A Chef’s Life—the award-winning PBS documentary series centered on the cooking traditions of eastern North Carolina and largely staged in host Vivian Howard’s The Chef and the Farmer restaurant—ended last year after a successful five-season run. But fans have something to look forward to in early 2020, when South by Somewhere, a new six-part series from the creator of A Chef’s Life and starring Howard, airs on PBS.
“Vivian and I felt like we had done a pretty good job of covering of eastern North Carolina through A Chef’s Life,” says Cynthia Hill, the show’s creator. “But the South is a very large region, and we felt strongly that we needed to tell a more comprehensive and complex story.”
Howard and Hill, who both grew up in Lenoir County, about seventy-five miles from the Triangle, hope to explore the history of Southern food through a loving yet brutally honest lens, sampling regional staples like dumplings, pepperoni rolls, and collard sandwiches while challenging oversimplified concepts and tracing each food back to its origin. In one episode, Howard travels to Charleston, where she tries grits and rice middlins made by respected Gullah chefs who have upheld the West African tradition of rice cultivation for over a century.
“People think that shrimp and grits just magically appeared in the Low Country, but when we look at different incarnations of porridge, we can trace it back to the rice trade, back to enslaved Africans,” says producer Shirlette Ammons. “They were not simply brought here for their physical labor, but for their knowledge in growing rice.”
South by Somewhere will be tied to Howard’s life—she’s also friends with most of the chefs and home cooks featured on the show—but, in contrast with A Chef’s Life, Howard and her restaurant are no longer a focal point. Instead, the show will use Howard’s relationships as a starting point to take a deeper dive into each dish, then examine how they came to be, how they unite cultures, and how they function today.
Support independent journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.