Vivian Howard and Cynthia Hill share the spotlight at the 2014 Peabody Award Ceremony. (Credit: Peabody Awards)
Vivian Howard and Cynthia Hill share the spotlight at the 2014 Peabody Awards Ceremony. (Credit: Peabody Awards)

Home is where the heart is, and for celebrity chef and North Carolina native Vivian Howard, it’s certainly where the food is, too.

Two years after Howard’s Peabody-winning cooking show, A Chef’s Life, ended, PBS has announced that Howard will star in a new six-part series, South By Somewhere, released in the winter or spring of 2020. The South, which served as the backdrop to A Chef’s Life, will also be the destination of Howard’s new show, this time with a slight change of recipe.

“Shooting South By Somewhere has made me look at what we call Southern food with a new set of spectacles,” Howard says of the new show. “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.”

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In future episodes, as Howard treks through the South exploring and tasting staple dishes, she takes a slice of culture with her. In North Carolina, Howard samples the collard sandwich, a staple of Lumbee Indian cuisine; in West Virginia, she tastes the pepperoni roll, a regional convenience food that dates back to coal mining. In South Carolina, she eats grits and rice middlins and talks to Gullah chefs about Charleston’s history-(and sodium)-rich food. From the PBS press release: “With each episode, Vivian finds that although we’re different, our appetites are very much the same.”

South by Somewhere will be produced by Markay Media, which is owned by award-winning filmmaker Cynthia Hill. It’s Hill’s and Howard’s second collaboration — they worked together on A Chef’s Life as well — and with their combined cooking and homegrown experiences, they look forward to stirring the pot with a fresher take on the Southern food scene.

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“Vivian and I grew up in this very rural, very small, very particular place in the South,” Hill says. “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.”

Howard’s successes teach future chefs — or any apprentices of the entrepreneurial trade for that matter — to stick with what you know. What makes this series different from others like MasterChef or Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, however, are the leading ladies on and off-screen. Created, produced, and directed by Howard and Hill, the series also benefits from the supervision of Pamela Aguilar, the PBS executive in charge of the show.

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With her largely female entourage, Howard is “subverting the expectations of what food television can and should be like,” as one food critic put it in her review of A Chef’s Life. “Traditionally, women on food TV are chained to a marble island in a large, well-appointed home, cooking a meal for their families in tightly-edited, half-hour bites…but Howard frees herself from the kitchen and goes out into the world, just like the men would.”

Consistently named one of the best chefs in the South, Howard continues to run a lucrative chain of different restaurants sprinkled across North Carolina: the Chef & the Farmer restaurant, Boiler Room Oyster Bar, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, and a mail-order bakery called Handy & Hot. She is also the author of the award-winning cookbook, Deep Run Roots.

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