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The Three Books That Inspire Food Writer Lazarus Lynch

“The Son of a Southern Chef” author connects to the works of James Baldwin and Michael W. Twitty

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Cover of James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.”
Monica Burton is the deputy editor of

In just the last few years Lazarus Lynch has established himself as a food personality. He’s appeared on — and won — Chopped, hosted a cooking show on Snapchat, and published his first cookbook Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul this past June. He’s currently working on another cookbook and an album (Lynch is also a musician).

Naturally, Lynch has a deep appreciation for cookbooks. When he was a high school intern at the Food Network, he made frequent trips to the Food Network library, presided over by editor Jonahthan Milder. “I would sit at his feet and just say, ‘Jonathan, show me all the books. Show me what I should be reading right now,’ and Jonathan would literally send me piles of books,” he recalls. “That environment really cultivated within me a desire to not only write a cookbook, but to have a larger appreciation for cookbooks.”

But the books Lynch considers most fundamental to his career offer a mix of cooking and culture, and speak to all sides of his identity.

The book that got him cooking

“One of my first cookbooks was a Bon Appétit cookbook by Barbara Fairchild. It was a collection of around 1200 recipes. It was a gift that I received when I graduated high school — the first cookbook that was gifted to me. It really opened my eyes to all kinds of recipes. My other curriculum had been culinary textbooks in school, and it was the first time I had actually started to cook from a book. It’s still something that I go back to every now and again.”

The book that speaks to his roots

“I love James Baldwin; he really has given our culture a lot to think about. His work, along with Dr. Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde, are works that I go back to that anchor me in who I am, anchor me in black studies and African-American legacy, black excellence.

Notes of a Native Son, the essay, is one that really speaks to me. I had a very good relationship with my dad and in the essay Baldwin speaks about his dysfunctional relationship with his dad, but also his relationship to the outer world and how his dad, in a way, symbolized his relationship with the outside world, which was complicated. It gives me a lot to think about and chew on. And that’s just one James Baldwin work that I think holds a lot of power in my life.”

The essential book that combines cooking and culture

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty is so raw and truthful. As someone who has family from the South, whose heritage is from the South, and who has seen this world of Southern, soulful cooking, that book has been super eye opening into the importance of history and the importance of understanding the South and keeping the legacy alive.

“That book came into my life, probably about a year ago, but I didn’t pick it up until a month ago. Michael is a living historian and we need people like him. He traces the genesis of food trends and food ways, but in a way that has also been provocative and modern and confrontational and very, very Twitty. He has an in-your-face approach and delivery that wakes people up. I appreciate that.”