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A taste of Gullah

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The language of food may be universal, but the accent is not.

Laura Herriott of Sandy Island hosted chef Michael Twitty in her kitchen this week for a meal of fried chicken, cabbage and red rice. Twitty is a writer, cook, culinary historian and historical interpreter who has made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., by taking soul food kosher as a nod to his conversion to Judiasm.

Twitty said he enjoys being in the home kitchen with someone who cooks in her own way. Herriott asked the chef if he used sausage in his red rice, but he heard the word “sauces” and said, “of course.” Eventually, they had a good laugh with Herriott blaming the mix-up on her “French” dialect.

Twitty came to Sandy Island to take in some Southern authenticity. “I interpret how African-American enslaved people of color cooked between the late 17th and mid-19th centuries,” he said. “For the most part that has not changed.”

Twitty calls his ventures from Washington, D.C., Southern Discomfort Tours to uncover overlooked, under-appreciated, and sensitive historical truths. “To my fellow African Americans,” he wrote on his “Afroculinaria” blog, “we complain a lot when sites and shows and movies and the like don’t reflect our history or experience. We want them to tell it like it is, but many of my colleagues have complained that so often we don’t empower each other to tell our own stories.”

Herriott found him “pretty cool” and mildly curious. The chef didn’t want to leave without tasting the gumbo she made for supper. She took him fishing in the afternoon. Twitty had never seen a live fish. She had two nibbles, but, alas, both fish slipped off the hook, another historical truth uncovered.

“We have to go where people are,” Twitty said, “not so much to learn the new but to really get to the heart of the old.”

Twitty also took the opportunity to visit Hobcaw Barony — he was invited by senior interpreter Lee Brockington at a conference — and was filmed at Friendfield Village for the ongoing ETV project, “Between The Waters.”

Twitty said he had read “Down By The Riverside” by Charles Joyner, an exploration of black culture on rice plantations in All Saints Parish. “It was heartwarming and a privilege being welcomed here,” he said, “being able to see where things happened. You can read these books, but until you go where things happened and see with your own two eyes, you can’t bear witness.”

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