John Martin Taylor, also known as Hoppin’ John, is an American food writer and culinary historian, best known for his expertise on the cooking of the American South, and, in particular, the foods of the lowcountry, the coastal plain of South Carolina and Georgia. The New York Times referred to him as “the lowcountry food maven” in a 2006 travel article about Charleston’s culinary scene. He is often credited with restoring many traditional southern dishes, and he advocated the return to stone-ground, whole-grain, heirloom grits and cornmeal production. Gourmet magazine said of Taylor in a March 2006 article: “Artisanal food supplier and cookbook author John Martin Taylor…fueled the back-to-the-stone-ground-grits movement…. Taylor’s coarse grits and more finely ground cornmeal are used as polenta from Puglia to Puget Sound.” Charleston Magazine named Taylor one of the city’s Top 100 Most Influential people in its 337-year history: “Before Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking was published in 1992,Charleston cuisine was unfocused. Thanks to Taylor, we took pride in our produce, seafood, biscuits, and sweet tea. And foodies of the world agreed.” In an article that originally appeared in The Atlanta Journal, the culinary historian Karen Hess is quoted as saying, “I don’t know of anyone who has done more for Southern cookery.” The author of the article added, “Taylor has a Capote-esque acid wit, boyish charm and all-consuming passion for food that has won the writer a faithful following.”
Taylor was born in Louisiana, but moved to the similar terrain of the South Carolina lowcountry when he was 3. The son of scientists, he spent much of his youth aboard the family’s boats. His mother was an adventurous cook and cookbook collector and his father was a wine lover. He earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Georgia (UGA) in 1971. For several years he freelanced as a photographer, and in 1977 he earned a Masters in Film, also from UGA.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Taylor lived in the Caribbean, Paris, and Genoa, Italy. In 1983 he joined the nascent staff of the French-language magazine, Ici New York, as their American Liaison and Food Editor. He has written for The New York Times, Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, The Washington Post, Country Home, The Journal of Gastronomy, Gastronomica, Fine Cooking, Copia, and Cooking Light.
In 1986, Taylor opened his culinary bookstore, Hoppin’ John’s, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. He had begun researching the culinary history of the area after interviewing the scholar Karen Hess on the history of Thanksgiving. In 1989, Charleston was struck by Hurricane Hugo. Taylor wrote his first book in the year that his business was closed for repairs. He was instrumental in forming the downtown farmers’ market in Charleston, where he sold stone-ground grits and cornmeal. When he reopened the store, he expanded it to include a cooking school. He closed the storefront in 1999, but continues to sell his corn products online.