NC chef Vivian Howard will return to TV with a new PBS series, ‘South by Somewhere’

Vivian Howard is back.

The acclaimed chef and television host will return to PBS early next year with a new show, “South by Somewhere.”

The six-part series by Markay Media and director Cynthia Hill explores the ways Southern food intersects with the cuisines of other cultures, featuring the interconnectedness of dumplings, of rice, of hand pies. The stories that make their way to the plate — journeys of love and sometimes pain — show more connections than divisions, Howard said.

“With ‘South by Somewhere,’ our overall mission was setting out to use food as a vehicle to show that we’re more alike than we are different,” Howard said in a phone interview. “I think we did that in ‘A Chef’s Life,’ and we do that here on a broader scale that’s more inclusive of North Carolina and other parts of the South.”

“A Chef’s Life,” Howard’s previous show, ran for five seasons and picked up just about every award out there for a food docu-series, including a Peabody, a James Beard Broadcast Media award, individual Daytime Emmys for Hill and Howard and the crown jewel, a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Culinary Program.

The show celebrated the foodways of Eastern North Carolina, where Howard grew up, while tracking the rise of her Kinston restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, into one of the South’s dining destinations.

“A Chef’s Life” documented North Carolina’s food bounty, from tomatoes and okra to oysters and rutabagas, as Howard and her family added a new Kinston restaurant, The Boiler Room, and she wrote her first award-winning cookbook, “Deep Run Roots.” It ended last fall.

For something of a second act, “South by Somewhere” aims to take a wider view, exploring how the ingredients and traditions of Southern food connect elsewhere.

“Shooting ‘South by Somewhere’ has made me look at what we call Southern food with a new set of spectacles,” Howard said in a release. “The home kitchens I learn in, the stories I hear people share, the food I watch them make — it has lit a fresh fire under me. I’m excited that, as Southerners, we can tell these complex stories through food and culture, and not shy away from our past or present.”

“South by Somewhere” is scheduled to premiere with six episodes in PBS’s winter/spring season next year. While “A Chef’s Life” focused on one ingredient per episode, the new show will feature one dish’s role in multiple cultures. Howard said there’s a dumpling episode, a handpie episode, a pickle episode and more.

“We are thrilled to have Vivian Howard back on PBS, in her signature fashion, meeting chefs, farmers and friends along her journey to rediscover the American South,” said Pamela A. Aguilar, senior director of programming and development at PBS, in a release. “’South by Somewhere’ is an exciting addition to our slate of programming that will explore rich food traditions and diverse cultures across America.”

Vivian Howard holds up a bitter melon while shopping at an Indian grocery store in Cary. Her new PBS series, South by Somewhere, documents the foods of a changing south. Josh Woll

Howard and Hill grew up not far from one another in rural Lenoir County, and over the course of “A Chef’s Life” told dozens of stories documenting food’s role in society and North Carolina culture. With “South By Somewhere,” Hill said they aim to trace those influences even further.

“Vivian and I grew up in this very rural, very small, very particular place in the South,” Hill said in a release. “In ‘South By Somewhere,’ we want to challenge oversimplified concepts about the South, but also push ourselves to tell the story about our region’s history and present with a loving yet critical eye — through food, always through food. And as someone who grew up here, I can learn something, too.”

Howard has a documented disdain for much of food television, infamously offending executives from the Food Network in a meeting when “A Chef’s Life” was first being shopped around. Now, with a trophy case full of her and Hill’s brand of storytelling, Howard feels like they’ve helped move the conversation of what it means to make food TV.

“I think we’ve had a tremendous impact on what food television is today and the form it’s starting to take,” Howard said. “People are just as interested in the stories behind the dishes. They’re interested in honest storytelling that’s vulnerable. People are starting to realize that vulnerability is really appealing. Not everything has to be a competition cooking show to be successful.”

“A Chef’s Life” averaged 4 million viewers per episode, but “South by Somewhere” could go beyond that. It will be a national PBS series, shown in primetime on every station, while “A Chef’s Life” aired in whatever time slot station programmers preferred, and sometimes not at all.

With this wider platform, Howard said the series will showcase the diversity of the South, one stitched together from many different somewheres. Those stories are told through food, from the collard sandwich of North Carolina’s Lumbee Tribe, to West Virginia’s pepperoni roll, to a kimchi lesson with Durham chef Michael Lee, his mother and mother-in-law.

“It’s really about the origins of Southern food and where we all come from, because each of us came here from somewhere else,” Howard said.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.