Vivian Howard launching new PBS series, while guiding restaurants through economic downturn

Vivian Howard, chef and award-winning host of "A Chef's Life", is launching a new PBS series

LENOIR COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Vivian Howard is back. Nearly 18 months after ending her award-winning PBS show A Chef’s Life, Howard is launching a new six-part series called Somewhere South, which premieres Friday, March 27 on the same network.

Somewhere South is kind of like an evolution of A Chef’s Life,” Howard said from her headquarters near Kinston in Lenoir County, NC. “Every episode of the series is about a dish that every culture shares. I had this thought several years ago that there is really only about 20 dishes in the whole world, and wouldn’t it be cool to show how those dishes transcend across cultures, and then do to it specifically in the American South. That experience kind of shows how the American South is just a microcosm of the rest of our nation.”

The first episode centers around hand pies, a staple in many families for generations. It takes her across North Carolina and West Virginia to learn more about different takes on the same sweet treat.

"Every culture has a hand pie,” she says. “Hand pies are a dish that kind of stands for convenience. They came about or evolved so laborers could go out in the field or into the factories or down in the mines and have a hand-held, easy to eat, convenient snack or light lunch. But the interesting thing about hand pies that we learned is that while it’s meant to be convenient for the person eating it, for the person making it, it’s really a labor of love.”

Somewhere South features the same successful team responsible for A Chef’s Life, Howard and director Cynthia Hill. They both won awards for A Chef’s Life, which itself won a Peabody Award in 2013 and Daytime Emmy in 2018. Howard won the 2016 James Beard Broadcast Media Award as Best Host, and Hill won a Best Directing Emmy in 2015.

“There was nothing like it on TV,” Howard shares. “It was a very intimate look at my personal and professional lives told through the lens of eastern North Carolina food. We had a huge following. But I wanted to be like Seinfeld. I wanted to end it while were still on top, and really take a broader look at what southern food is today. I just decided I couldn’t do a chef’s Life anymore, and I knew what I wanted to do, and I’m very bold-headed like that.”

Being successful has not made Howard immune to economic pressures created by the current coronavirus epidemic. As the owner of three restaurants, Benny’s Big-Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, along with Chef & The Farmer and Boiler Room Oyster Bar in Kinston, Howard said she had to furlough 120 employees because of the downturn.

“We had thought we'd be able to do a lot of take out and curbside delivery and bring some people back from that,” she says. “But, it's become really clear that I don't know how long we can do that. I don't know what the future of our restaurants will be. I think the restaurant industry unfortunately will look really different when we come out of this, and I'm just trying to find the positives in all of that and, I don't know."

Howard is no stranger to rebuilding after disasters. Having owned some of her dining establishments for as long as 14 years, she has brought them back from devastating damage caused by hurricanes and fire. But the challenges presented by the virus outbreak are new and unknown, faced by restaurant operators around the world.

"There's this weird kind of comfort in this situation because we're all going through it together,” she said. “In those situations, it very much felt as if we here in eastern North Carolina, were having to do it all by ourselves. While this is a much larger problem, we’re all in it together."

Somewhere South, Howard’s new PBS series, premieres Fridays, March 27-May 1, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video App.

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