Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 year ago

WB S1E7: Ron Block & Kristy Woodson Harvey with Vivian Howard

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' Block: Ron Block & Kristy Woodson Harvey celebreate National Grilling Month with famed chef, entrepeneur and restaurateur Vivian Howard

...wow, that's those are some big questions right there, there's a big one. We can break them down, we can break them down. Welcome to the Friends and Fiction Writer's Block Podcast, five new york times, bestselling authors, one rock star librarian and endless stories join mary Kay andrews, Christine, Harmel, Christie Woodson, harvey patty Callahan, Henry mary Alice Munro And Ron Block. As novelists, we are five longtime friends with 85 books between us. I am Ron Block, I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating author interviews along with Insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Friends and fiction podcast is sponsored by mama Geraldine's bodacious foods. Cathy Cunningham was a successful but unfulfilled radio executive in Atlanta one night while sipping wine and snacking on expensive cheese straws. She realized her mama Geraldine's own tree straw recipe was far superior. The idea for Cathy's company was born Mama Geraldine's cheese straws now come in six varieties and they are the best selling cheese straw in the US plus the cookies are melt in your mouth, delish yummy snacks and a woman owned empire. Now that's something we can really get behind and friends in fiction. Try them. You'll be glad you did get 20% off your online order with the code. Fab five. Mhm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Welcome to another episode of Friends and fiction Writer's Block Today we're going to celebrate National grilling month with none other than the...

...amazing Vivian howard chef and entrepreneur. She is known as an award winning restaurateur, television personality and cookbook author grilling and barbecuing are very personal and extremely regional. So we cannot wait to dive in and talk to Vivian about her cookbooks, her background, her restaurants and her favorite barbecue and grilling tips. I am Ron block and I'm Christi Woodson, harvey one of the five authors of Friends of fiction. Before we begin our conversation, let me tell you a little bit about this eastern north Carolina superstar for the deeper. A north Carolina is the youngest daughter in a tobacco and hog farming family. Vivian Howard's upbringing was steeped in the southern food traditions of her neighbors. After college, Vivian moved to new york to work in advertising, but soon transition to the city's food and restaurant scene. Vivian homes, her culinary skills in the kitchens of some of new york's most esteemed restaurants and trained under some of the most cutting edge chefs. Since then, she has returned to her roots back in north Carolina and began an empire where she has opened restaurants, become a noted television host and published two cookbooks, deep run routes and this will make it taste good. Welcome Vivian and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Thank you for having me. Oh, I am so excited. I've been a big fan for a long time. There's so much to talk about here. Let's start with your career trajectory. Can you tell us about your path and how you got where you are today? Just the overview since and since we're talking about grilling and barbecue. Can you give us an overview of your home regions approach to it? Wow, that's those are some big questions right there, there's a big one. We can break them down, we can break them down well. So I grew up here in eastern north Carolina and a little farming community called Deep Run. I always wanted to leave like as early as I can remember and nothing was wrong. I just wanted to leave. I understand. Yeah, I wanted to live in a city I wanted to walk somewhere other than to the car. So I I went to boarding school. I went to N. C. State.

I moved to new york. I wanted to be in in media I wanted to be in news, I wanted to be a journalist and I could not really get a job doing that. And so I started working in advertising and was really unhappy and then fell back into something that I've done through college To raise spending money. I started waiting tables and I happened to end up in a restaurant that in 2001 the concept of the restaurant was southern food via Africa. Which is something that you know we very much Talk about a lot today but in 2001 it was really not on the tip of anyone's tongue. And so that was kind of you know, like a big turning point for me. II saw for the first time food as uh story as history, as a part of me and my trajectory. And so I wanted to, I still wanted to be a journalist. So I started working in the kitchen at this restaurant for free during the day before my shift as a server on the floor at night and as a means not to become a cook but as a means to become a food writer. But then I found that cooking was much easier and a lot easier to get a job. At least it seemed easier in the moment and I was good at it and I liked making stuff and with my hands and so I just kept doing that. And then my my boyfriend at the time now husband and I started a suit business where we delivered super around the city. That was like an email thing started also before its time. And that was sort of successful. And then my parents offered to help us open a restaurant here anywhere in north Carolina, they said, and I thought wow Ashley would be cool. Rolly would be really cool. And it really turned out to be anywhere inside this 10,000 square foot building they had already purchased in downtown kinston. So...

...that's how that started. We ran chef and the farmer for like three years. I still wanted to be a journalist. I still wanted to be a storyteller and I pitched the idea of making this documentary about the dying food traditions of eastern north Carolina to my childhood friend Cynthia Hill, that became a chef's life. A chef's life gave me the opportunity to write my first book, Deep run routes, which is about the food traditions of eastern north Carolina. Deep run where I live now, where I grew up and now I can't even really tell you what I'm doing. Yeah, well I'm in from a distance I'm going to or from a distance, uh, going back to barbecue just a little bit. You did an episode on somewhere south where you visited different pit masters and kind of explore the whole east Carolina barbecue tradition. Can you tell me how that was and what that was like? Yeah, that was so incredible. So somewhere south, every episode was about a dish that every culture shares. And so we had an episode on greens, we had an episode on dumplings and our final episode was barbecue and it was by far the most fun to shoot. We got to do a snapshot of eastern north Carolina barbecue, which is something that we is one of our pride points here in this region of the state. You know, when it's done the best, it's whole hog and it's over wood. And so we got to go to to two places in eastern north Carolina that do some version of that one was SIDS and viewable and they, they really have the best barbecue chicken that that is out there right now in my opinion. And then we also went to skylight in here, which is whole hog pork barbecue barbecue chicken is something that, you know, when you grow up in eastern north Carolina, you don't eat like whole hog barbecue every day or even every week. It's very much celebration food, but chicken is something that we would have more frequently and it's the most profound food memory I have of my youth is this...

...ritual every saturday morning where this man that I think my dad money and in lieu of paying the money, brought us three BBQ chickens every saturday morning and put them on our kitchen counter. And I slept in the room next to the kitchen and it was like the smell of smoke and vinegar and char is was better than bulgers in your cup. I guess I'm with you, I'm with you, I am so hungry now because I mean that chicken, yes, and people would do it for like fundraisers and things. Always. Like my dad would come home with these big styrofoam containers of this barbecue chicken and I just remember how it smelled and tasted and the vinegar and uh, it's so, so good. So well, as we all know, cookbooks are obviously a really great way to tell a story about a region or a cuisine or even a person and I think you're probably best known for being a chef, but you have said and you sort of indicated here that writing is a real passion of yours and you know you have written these incredible, incredible cookbooks that not only give us recipes, but they also really tell a story about this region and about you, which I think is really incredible. So you sort of gave us a little bit, but can you kind of give us like a deeper dive into your journey to publishing your first two books? Yes, so I when a chef's life started, several agents reached out to me and said you know you need a cookbook, everybody on tv cooking on Tv has a cookbook and that was like so dreamy for me because I had always wanted to be you know a writer and the agents said all you really need to do is like write a few sentences about what you want your book to be and we'll find you a writer and we'll help you and we'll find you a publisher. And I was like, well that's not really what I thought it would be like. And I did...

...this dinner, I cooked this lunch actually at this event in Oxford Mississippi for the Southern Foodways Alliance and it was like the big lunch of the year and I wrote, it was dedicated to the women in my life that made me the woman that I am or it was. And each of course I wrote a little snippet about that woman, my mother and my two grandmothers and then one course dedicated to my to me. And there was an agent at that event and he didn't even know I had a Tv show and he his name's David Black. And he approached me afterward and said, you know, this, this is beautiful. Have you ever thought about writing a book? And he chose him because he made me write a proposal and he believed that I could write the book. And that was not really the expectation, most like, television cooks don't do that. And most restaurant chefs don't do that, there's no reason we should expect that they would be able to. But he really guided me through the process of finding a publisher and I ended up with a little brown and an editor. You know, when you find a publisher, you really kind of choose an editor, at least that's what I was trying to do. Someone that I felt like I could jive with. And I chose this gentleman named Michael Sand and we started working together and I sent him my first chapter and it was like, you know, taking all your clothes off and walking naked through a room because I never really, I never really written anything for anybody and except for my proposal and they like that. And but this was like a fully formed chapter of a very out of the box cookbook that really involves memory and storytelling and using fruits and vegetables to tell the story of my life. And so, so it was like, you know, very, very vulnerable thing to send it to him. And like four days later he sent me a note back and was like, this is really interesting. And the pesto was very...

...lemonade and I was like, okay, great. And then two days later I got an email from him saying that he was leaving Little Brown and I took it was like, oh my God, it was so bad. He quit, got rid of them. It so that was that was stressful. But then I got paired with Mike's Urban, who's been my editor with deep roots and then this will make it taste good and has become a very close friend of mine, but it took me a long time to trust him. Like I wrote that chapter, I sent it to my first editor, he quit and then I basically wrote the rest of the book which was like 700 pages without sending anything to Mike Zevon because I just didn't want I wanted to get so far along that they couldn't change what I was doing. So I did and I don't know, it was a great experience. That's such an interesting point because I do think you have to really, especially when you're starting out, you really have to protect what you want to say, because it is really easy to get caught up in that like, well, you know better they've been doing this longer. And there is such an authenticity to both of your books that I feel like that really, really came through and I've been in that position of losing an editor and it's horrible. It's absolutely horrible. You feel like it's just it's like such a close relationship and you have to start over again. It's terrible. Well, especially in this will make it taste good. Well, both of your books, you really not only open up about your culinary secrets, but you shared a lot of really personal details about your life and some really vulnerable stories about the pressure that has come along with your fame. But even still, I mean, I feel like you have so many incredible ideas all the time and are just this sort of factory...

...of these amazing new ideas. And not only do you have them, but you actually go after them. And I think that's really incredible. And so I'm really interested in how you are able to just handle everything that you do, but also, you know, the nuts and bolts of it, but also maintain your creativity because I think sometimes it's easy to get so bogged down and what we're doing that we don't have time to step back and really think about what's next, What could be better, what could I do? What can really light me up today? So do you have any tips for people? Or maybe it's just something that happens for you naturally? I don't know, I don't think it happens for me naturally, creativity is my skin. It's like, it's like my survival, like this the way that I protect myself, it's the way that I get through difficult things. It's, you know, it's funny because I've been, I'm like starting a kind of a new, a new part of my like, culinary career and I was telling a friend yesterday, like, it's interesting, you know, I've always scoffed at this phrase, like, do something you love because it will never feel like work and like, like whatever I've always told people, like, if you love cooking, don't become a chef because once you become forever, but what I'm learning, you know, as I get further and you know, further down this road is that I think what that means is like, do something you love because if you love it, you'll find ways to evolve in it and through it and and and it can be it can be a consistent and you can change. So I I love learning new things about, about food and about cooking and I love creativity, keeps me saying, and um not the people around me, uh keeps your screen and makes them crazy, right? I...

...think ideas mostly our tears, right? When I say right into a room and I say, hey, I've got an idea like people don't, everyone, I it's like my phone's ringing. That's good. That's actually a great segue into what I want to talk about a little bit. And that's handy and hot during the pandemic. And this is where my fan dumb for you grew. I was a big fan of your handy and hot mail order during the pandemic. And I, I got community organizer, I got the little green dress, I got the red weapons and I experiment. I love the little cards you sent, but I kept thinking, this is brilliant marketing and then when your cookbook came out and I fell in love with that even more. I felt like I already knew it. But my favorite, I'll tell you is the pineapple, orange, cranberry, pecan honey rum cake. And I will post, I will post a picture that I still have pieces of that in my freezer. And I know I wasn't alone that did this because when I, whenever you would announce it within five minutes, everything was sold out. So you knew you had to, we had three people on it, get it, get it and we do it. So, but I want to know a little bit about how that came to be. And was that just kind of a pivot because of the pandemic? And how did you get through the pandemic? Well, so handy and hot. The online bakeshop started because we were gonna open a bait shop here in kinston, it was gonna be like coffee and baked goods and but I knew that we would never be able to like make a go of it just doing that in this small town. And so this mail order piece of it was always a part of it and then hurricane Florence came and just made it really clear for me that I didn't want to open another business like brick and mortar here then maybe forever. And but we had already invested all this time and energy in the branding and the ideation of it. And so we like flip the business model on its head and started this mail order big specialty baked goods thing, we're like Mother's Day, we'll make 500 of something and then just sell them and...

...then same thing rum cake was for christmas and that was what does, that was a really good rum cake and it's delicious, didn't it was like you know chef and the farmer has long been a destination restaurant and the takeout model didn't work for us nor did I really want to do it and I knew that we could reach more people more effectively like by mail order and I saw all these people like cooking at home and wanting to cook but wanting to have something to make it exciting and that and I was like in the process of finishing this book that was literally about that and like it seems so right to package these condiments and ship them and that was that energy and momentum and the creativity around that was really what got me through like a lot of and the revenue, what the first part of the pandemic and it feels like so long ago when you brought that up. I was like, wow, that happened. I know it feels a long time ago for me too, but it really wasn't. I remember getting the first handy and hot email and I happened to just be like, I didn't know that you were doing this and I happened to just be I was like on my computer, I was on my email, it popped up and I was like, I can't remember what it was, but I remember the first one was it was a mother's like coconut lime poundcake. Okay. Yeah, I was so excited about it and I saw it and I was like, oh my gosh, that's really gonna last like two seconds. And so I went on there right away and I sent a bunch to my publishing house and then I was like, oh my God, I didn't get one for myself. But of course, I mean, they were all gone and like, you know, and then I remember thinking how is she doing something else? Well, I don't do all this stuff. I know, but still, but you're you are at the helm of all of it and it's just amazing. It really is. I...

...mean it wows me, thank you. But I do want to, you know, so much about today's marketplace, is about how things look, and the branding around it and and how clever you can be and how, how you can curate something that looks like you and reflects the thing that you project, the thing that you want it to be. And that really, I I credit Baxter and Ryan really with all of that Baxter, Miller and Ryan Stansell, they have added so much value and, and smartness and millennial ish uh to my world. So I just had to credit them. No, they're amazing. Oh my goodness, they really are there. Y'all are the dream team for sure. Well, so just to pivot a little back to a chef's life, my five minutes of fame really came from the few second snapshot of me on your rice dinner episode and every time I'm not giving you, every time that episode airs, I will get this like flurry of emails from people being like, was that you, is that you on the show and it's so exciting and so fun. But I learned so much that night. I mean we were not really involved at all, we were just eating and chatting and having a good time, but it showed me how many hours you're shooting to create just a few minutes of content. So what we're watching on tv is not even close to what you're actually filming and anyway it just really surprised me. So when you got started, you know with being on the show and creating the show and making this vision come to life, did you have any surprises along the way? Okay well first of all Christie I'd like to say your five minutes of fame did not happen on my show like thank you new york times, bestselling author, I am telling you people all the time and then sometimes like I'll just be somewhere and somebody will be like I...

...saw you on the race show like be somewhere totally random and I always love it makes me so excited and I just will. And I was wearing a jumpsuit and I was like I don't think I knew that you were filming that night and I'm like what an unfortunate thing to be wary. That's what I look. That's what I think every time I watch the show I'm like, wow, I must not have known I was filming surprises so many. I mean, you know, we didn't have any expectation of a chef's life, I didn't think that anyone was gonna see it and you know, making a show about eastern north Carolina, it feels like something that is pure like passion project stupid. Um, so I didn't think anyone was ever going to see it. So I didn't really have any expectations or I probably would have dressed differently, not worn maternity clothes while not pregnant in every episode. You know, the big surprise and I think the thing that kept me like making the show for so long was that like how much it affected people and how it brought families together and and how so many times people said, you know, this is the only thing that my kids will watch with me and or this story, I was actually, it was the first after the first season of a chef's life and I was working in the dining room at chef and the farmer and I was really, I was over it because I don't know, show on PBS is different than a show on a network where you, you know, we had to raise all the money for it. There was, I was not ready for people did watch it, you know what I mean? And, and and so I was, I was just overwhelmed and this this woman who was maybe about 50 years old, she was leaving the restaurant and she said, I just wanted to tell you that your show had such a big impact on me. She said, you know, my mother had Alzheimer's and I would visit her, you know, on the daily and she she rarely...

...knew who I was. And one night we watched an episode of your show, the rice episode where you, you make chicken and rice with your mom and then you feed it to your Children. And she's like every time I went back to see my mom after that, she said, I want to watch that show with that woman who her mom and then visit to her Children. And that, that just like made me feel like this show was really different than a lot of television and that it really touched people and they could see themselves in it. And so that was the big surprise how people could see themselves in what we did. That's amazing that it's like the unexpected treasure that you find in doing something like that with your passionate about what I think it's incredible to how just one person's story like that can make you think it was all worth it. Yeah. You know, like everything that I went through for this day was worth it because that person had that really exquisite and special moment and then going to book signings and having people wait in line for hours to to tell me that they were, you know, they were working in New Orleans as as a chef and watching a chef's life inspired them to move back to their hometown in Wisconsin and open a restaurant with their partner. And I mean I heard these things over and over again, or like I I love watching this because I can see how difficult it is and I can look at all that now and be like that was really cool because there was many, a few years ago. Yeah not three years ago hindsight hindsight. So that was where your television journey began but after that you moved on and you started a new amazing show...

Somewhere South. Do you mind talking about that? Yes. Yes so somewhere South was like my my passion project. I felt like I had told my story and I wanted to shed light on so many more stories in the south and like be a part of telling the story that the South is just a microcosm of the rest of the nation and that food is like an ever evolving thing like our cuisine is not static and it's affected by the traditions that we bring when we move somewhere and and and then those traditions that we bring are affected by the place where we land and that's what's so fascinating to me about the evolution of cuisine. And I wanted to tell a story of that on T. V. And so uh yeah we made somewhere south 51 hour episodes. Each one is about a dish that every culture shares Because really and I'm not the only one who believes this. There's like really about 20 dishes in the whole world and and every culture funds their way of of preparing that dish meeting like porridge, a way of cooking greens. You know something wrapped in dough barbecue, pickles dumpling. So you know noodles noodles could be dumpling so we can have a lot of long podcast about this. But so that's how that started and it was it was a beautiful experience to like be learning again and two I feel like I was being authentic on camera again. Um And to also not have my personal and professional triumphs and tragedies neither the focus of the narrative. Yeah it came through so amazing. Especially the hand pie episode watching the different ways that the hand pies were being made and especially one woman struck me who she was in a factory, there was this big oven and she had worked there forever and you were just talking and you were...

...just in awe of her but we were all in awe of her through your eyes and it just that's just one moment of that whole episode that just resonated. So I so appreciate that. And I know a million other people do too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Well I know we could talk to you all night but you have other things to do. And so it is grilling month and we do have to talk a little bit about grilling. So can you tell us what is your perfect grilling meal? What would you include? Definitely? Uh barbecue chicken? I mean I've already said that, but we barbecue chicken a lot at my house. And what I like to do is Get a whole chicken like a not a huge one about £3 and scratch pocket. So uh I mean I've just learned a year ago and every time I read about this in a novel and I was so glad. I mean and so many people have asked me, I didn't know like, well my husband just does it. I didn't know that was like the thing that other people didn't know about. So I love that answer. Some people love the word. And it's also, you know, I think the thing that barbecue chicken, if you're trying to barbecue a whole chicken, it never really cooks evenly unless you know you have to lay it out and that's what this allows you to do. It also gives you a great well for people who don't know basically, you just buy a chicken if there's, you know, the liver and stuff inside, pull it out and then cut alongside the backbone of the chicken and save the backbone and put that in some broth. Like that gives you, you know, something to do there. There was likely a neck inside the cavity as well that you could use in that way too. And then you can just like press the chicken out. Like I like to break its breastbone. You know, if you've got kids that are into that kind of thing, they might enjoy that and then grill it. I always do skin side up, flesh side down for the majority of the cooking, it's wonderful. It's a great...

...way to do it. And when I discovered it and I've tried different spice rubs on and I'm like, I'm completely hooked. Yes. So I can't just have chicken. So you can use your, you want barbecue chicken and we do. I really love my blueberry barbecue sauce. I never like to recommend any of my products or anything, but this is, this is really good and exceptionally good. Yes, and it's great on chicken and the recipes and deep run routes and you can also buy it in the bottle. But so blueberry barbecue chicken and I'm a huge fan of grilled summer vegetables, like grilled zucchini grilled squash that you scoop the seeds out of. You know, if you're, if you're having mushy squash on the grill is because you're not scooping your seeds out because when those seeds get hot, they are full of water, they expand and push water into the squash or zucchini and that's what ends up making it mushy. I mean, and then anything, any of those vegetables that I'm grilling, I'm going to take off the grill immediately and squeeze some kind of citrus on them. And then if you have a copy of this will make it taste good, toss some red weapons on there and maybe some goat cheese or parmesan cheese or bleu cheese. And you have like a little grilled salad to go with it. I know what I'm doing this weekend, dispatch cocking a chicken run. Oh, you know it, I just got a new grill and that's, that's what we've been waiting to do that. So now and I actually have the blueberry barbecue sauce in a bottle. So I remember when you first started having that blueberry barbecue chicken at the restaurant. See now this is taking me back up and you have the squash casserole? Yes. Oh my gosh, that recipe? The squash casserole recipe is one of my favorites from my entire life as a cook. And it's in deep run routes in the squad chapter. And it's true to recipe. Sometimes when you have restaurant recipes translated for a...

...home cook, they're not the same because it's just not exactly possible. But this is true to recipe. So I would add that to my perfect grilled summer, although then probably take away the grilled squash and do like a grilled corn and maybe okra salad with maybe some grilled peaches in there too. So Vivian, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a huge pleasure. And we've all learned a lot about grilling, but we've also increased our admiration of you tenfold. And like some of the things we've learned from you and just hearing your stories has just been very touching and I can't tell you how much we appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thanks so much for coming. It was such a treat to have you and to get to see you even though everybody else is just listening. But thank you so much everybody for tuning in. Absolutely. On behalf of Christie and the other Fab five, Thank you for tuning in. Please remember to tell a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. Remember we're here with a new episode every friday, we can't wait to share the stories with you all. Mm Thank you for tuning in to friends and fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe rate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tune in every friday for another episode and you can also join us every week on facebook or Youtube where you can see our live Friends and fiction show that airs at seven p.m. Eastern Standard time. We are so glad you're here Yeah.

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