Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 3 months 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 bigquestions right there, there's a big one. We can break them down, we canbreak them down. Welcome to the Friends and FictionWriter's Block Podcast, five new york times, bestselling authors, one rockstar 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 amRon Block, I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating author interviewsalong with Insider talk about publishing and writing. If you lovebooks and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Friends and fiction podcast issponsored by mama Geraldine's bodacious foods. Cathy Cunningham was asuccessful but unfulfilled radio executive in Atlanta one night whilesipping wine and snacking on expensive cheese straws. She realized her mamaGeraldine's own tree straw recipe was far superior. The idea for Cathy'scompany was born Mama Geraldine's cheese straws now come in six varietiesand they are the best selling cheese straw in the US plus the cookies aremelt in your mouth, delish yummy snacks and a woman owned empire. Now that'ssomething we can really get behind and friends in fiction. Try them. You'll beglad you did get 20% off your online order with the code. Fab five. Mhm.Yeah, yeah, yeah. Welcome to another episode ofFriends and fiction Writer's Block Today we're going to celebrate Nationalgrilling month with none other than the...

...amazing Vivian howard chef andentrepreneur. She is known as an award winning restaurateur, televisionpersonality and cookbook author grilling and barbecuing are verypersonal and extremely regional. So we cannot wait to dive in and talk toVivian about her cookbooks, her background, her restaurants and herfavorite 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 ourconversation, let me tell you a little bit about this eastern north Carolinasuperstar for the deeper. A north Carolina is the youngest daughter in atobacco and hog farming family. Vivian Howard's upbringing was steeped in thesouthern food traditions of her neighbors. After college, Vivian movedto new york to work in advertising, but soon transition to the city's food andrestaurant scene. Vivian homes, her culinary skills in the kitchens of someof new york's most esteemed restaurants and trained under some of the mostcutting edge chefs. Since then, she has returned to her roots back in northCarolina and began an empire where she has opened restaurants, become a notedtelevision host and published two cookbooks, deep run routes and thiswill make it taste good. Welcome Vivian and thank you so much for taking thetime to talk to us today. Thank you for having me. Oh, I am so excited. I'vebeen a big fan for a long time. There's so much to talk about here. Let's startwith your career trajectory. Can you tell us about your path and how you gotwhere you are today? Just the overview since and since we're talking aboutgrilling and barbecue. Can you give us an overview of your home regionsapproach to it? Wow, that's those are some big questions right there, there'sa big one. We can break them down, we can break them down well. So I grew uphere in eastern north Carolina and a little farming community called DeepRun. I always wanted to leave like as early as I can remember and nothing waswrong. I just wanted to leave. I understand. Yeah, I wanted to live in acity I wanted to walk somewhere other than to the car. So I I went toboarding school. I went to N. C. State.

I moved to new york. I wanted to be inin media I wanted to be in news, I wanted to be a journalist and I couldnot really get a job doing that. And so I started working in advertising andwas really unhappy and then fell back into something that I've done throughcollege To raise spending money. I started waiting tables and I happenedto end up in a restaurant that in 2001 the concept of the restaurant wassouthern food via Africa. Which is something that you know we very muchTalk about a lot today but in 2001 it was really not on the tip of anyone'stongue. 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 andmy trajectory. And so I wanted to, I still wanted to be a journalist. So Istarted working in the kitchen at this restaurant for free during the daybefore my shift as a server on the floor at night and as a means not tobecome a cook but as a means to become a food writer. But then I found thatcooking was much easier and a lot easier to get a job. At least it seemedeasier in the moment and I was good at it and I liked making stuff and with myhands and so I just kept doing that. And then my my boyfriend at the timenow husband and I started a suit business where we delivered superaround the city. That was like an email thing started also before its time. Andthat was sort of successful. And then my parents offered to help us open arestaurant here anywhere in north Carolina, they said, and I thought wowAshley would be cool. Rolly would be really cool. And it really turned outto be anywhere inside this 10,000 square foot building they had alreadypurchased in downtown kinston. So...

...that's how that started. We ran chefand the farmer for like three years. I still wanted to be a journalist. Istill wanted to be a storyteller and I pitched the idea of making thisdocumentary about the dying food traditions of eastern north Carolina tomy childhood friend Cynthia Hill, that became a chef's life. A chef's lifegave me the opportunity to write my first book, Deep run routes, which isabout the food traditions of eastern north Carolina. Deep run where I livenow, 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, goingback to barbecue just a little bit. You did an episode on somewhere south whereyou visited different pit masters and kind of explore the whole east Carolinabarbecue 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 dishthat every culture shares. And so we had an episode on greens, we had anepisode on dumplings and our final episode was barbecue and it was by farthe most fun to shoot. We got to do a snapshot of eastern north Carolinabarbecue, which is something that we is one of our pride points here in thisregion of the state. You know, when it's done the best, it's whole hog andit's over wood. And so we got to go to to two places in eastern north Carolinathat do some version of that one was SIDS and viewable and they, they reallyhave the best barbecue chicken that that is out there right now in myopinion. And then we also went to skylight in here, which is whole hogpork barbecue barbecue chicken is something that, you know, when you growup in eastern north Carolina, you don't eat like whole hog barbecue every dayor even every week. It's very much celebration food, but chicken issomething that we would have more frequently and it's the most profoundfood memory I have of my youth is this...

...ritual every saturday morning wherethis man that I think my dad money and in lieu of paying the money, brought usthree BBQ chickens every saturday morning and put them on our kitchencounter. And I slept in the room next to the kitchen and it was like thesmell of smoke and vinegar and char is was better than bulgers in your cup. Iguess I'm with you, I'm with you, I am so hungry now because I mean thatchicken, yes, and people would do it for like fundraisers and things. Always.Like my dad would come home with these big styrofoam containers of thisbarbecue chicken and I just remember how it smelled and tasted and thevinegar and uh, it's so, so good. So well, as we all know, cookbooks areobviously a really great way to tell a story about a region or a cuisine oreven 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 realpassion of yours and you know you have written these incredible, incrediblecookbooks that not only give us recipes, but they also really tell a story aboutthis region and about you, which I think is really incredible. So you sortof gave us a little bit, but can you kind of give us like a deeper dive intoyour journey to publishing your first two books? Yes, so I when a chef's lifestarted, several agents reached out to me and said you know you need acookbook, everybody on tv cooking on Tv has a cookbook and that was like sodreamy for me because I had always wanted to be you know a writer and theagents said all you really need to do is like write a few sentences aboutwhat you want your book to be and we'll find you a writer and we'll help youand we'll find you a publisher. And I was like, well that's not really what Ithought it would be like. And I did...

...this dinner, I cooked this lunchactually at this event in Oxford Mississippi for the Southern FoodwaysAlliance and it was like the big lunch of the year and I wrote, it wasdedicated 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 andmy two grandmothers and then one course dedicated to my to me. And there was anagent at that event and he didn't even know I had a Tv show and he his name'sDavid Black. And he approached me afterward and said, you know, this,this is beautiful. Have you ever thought about writing a book? And hechose him because he made me write a proposal and he believed that I couldwrite the book. And that was not really the expectation, most like, televisioncooks don't do that. And most restaurant chefs don't do that, there'sno reason we should expect that they would be able to. But he really guidedme through the process of finding a publisher and I ended up with a littlebrown and an editor. You know, when you find a publisher, you really kind ofchoose an editor, at least that's what I was trying to do. Someone that I feltlike I could jive with. And I chose this gentleman named Michael Sand andwe 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 roombecause I never really, I never really written anything for anybody and exceptfor my proposal and they like that. And but this was like a fully formedchapter of a very out of the box cookbook that really involves memoryand 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 reallyinteresting. 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 leavingLittle Brown and I took it was like, oh my God, it was so bad. He quit, got ridof them. It so that was that was stressful. But then I got paired withMike's Urban, who's been my editor with deep roots and then this will make ittaste good and has become a very close friend of mine, but it took me a longtime 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 700pages without sending anything to Mike Zevon because I just didn't want Iwanted to get so far along that they couldn't change what I was doing. So Idid and I don't know, it was a great experience. That's such an interestingpoint because I do think you have to really, especially when you're startingout, you really have to protect what you want to say, because it is reallyeasy to get caught up in that like, well, you know better they've beendoing this longer. And there is such an authenticity to both of your books thatI feel like that really, really came through and I've been in that positionof losing an editor and it's horrible. It's absolutely horrible. You feel likeit's just it's like such a close relationship and you have to start overagain. 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 reallyvulnerable stories about the pressure that has come along with your fame. Buteven still, I mean, I feel like you have so many incredible ideas all thetime and are just this sort of factory...

...of these amazing new ideas. And notonly do you have them, but you actually go after them. And I think that'sreally incredible. And so I'm really interested in how you are able to justhandle everything that you do, but also, you know, the nuts and bolts of it, butalso maintain your creativity because I think sometimes it's easy to get sobogged down and what we're doing that we don't have time to step back andreally think about what's next, What could be better, what could I do? Whatcan really light me up today? So do you have any tips for people? Or maybe it'sjust something that happens for you naturally? I don't know, I don't thinkit happens for me naturally, creativity is my skin. It's like, it's like mysurvival, like this the way that I protect myself, it's the way that I getthrough difficult things. It's, you know, it's funny because I've been, I'mlike starting a kind of a new, a new part of my like, culinary career and Iwas telling a friend yesterday, like, it's interesting, you know, I've alwaysscoffed at this phrase, like, do something you love because it willnever 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 downthis road is that I think what that means is like, do something you lovebecause if you love it, you'll find ways to evolve in it and through it andand and it can be it can be a consistent and you can change. So I Ilove learning new things about, about food and about cooking and I lovecreativity, keeps me saying, and um not the people around me, uh keeps yourscreen 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 agreat segue into what I want to talk about a little bit. And that's handyand hot during the pandemic. And this is where my fan dumb for you grew. Iwas 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 redweapons and I experiment. I love the little cards you sent, but I keptthinking, this is brilliant marketing and then when your cookbook came outand I fell in love with that even more. I felt like I already knew it. But myfavorite, I'll tell you is the pineapple, orange, cranberry, pecanhoney rum cake. And I will post, I will post a picture that I still have piecesof that in my freezer. And I know I wasn't alone that did this because whenI, whenever you would announce it within five minutes, everything wassold out. So you knew you had to, we had three people on it, get it, get itand 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 didyou get through the pandemic? Well, so handy and hot. The online bakeshopstarted because we were gonna open a bait shop here in kinston, it was gonnabe like coffee and baked goods and but I knew that we would never be able tolike make a go of it just doing that in this small town. And so this mail orderpiece of it was always a part of it and then hurricane Florence came and justmade it really clear for me that I didn't want to open another businesslike brick and mortar here then maybe forever. And but we had alreadyinvested 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 orderbig specialty baked goods thing, we're like Mother's Day, we'll make 500 ofsomething and then just sell them and...

...then same thing rum cake was forchristmas and that was what does, that was a really good rum cake and it'sdelicious, didn't it was like you know chef and the farmer has long been adestination restaurant and the takeout model didn't work for us nor did Ireally want to do it and I knew that we could reach more people moreeffectively like by mail order and I saw all these people like cooking athome and wanting to cook but wanting to have something to make it exciting andthat and I was like in the process of finishing this book that was literallyabout that and like it seems so right to package these condiments and shipthem and that was that energy and momentum and the creativity around thatwas really what got me through like a lot of and the revenue, what the firstpart of the pandemic and it feels like so long ago when you brought that up. Iwas like, wow, that happened. I know it feels a long time ago for me too, butit really wasn't. I remember getting the first handy and hot email and Ihappened to just be like, I didn't know that you were doing this and I happenedto just be I was like on my computer, I was on my email, it popped up and I waslike, I can't remember what it was, but I remember the first one was it was amother's like coconut lime poundcake. Okay. Yeah, I was so excited about itand I saw it and I was like, oh my gosh, that's really gonna last like twoseconds. And so I went on there right away and I sent a bunch to mypublishing 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 Iremember thinking how is she doing something else? Well, I don't do allthis stuff. I know, but still, but you're you are at the helm of all of itand it's just amazing. It really is. I...

...mean it wows me, thank you. But I dowant to, you know, so much about today's marketplace, is about howthings 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 thatyou project, the thing that you want it to be. And that really, I I creditBaxter and Ryan really with all of that Baxter, Miller and Ryan Stansell, theyhave added so much value and, and smartness and millennial ish uh to myworld. So I just had to credit them. No, they're amazing. Oh my goodness, theyreally are there. Y'all are the dream team for sure. Well, so just to pivot alittle back to a chef's life, my five minutes of fame really came from thefew second snapshot of me on your rice dinner episode and every time I'm notgiving you, every time that episode airs, I will get this like flurry ofemails from people being like, was that you, is that you on the show and it'sso exciting and so fun. But I learned so much that night. I mean we were notreally involved at all, we were just eating and chatting and having a goodtime, but it showed me how many hours you're shooting to create just a fewminutes of content. So what we're watching on tv is not even close towhat you're actually filming and anyway it just really surprised me. So whenyou got started, you know with being on the show and creating the show andmaking 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 famedid 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 besomewhere and somebody will be like I...

...saw you on the race show like besomewhere totally random and I always love it makes me so excited and I justwill. And I was wearing a jumpsuit and I was like I don't think I knew thatyou were filming that night and I'm like what an unfortunate thing to bewary. That's what I look. That's what I think every time I watch the show I'mlike, wow, I must not have known I was filming surprises so many. I mean, youknow, we didn't have any expectation of a chef's life, I didn't think thatanyone was gonna see it and you know, making a show about eastern northCarolina, 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 anyexpectations or I probably would have dressed differently, not worn maternityclothes while not pregnant in every episode. You know, the big surprise andI think the thing that kept me like making the show for so long was thatlike how much it affected people and how it brought families together andand how so many times people said, you know, this is the only thing that mykids will watch with me and or this story, I was actually, it was the firstafter the first season of a chef's life and I was working in the dining room atchef and the farmer and I was really, I was over it because I don't know, showon PBS is different than a show on a network where you, you know, we had toraise 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 thisthis woman who was maybe about 50 years old, she was leaving the restaurant andshe said, I just wanted to tell you that your show had such a big impact onme. She said, you know, my mother had Alzheimer's and I would visit her, youknow, on the daily and she she rarely...

...knew who I was. And one night wewatched an episode of your show, the rice episode where you, you makechicken and rice with your mom and then you feed it to your Children. And she'slike every time I went back to see my mom after that, she said, I want towatch that show with that woman who her mom and then visit to her Children. Andthat, that just like made me feel like this show was really different than alot of television and that it really touched people and they could seethemselves in it. And so that was the big surprise how people could seethemselves in what we did. That's amazing that it's like the unexpectedtreasure that you find in doing something like that with yourpassionate about what I think it's incredible to how just one person'sstory like that can make you think it was all worth it. Yeah. You know, likeeverything that I went through for this day was worth it because that personhad that really exquisite and special moment and then going to book signingsand having people wait in line for hours to to tell me that they were, youknow, they were working in New Orleans as as a chef and watching a chef's lifeinspired them to move back to their hometown in Wisconsin and open arestaurant with their partner. And I mean I heard these things over and overagain, or like I I love watching this because I can see how difficult it isand I can look at all that now and be like that was really cool because therewas many, a few years ago. Yeah not three years ago hindsight hindsight. Sothat was where your television journey began but after that you moved on andyou started a new amazing show...

Somewhere South. Do you mind talkingabout that? Yes. Yes so somewhere South was like my my passion project. I feltlike I had told my story and I wanted to shed light on so many more storiesin the south and like be a part of telling the story that the South isjust a microcosm of the rest of the nation and that food is like an everevolving thing like our cuisine is not static and it's affected by thetraditions that we bring when we move somewhere and and and then thosetraditions that we bring are affected by the place where we land and that'swhat's so fascinating to me about the evolution of cuisine. And I wanted totell a story of that on T. V. And so uh yeah we made somewhere south 51 hourepisodes. Each one is about a dish that every culture shares Because really andI'm not the only one who believes this. There's like really about 20 dishes inthe whole world and and every culture funds their way of of preparing thatdish meeting like porridge, a way of cooking greens. You know somethingwrapped in dough barbecue, pickles dumpling. So you know noodles noodlescould be dumpling so we can have a lot of long podcast about this. But sothat's how that started and it was it was a beautiful experience to like belearning again and two I feel like I was being authentic on camera again. UmAnd to also not have my personal and professional triumphs and tragediesneither the focus of the narrative. Yeah it came through so amazing.Especially the hand pie episode watching the different ways that thehand pies were being made and especially one woman struck me who shewas in a factory, there was this big oven and she had worked there foreverand you were just talking and you were...

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

...way to do it. And when I discovered itand 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 barbecuechicken and we do. I really love my blueberry barbecue sauce. I never liketo recommend any of my products or anything, but this is, this is reallygood and exceptionally good. Yes, and it's great on chicken and the recipesand deep run routes and you can also buy it in the bottle. But so blueberrybarbecue chicken and I'm a huge fan of grilled summer vegetables, like grilledzucchini 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 scoopingyour seeds out because when those seeds get hot, they are full of water, theyexpand and push water into the squash or zucchini and that's what ends upmaking it mushy. I mean, and then anything, any of those vegetables thatI'm grilling, I'm going to take off the grill immediately and squeeze some kindof 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 parmesancheese or bleu cheese. And you have like a little grilled salad to go withit. I know what I'm doing this weekend, dispatch cocking a chicken run. Oh, youknow it, I just got a new grill and that's, that's what we've been waitingto do that. So now and I actually have the blueberry barbecue sauce in abottle. So I remember when you first started having that blueberry barbecuechicken at the restaurant. See now this is taking me back up and you have thesquash casserole? Yes. Oh my gosh, that recipe? The squash casserole recipe isone of my favorites from my entire life as a cook. And it's in deep run routesin the squad chapter. And it's true to recipe. Sometimes when you haverestaurant recipes translated for a...

...home cook, they're not the same becauseit's just not exactly possible. But this is true to recipe. So I would addthat to my perfect grilled summer, although then probably take away thegrilled squash and do like a grilled corn and maybe okra salad with maybesome grilled peaches in there too. So Vivian, thank you so much forjoining us. It's been a huge pleasure. And we've all learned a lot aboutgrilling, but we've also increased our admiration of you tenfold. And likesome of the things we've learned from you and just hearing your stories hasjust 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 everybodyelse is just listening. But thank you so much everybody for tuning in.Absolutely. On behalf of Christie and the other Fab five, Thank you fortuning in. Please remember to tell a friend and subscribe on your favoritepodcast platform. Remember we're here with a new episode every friday, wecan't wait to share the stories with you all. Mm Thank you for tuning in tofriends and fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscriberate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tune in every fridayfor another episode and you can also join us every week on facebook orYoutube where you can see our live Friends and fiction show that airs atseven p.m. Eastern Standard time. We are so glad you're here Yeah.

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