A warm February sun beams through the skylight above the entry hall of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. On most Sundays, the building is bustling with Baltimoreans exploring various Jewish history exhibits, but today the smells of sautéed vegetables waft through the halls instead.
Stationed at a table looking out at an audience of about 100 people, Michael W. Twitty, a culinary historian who is both black and Jewish, wears a knitted black kippah, a Jewish head covering, while preparing the first of several dishes for a cooking demonstration he calls “Kosher Soul.”
Twitty often travels to historic homes and plantations to prepare food much as people did in the 19th century, but today he is demonstrating his culinary talents with dishes that fuse his African-American and Jewish identities to coincide with the museum’s exhibit on Jewish cuisine.
The setup is not that different from what you would find on a cooking show, just without the cameras—or the bacon. Twitty shares stories about his childhood in the Deep South as well as the Jewish culture he’s come to embrace while he sautés his vegetables. He says that he came to his adopted faith through food and that how and what we eat often connects our identities.
Audience members, mostly women, many Orthodox Jews, peer forward as Twitty cooks. For his first dish, he delicately prepares a recipe that perfectly combines his two identities: pastrami and collard green spring rolls. Why spring rolls, you may ask?
“Blacks and Jews may not agree on many things,” Twitty explains, as he mixes the meat and the greens, “but the one thing we do agree on is Chinese food.” —Justin Snow
Ever since Gordon Ramsay, host of FOX’s Kitchen Nightmares, was spotted around Hampden’s Café Hon in November, inquiring minds have been waiting for an episode featuring the controversy-dogged eatery to air.
Around noon on February 24, they got their wish, as the full episode, set to air that night, was leaked on Ramsay’s YouTube channel. The show opened by misidentifying “Hampden, Maryland” as “a proud community located just outside of Baltimore,” and, for Café Hon owner Denise Whiting, things got worse from there. Ramsay literally picked apart her food, calling it “disgusting,” while the employees were harsher, calling her “a rude bitch,” among other things. Things turned around near the end, as Whiting gave back her “Hon” trademark and re-vamped the restaurant, but still, it was a harrowing hour.
Those same inquiring minds now turned to a new question: How would Whiting react to the show? If they guessed, “By holding a viewing party at Café Hon,” they’d be right!
At 8 p.m., a packed house watched a big-screen TV set up for the occasion in slack-jawed horror, as Whiting took her lumps—some from the waitresses who were now passing out the crab cakes. For her part, Whiting, who has traded in the pink chef’s coat she wore on the episode for a black sweater, flits around the restaurant during the viewing—telling some patrons that the depiction on the episode was “not really me.”
As the episode reaches its happy conclusion, so does an awkward evening at the Hon, as employees huddle in group hugs. Patrons file out, many carrying home the remains of dinners they couldn’t finish because of the spectacle on display inside.