The chef, restauranteur, and author joins us on Biscuits & Jam.

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Vivian Howard
Credit: Baxter Miller

About Biscuits & Jam:  In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.

Season 2

Episode 7: May 11, 2021

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Stitcher.

Vivian Howard is an acclaimed chef from North Carolina, and thanks to her hit PBS program, A Chef's Life, the first woman since Julia Child to win a Peabody award for culinary broadcasting. Over her career, she's found that the ways Southern food traditions are passed down–or even kept secret– are just as important as the food itself. The five-time James Beard award semi-finalist, Vivian Howard is also the restaurateur behind Chef & the Farmer, which opened in 2006 in the little town of Kinston, North Carolina, and has remained one of the most influential and celebrated restaurants in the South. Another PBS show of Vivian's is Somewhere South, a culinary exploration of how Southeast Asian, Hispanic, and other communities are redefining Southern food.

On Where She Found Her Passion for Cooking

"Growing up, cooking was not something that was a source of enjoyment in my house. But we certainly all loved to eat. You know, that's how we socialize. That's how we share. When we're eating one meal, we talk about what we're going to eat for the next. My maternal grandmother was a very good cook, but she had no interest in having me in the kitchen with her. She was no nonsense – in there to get a job done. I really came to cooking as a means to turn that experience into a career in food writing...And so it was kind of like kismet that I landed in this restaurant in New York City's West Village as a server...And I thought maybe I can pursue this dream of writing through something else I also love, which is food. I started working in the kitchen because of that, and just found that I liked being in a kitchen. I liked the camaraderie of it, working toward a common goal. I liked making stuff with my hands and I was good at it. And, you know, we all keep—like to do things we're good at."

On Her New Book: This Will Make It Taste Good

"This book is really different from Deep Run Roots, which, I think, from my perspective, was a love story about the food and ingredients of eastern North Carolina. And this is really a lighthearted, fun book that is meant to kind of reshape the way you work in your kitchen."

On Her Famous Nachos                                    

 "One of the really fun things about the book, is that I gave everything a name. So Nacho Normal are nachos that have cauliflower that's been cooked with community organizer on them. And the idea was inspired by my first book tour. We took a food truck around the South and for nine weeks we served about 400 people a day. I had this very elaborate menu planned that we were going to try and cook all. And one weekend I was like, this is not working. This is too much work. And we're blowing through this food in a way that is wild to me. So I thought, let's figure out how we can feed people and have them feel excited about it, but let's make it easier on ourselves… One of the things that we were planning on serving, but we were blowing through was Tom Thumb sausage. I thought, OK, let's make nachos, let's make Tom Thumb nachos… But, I had never made nachos before. Everyone was looking to me to be the nacho chef because I was the chef. I put our first round of nachos together and it had six layers. More is more is more until it's really not. So, I had a very sharp learning curve with the nachos. And that's what this recipe and This Will Make It Taste Good is about. It tells that story and gives you the appropriate ratio for building nachos."

On Her Show Somewhere South

 "Making that show was really a dream come true. I had made five seasons of a Chef's Life and I was so fatigued by my own story that I really wanted the opportunity to turn the lens outward and learn about the cultures and communities in my backyard, which is the American South. It was all loosely based around this idea that I've discussed with my editor over the years, which is, that there's really only about 20 dishes in the whole world. And every culture has their hand pie, their way of cooking grains, their way of cooking over fire, their pickle. We all eat the same things. So that was the guiding principle around Somewhere South. And I knew that going into it, but I didn't know how it would manifest itself."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Stitcher.

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