Take a road trip every week and discover hidden gems across the South right from the comfort of your living room couch.

By Rebecca Angel Baer
October 09, 2017

Make a Monday night date with your TV or set your DVRs because Cooking Channel's new show is all about what we love the most—Southern food. The new offering from Food Network's sister channel, Southern and Hungry, pairs up Food Network Star winner Damaris Phillips and TV Personality Rutledge Wood for an epic journey across the South celebrating our beloved cuisine. In what Wood described as a culinary "buddy comedy," the two travel state to state in Wood's wife's 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser exploring off the beaten path eateries and the people behind the food.

Watch just five minutes of this show and it's hard to miss that these two are contagiously joyful and share a genuine love for the history, food and people of the South. Both grew up here. Phillips, known for her winning turn on season nine of Food Network Star as well as other Food Network shows, Southern at Heart and The Bobby and Damaris show, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Wood is new to the Food Network and Cooking Channel audience but a long time fixture on screen for NASCAR fans. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Wood moved to Peachtree City, Georgia as a teenager and now is most notably recognized for his zany, lovable, feature stories that have been a long time staple for NASCAR focused broadcasts. When not paling around with Phillips, Wood is still at his day job with NBC Sports where he's branched out from just NASCAR to also bulking up the network's coverage of the biggest sporting events worldwide, including the Kentucky Derby.

It's also easy to see that the pair get along swimmingly, but it's a relatively new friendship that formed in the most unexpected of places. Phillips and Wood spoke to Southern Living about their new show, how the pair met and their infinite love for the South. Both are separately friends with Food Network mega star, Guy Fieri and they found themselves sitting next to one another on the same judges' panel for an episode Guy's Grocery Games.

"I commented on his shoes, I said nice shoes and he said oh yea you like these? You can customize your own shoes. So then I knew I liked him because what kind of weirdo customizes his own shoes? And then I immediately got on and made a pair for my husband," Phillips recalled with a chuckle.

Wood, better known for his trackside commentary than his culinary expertise, surprised folks on set with just how much he understood the food world. Wood explained that while the game is in play, the judges are constantly chatting amongst themselves about the choices the contestants are making and show producers took note.

"Halfway through they were like oh, you kinda know what you're talking about with all this food stuff and I was like yeah, I like to eat!"

That wasn't all Executive Producer Guy Fieri and Food Network Executive Brian Lando noticed while watching Phillips and Wood during filming.

"Guy and Brian Lando were watching and said oh those two weirdoes are kinda good together and so they asked us to talk about the south and we started talking about the south and we started talking about food and voila!" Phillips said.

That pretty much was it. The discussions about creating a show began right then and there. Southern and Hungry was developed as an idea that Phillips and Wood wanted to showcase the area of the country they love so very much.

"I try to explain to everybody, like we travel a lot outside of the South for work and that's great but whenever I talk about the South I find that so many are fascinated and also totally don't understand it. So I think that for me the most exciting part is getting to introduce everyone into the Southern lifestyle and what it means to be from the South," Phillips said.

She continued, "I think, watching Southern and Hungry {the thing} is that you don't have to be from the South to be Southern…It's more about the decision to have the compass of your life be pointed towards connecting with people and family and community. And, of course, whenever you're doing that, whenever you get a bunch of people together, we're always eating."

The newly minted friends road trip across the South and in this inaugural season will visit The Neon Pig in Oxford Mississippi for burgers, tackle the giant fried chicken and waffles at Lunchbox Eats in Memphis, Tennessee, and indulge their greatest BBQ desires at Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina—to name a few.

Wood hopes that in addition to sharing these off the beaten path culinary pit stops, that he and Phillips can be messengers of the stories behind the food and that part of what makes Southern food so mesmerizing is the great amount of love you know went into making it. The men and women Phillips and Wood meet in their travels each have a rich backstory to explain why they do what they do.

"Either because of love from a parent and their love of cooking and providing or it's {the memory of} a grandmother who expressed her love through {cooking} those things. We are so lucky to get to share some of that love and I hope that's what comes through," Wood said.

Phillips noted that as the season progresses they will take time to honor the traditional places that made the South known for food but that there is more to the story than the past.

"The other great thing is that we have balanced everything with what the story is now. There is a whole new generation of people coming in and making food in the South. It's fun and exciting, and it's a total throwback to how we were all raised but with our own twist," Phillips said.

They also hope that viewers will watch the show and feel like they were just another pal, in the back seat of that Land Cruiser, along for the ride.

Hopefully…they feel like they've gone with us, feel connected to the places and then go jump in their car and go places too. Because it's great to travel. Yeah it's awesome to fly but man, when you slow it down in a car, when you have all that time to hang out, when you have roadside attractions, when you stop at weird places, when you find treasures at a yard sale and then in the end get to go have a delicious meal and discuss those travels together. That is real magic," Phillips said.

Don't miss Southern and Hungry, Monday nights at 10pm EST/9pm CST.