ARLINGTON, Va. — Celebrity chef, author, and restaurateur Vivian Howard, who previously hosted the award-winning series "A Chef's Life," returns to PBS in a new six-part series, "Somewhere South." A culinary tour exploring the dishes that are uniting cultures and creating new traditions across the American South, "Somewhere South" premieres Fridays, March 27-May 1, 8-9 p.m. CST (check local listings) on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.
With "Somewhere South," Howard serves as both student and guide, exploring cross-cultural dishes through the professional and personal relationships she has with Southerners of many backgrounds. Each episode examines the connectivity of a single dish — from dumplings to hand pies, porridge, and more — and the ways people of different cultures interpret that dish while expressing the complex values, identities, and histories that make up the region. Along the way, she meets new friends and teachers, and discovers “how breaking bread and sharing a meal can create a comfortable place to have meaningful, memorable conversations.”
With each episode, Howard finds that although we’re different, our appetites are very much the same. She explores hand pies, the original convenience food that workers could take into coal mines, factories, or fields, and its various iterations — from applejacks to pepperoni rolls to empanadas. A discussion with Korean American chefs leads to the realization that while they all understand what a dumping is, they can’t define it. She takes a deeper look at the funk and acidity of pickles, discovering that they’re not only a way to preserve food, but culture and traditions as well. She learns the unexpected ways that meat can be smoked, pit-cooked or wood-fired, and how traditional barbecuing techniques are being reinvented by Japanese American brothers in Texas who pair brisket with bento boxes, and sisters who add a Tejano touch to their barbecue joint menu. From the Carolinas to Kentucky, Georgia to Mississippi and beyond, "Somewhere South" explores the unique people and delicious foods that bind and define the new American South.
The full schedule and episode descriptions are below:
Series Premiere: “American as Hand Pie” (Friday, March 27, 8-9 p.m. CST)
Vivian explores the original convenience food — hand pies — the filling and mobile pockets that workers could take into coal mines, factories or fields. Her desire to mass-produce hand pies inspires her to revisit the applejacks of her youth. The first stop is the North Carolina company whose sweet treat fed thousands of mill workers and now lines the shelves of convenience stores and gas stations across the Southeast. She visits West Virginia’s coal country for a taste of the pepperoni rolls originally made by Italian immigrants and packed into coal miners’ lunch pails. A romp around her home state of North Carolina offers Vivian the opportunity for a deep dive into the world’s most popular hand pie — the empanada.
Episode 102: “Porridge for the Soul” (Friday, April 3, 8-9 p.m. CST)
Vivian heads to Charleston, South Carolina to cook a special dinner honoring the late pioneering African American chef Edna Lewis and learns how rice gave the port city a distinction within the tragic history of slavery. Vivian gets the chance to learn from chef BJ Dennis, a champion of Geechee and Gullah cuisine found on the barrier islands off South Carolina’s coast, and sits down with a group of African American chefs and food writers to herald the unsung, foundational contributions African Americans made to Southern cuisine. In Savannah, Georgia, chef Mashama Bailey shows Vivian her decadent take on another porridge — rice middlins. During a visit to Edisto Island, just south of Charleston, Vivian meets Emily Meggett, the matriarch of the Edisto Geechees, who serves up a traditional dish cooked on her wood-fired stove — crab grits.
Episode 103: “Dumpling Dilemma” (Friday, April 10, 8-9 p.m. CST)
While cooking a charity dinner with Southern Korean chefs, Vivian spins out her version of French gnocchi to be served alongside Asian dumplings descended from the Chinese royal court tradition. During a discussion, the chefs realize that while they all understand what a dumpling is, they can’t actually define it. On a quest to solve that conundrum, Vivian visits long-standing Chinese communities in the Mississippi Delta and gets a complicated history lesson over dim sum. She learns more about dumplings in Jackson, Mississippi, from generations of Jewish women who make matzoh ball soup. Further exploration leads Vivian to her favorite Italian-style dumplings in Durham, North Carolina, where she gets a lesson in dough-rolling and forming. She also revisits one of her classic comfort food memories back home — chicken pastry. The dumpling, in all its folded and filled or doughy glory, resists easy definition and invites a revealing look at communities that further broaden common perceptions of what it means to be — and eat — Southern.
Episode 104: “What a Pickle” (Friday, April 17, 8-9 p.m. CST)
Vivian is tapped to give a lecture on the wide world of pickles at the first-ever Chow Chow Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. Her turn as a pickle professor sparks a deeper look at the funk and acidity that pickles bring to most meals, and how they make a belly-filling bowl of rice or grains so much more delicious. While in Asheville, Vivian tastes an array of Indian pickles with the chefs behind the Brown in the South dinner series, a collaboration among chefs of Indian and Southeast Asian descent. Vivian ventures to Lexington, Kentucky for a pop-up dinner featuring Sri Lankan pickles, gets a lesson on how to make Puerto Rican escabeche and sees how chow chow is made in the hollers of eastern Kentucky. She returns to North Carolina for a friend’s family kimchi-making session. Across all these meals, Vivian discovers how pickles are a way to preserve not only food, but people’s culture and traditions.
Episode 105: “It’s a Greens Thing” (Friday, April 24, 8-9 p.m. CST)
Vivian is invited to the Lumbee Tribe’s annual homecoming celebration held in southeastern North Carolina. There, she is introduced to their famous sautéed collard sandwich, quite different from the long-stewed pot of collards she grew up eating only about 100 miles away. Her lessons with the Lumbees — the largest American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi — prompts a discussion about the origin of Southern hospitality. Vivian takes a trip to Clarkston, Georgia, known as the “Ellis Island of the South” for welcoming thousands of refugees. There, Vivian meets a group of Burundi refugee farmers who grow crops that remind them of home, including cassava leaves, which they sell at an Atlanta farmers’ market. Also in Clarkston, Vivian meets teenagers whose families fled Southeast Asia and now grow roselle in a community garden. She’s invited to share a meal with both the farmers and the teenage gardeners to see how they cook their greens. Back in North Carolina, Vivian gets a saag paneer lesson from friends in Cary, home to one of the most populous Indian Asian communities in the Southeast. Whether stewed or sautéed, pounded or stir-fried, Vivian sees firsthand what it takes to make a good pot of greens.
Episode 106: “How Do You ‘Cue?” (Friday, May 1, 8-9 p.m. CST)
On a tour of eastern North Carolina barbecue joints, Vivian is reminded of traditions that define the area’s version of pork barbecue while being introduced to new techniques. Flipping what she already knows about ‘cue, Vivian sets out to uncover buried histories and learn about the unexpected ways different types of meat are smoked, pit-cooked, wood-fired and eaten. We learn that barbecue — both the food and the verb — cannot be pigeonholed into one definition. Starting from the whole-hog pits in her figurative backyard, Vivian explores the history of Black barbecue entrepreneurship, from the North Carolina families who started turkey barbecue to the women firing up pits in Brownsville and Memphis, Tennessee. Curious about other iterations, Vivian travels to the west coast of Florida, where a storied “Cracker” history at a smoked mullet festival drastically changes her perspective on Southern ‘cue. In Texas, robust barbecue techniques steeped in tradition are being morphed by longtime families doing what they know best. A pair of sisters in tiny San Diego, Texas add a Tejano touch to their barbecue joint menu, and two Japanese Texan brothers with a smokehouse pair brisket and bento boxes.
"Somewhere South" is produced for PBS by Markay Media in association with member stations South Carolina ETV and UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina, with support from the ETV Endowment of South Carolina. The series has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. "Somewhere South" is created by Vivian Howard and Cynthia Hill with Howard also serving as a producer and Hill as the series director. Pamela A. Aguilar serves as the Executive in Charge for PBS.