‘Somewhere South’ – Common foods expressed in different ways
Vivian Howard was ready to move on.
After five seasons hosting and producing her Peabody and Daytime Emmy Award-winning culinary/documentary series “A Chef’s Life,” about the ups and downs of running an upscale restaurant in her rural community, the Kinston, N.C.-based chef realized her interests had evolved and wanted to try something else. She also wasn’t all that crazy about putting her personal life on camera.
Which is what led her to create “Somewhere South.” Premiering Friday, March 27, on PBS (check local listings), the six-part hourlong series sees Howard taking a culinary tour of the changing South to find the dishes that connect us all – be they noodles, hand pies, dumplings or porridges – though expressed differently in different cultures. Along the way, she learns new things and discovers how sharing a meal can create a comfortable place where meaningful conversations can take place.
Among the places she visits are Charleston, S.C., where she samples grits with rice middlins made by Gullah chefs; North Carolina, where she tries the collard sandwich, a staple of Lumbee Indian cuisine; and in Friday’s premiere, West Virginia to learn how to make the pepperoni roll, a hand food popular with local coal miners.
“Pepperoni rolls are an American adaptation of a snack in Italy or Sicily,” Howard explains, “where a lot of the coal miners in West Virginia came from. And so they settled in Fairmont, W.Va., and because they needed to go down in the mines and have lunch, housewives were packing up rolls and sticks of pepperoni. And some ingenious housewife one day decided to roll up the pepperoni in a roll and bake it and it became really West Virginia’s ubiquitous dish.”
“I had lots of friends in West Virginia and they would come back from spring break with just trays of pepperoni rolls,” she continues, “And I had never heard of it but as a teen living in a dorm, I was like super into it, so I had this connection to the pepperoni roll and really as a hand pie or the food of labor, the food of convenience.”
In another episode, Howard heads to Savannah, Ga., to sample another crosscultural staple, the local porridge. For this, she drops in on chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey, a converted bus station, to try its variations on the traditional dish.
“We all have a porridge,” Howard says. “Everybody has a noodle, everyone has a hand pie, everyone has a pickle. And so in the porridge episode, we really dig into grits as a porridge.”
“And so we tour her restaurant,” she continues, “and she makes a very humble porridge and a very elevated porridge. And we talk about how in the South and really like the United States over, chefs are taking very humble food traditions and exalting them and making them fancy.”