.  I really enjoyed hearing about how you saw your challenges as opportunities’ to grow and try new things. Also it is so inspiring that you call the US home after not being recognized as a citizen.  You are AMAZING!” – Student, St. Mary’s School (Private High School)

About Vimala

Vimala Rajendran is one of several Swarm speakers this year.

Vimala Rajendran grew up in Mumbai, India where she learned to cook from family, street vendors & friends. In 1994, a single mother of three, Vimala started cooking donation-based community dinners in Chapel Hill, North Carolina home. Sixteen years later, in 2010, thanks to the support of our beloved community, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was born. Despite being an “unexpected chef,” her restaurant has won the Best Indian Restaurant in the Triangle (beating out all Indian restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary) for 9 years and best chef in 2018 and 2019.  She is an immigrant, survivor of domestic abuse, community activist, social entrepreneur, mother of three and mentor to countless people.  

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