Food & Drink

Preview Vivian Howard’s New Show

Everyone’s favorite Southern chef is returning to television early next year, but you can see a snippet of South By Somewhere now

Photo: Baxter Miller

Vivian Howard visits a rice field in Georgetown, South Carolina, with chef B.J. Dennis, an expert in Geechee/Gullah culture and foodways.

With A Chef’s Life, Vivian Howard invited viewers to see how a culinary pro balances the professional and the personal from her home base in rural Deep Run, North Carolina. Over five seasons, the show built a following of millions and collected a pantry full of accolades—Emmys, Peabody Awards, and James Beard Awards—before signing off last fall. Now, for her next TV act, Howard is hitting the road. In South by Somewhere, which will debut on PBS stations nationwide early in 2020, Howard travels the region to find the common threads that bind such dishes as hand pies and dumplings across the South—and beyond. 

Why do another show? “I guess it’s like a drug,” Howard laughs. “I learned through A Chef’s Life that I love storytelling. It’s been an enlightening journey for me, and I wanted to evolve the narrative of A Chef’s Life and do something new. I am really interested in why we eat what we eat and how our environments and our life experiences determine that. Several years ago, I had this conversation about how there’s really only twenty dishes in the whole world—every culture has their own version of a dish like porridge. I thought studying those dishes would be a great way to move toward the goal of showing how we’re all more alike than different through food.” 

Photo: Josh Woll

Vivian Howard holds up a bitter melon while shopping at an Indian grocery store in Cary, N.C..

On the show, Howard’s journeys take her into restaurant kitchens and home kitchens alike. In North Carolina, for example, she samples the collard sandwich, a staple of Lumbee Indian cuisine, with native Lumbee home cooks. In West Virginia, she gains first-hand experience with pepperoni rolls by judging a roll-eating contest. “That was… something,” Howard says with a chuckle. “But the cool thing we learned is why the pepperoni roll exists—it’s an American adaptation of an Italian snack that was shaped by work. A housewife decided one day that she was going to wrap a roll around the pepperoni so that her husband could take it into the coal mines, and he could eat with one hand conveniently. That’s how many of our work foods, like hand pies, came to be. And that really gets to the core of what we’re trying to show.”

Photo: Josh Woll

Chef Mashama Bailey talks about grits and the cuisine of the Golden Coast with Vivian Howard at Bailey’s restaurant, The Grey, in Savannah, Georgia.

In South Carolina, she visits a Georgetown rice field with chef B.J. Dennis, an expert in Geechee/Gullah cuisine, then travels to Savannah for a sit-down with chef Mashama Bailey, of The Grey, drawing the connection between rice middlins and traditional hominy grits. “Our whole team is really proud of and inspired by the way that episode—the porridge episode—is shaping up,” Howard says. “As someone who grew up in the South and thought she understood a few things about slavery and our history and how the economy of the South was built, especially in the South’s port cities, this was really eye-opening for me. I’m excited for people to see it.”  

Check PBS for broadcast dates. And for now, enjoy this preview.