Vivian Howard’s New PBS Show Leads Viewers 'Somewhere South'

Mar 26, 2020

Chef Vivian Howard explores the history of southern cuisine in the new PBS show she hosts, 'Somewhere South.'
Credit PBS

After filming five seasons of the Peabody award-winning series, “A Chef’s Life,” Vivian Howard has the cameras pointed in a different direction — this time, away from her. While she is the host of her new show, “Somewhere South,” her role is more like that of a food ethnographer. 

She delves into the histories of common dishes found in cultures around the globe — from porridge to hand pies — and she introduces her viewers to the Southern chefs who are preserving the legacy of their ancestral foodways. Along the way she participates in difficult conversations about race and cultural identity, always over a plate of hot food. Host Anita Rao speaks with Vivian Howard and Shirlette Ammons, a member of the show’s production team, about expanding the definition of Southern food to include cultures that have long been ignored, dismissed or appropriated. "Somewhere South" premieres Friday, March 27. Check here for local listing times.

''These foods had their own function— feeding a lot of people and stretching out a dish so that it could last for the duration of a work day.''

Interview Highlights

Howard on the idea that sparked the show “Somewhere South”:
 I'm really fascinated by this idea that there are only 20 dishes in the world. Every culture has a noodle. Every culture has a flatbread. Every culture has celebration food. I was like: I should write a book about that [with] all these versions represented within the chapters. And [my book publisher] was like: I don't really think you're the person to do that. And he was right— this one time. But I was still really fascinated with the idea of it and learning about the way the dishes we share present themselves and evolve based on where we live.

Vivian Howard works on perfecting her applejacks in her Kinston, NC kitchen.
Credit Courtesy of Somewhere South

Howard on the labor history behind hand pies:

[The idea behind a hand pie was] You could have one hand that was clean-ish [to eat with] and one hand that could be working. Whether that be like an apple hand pie in Winston Salem or eastern North Carolina, or a pepperoni roll in West Virginia or an empanada in South America, all of these hand pies represent the same thing. In my journey of learning to make them fast, it became very clear that there was labor on either end of the hand pie: the person making it put in a lot of labor for the person eating it—who was out in the world laboring.
 

''The South is a microcosm of the rest of the nation. And our food is just that.''

Ammons on balancing Howard’s platform and privilege with the stories of the diverse guests:

For people to feel comfortable sharing their stories, it has to be a first-person account of that story. So making sure Vivian was always really, really thoughtful and making sure that she wasn't taking stories out of people's mouths and giving people the platform to share their own story. I think in that sense it kind of reimagines the idea of a “host.” And the idea that just because this show has Vivian's name on the tagline, it certainly isn't all about Vivian. And for her to be comfortable with that, I think, speaks to the moment we're living in and the conversations that are happening not only in food, but about ownership and appropriation.