[chiming music] [packet ripping] [spoon scraping in bowl] [microwave beeps] [sizzling sausage] - The first meal I ever made for myself was breakfast, in the form of a bowl of instant grits, with crumbled sausage and American cheese on top.
[light guitar music] [microwave beeps] It became my Saturday morning ritual.
Grit bowl, plop in front of the TV and watch "Pee-Wee Herman's Playhouse."
So, for a lot of people, porridge represents the first thing they feed babies, and for me, it kinda represents my first baby steps in the kitchen.
You all ready for your first instant grits?
[laughs] [light guitar music] [country music] I'm Vivian, and I'm a Chef.
The food I cook tells the story of Southern Food, as I know it.
But that story is more complex than I thought.
♪ I don't know where I'm going ♪ ♪ But I'm on my way ♪ ♪ Lord if you love me ♪ ♪ Keep me I pray ♪ - So I set out to find the dishes that bind and define us.
Along the way, I saw that when we eat together, we share more than a meal.
The American South, is my classroom, and the dishes we share will be my road map.
[country music] [car engines hums] [chopping food] So I'm getting ready to head to Charleston tomorrow for this event called the "Edna Effect."
It's a dinner to honor the legacy of Edna Lewis.
- That's a lot of sausage.
So, this is what we're gonna do Ashleigh, we are going to make the grits in Charleston, and we're gonna stew the Run-ups with with the sausage, longer than professional cooking tells you that you should.
We're gonna do it like Miss Edna Lewis would have done it.
[light guitar music] So Ashleigh, do you know much about Edna Lewis?
- I mean I know she's incredibly influential in the African American cooking community.
- People always ask me who my mentor is, I started reading "The Taste of Country Cooking," by Edna Lewis.
Her book was the first time I'd ever seen things like slow cooked greens, really humble ingredients, exulted.
So it gave me permission to do the same.
For that reason, I kinda call her my mentor, even though I never met her.
But she's a bad ass, how about that?
So this sausage is giving up a lot of it's flavor to the broth, which is what we want.
If you'll start putting the Run-ups in here.
We were supposed to cook something that is in the spirit of Edna.
So I'm making a Grit Porridge, Stewed Turnip Run-ups, with Air Dried Sausage and a Spicy Tomato Marmalade.
Miss Lewis made me see the humble ingredients I grew up eating in a much different way.
And one of the most humble things people eat all over the world, is porridge.
Our porridge in the American South would typically be grits.
Just depending where you come from, your version may be slightly different.
It's always some kind of ground up grain that's been cooked with a liquid.
It's comforting, it's cheap, it's often the first thing babies eat.
The other thing that she does, is she points out what's very special about the place that she came from.
And for me, this time of year, the most special thing about Eastern North Carolina are Turnip Run-ups.
The turnip plant appears to have died, and at the first sign of Spring, it shoots up this Run-up that has a floret, as well as leaves.
To be able to go down to Charleston and cook with a bunch of other Chef's, and to be able to take something that many of them have probably never seen, which is this Run-up.
Is something that makes me very excited, it's very dorky stuff, of the highest degree.
[light guitar music] Really until I was in my 30's, I was ashamed of where I came from.
Country was not cool and country food was downright embarrassing.
But that shifted in a big way at some point.
And Miss Lewis and the way she celebrated the simple country food she grew up eating, was a big part of that.
So I'm grateful I get to go down to Charleston to honor her.
[light guitar music] For someone who was so influential, Miss Lewis is really hard to find on the internet.
So listening to this rare interview of her, feels almost like a secret.
- What would describe your influence in cooking?
Would it be a Southern?
- I think you would say Southern.
In the beginning, blacks were really the only cooks.
And they are the ones that developed the food that they call "Southern Hospitality."
That was done by black men in home kitchens.
They were in the hotels, they were in railroads, in boarding houses, and they truly produced the only regional cuisine in this country.
Blacks developed the menu and whites written it down.
The early recorded history of food was put down by whites.
But blacks had a hand in developing, which is really most important.
[light guitar music] [car door closes] - Let's just start making grits, and then we use that rounder to brown the sausage.
[light guitar music] [paper crumpling] So the other day when we tasted this dish, it didn't have enough texture.
So I decided that I would take the sausage out of the casing and cook it really hard, so it's like crunchy almost.
And sprinkle it on top of the grit dish.
Is that Mashama?
- Hi, how are you?
- How are you?
[light guitar music] I'm a little socially awkward, particularly around other food industry people.
I don't know what it is, I just feel out of place and I never know what to say.
There are a few exceptions though.
And Mashama Bailey is one of those, she's a Chef, I love spending time with.
What do you have to do?
- I just have to heat up some lamb in the oven, and I only have an hour to do it.
Just saying [laughs].
I wanna be ready.
- I wanna be ready too, don't [laughs], you're making me nervous.
[light guitar music] I think I must have tripped the breaker.
Yeah, this breaker flipped, here.
[light guitar music] So I guess I tripped the breaker, and now there's no power at the party.
There's power right here.
[laughs] [light guitar music] Well I broke the power, or as we say in Eastern North Carolina, the current went out.
But Event Planners are even more resourceful than kitchen people, so before I ever had to take the blame, generators came out and the party went on.
Yeah, they're good.
[light guitar music] Hey, hi, how are you?
- Hello, how you doing Viv?
- Okay Vivian, you should be looking at me as apposed to the camera.
- What do you get out of cooking with people like this, and at an event like this?
- I live in Eastern North Carolina, it is not a hot bed of like restaurant culture.
So any time I can come to something like this, and be in the same room with people like Mashama Bailey, It's an educational and an enjoyable experience.
Okay, hot coming through.
Hot coming through.
[cries] - How important is tradition and Southern Food, and Southern cooking?
- I mean I think tradition is something we kinda cling to, and it helps us frame who we are.
But you know, I think tradition is much like nostalgia, in that it can be dangerous.
Let me show you, this is just as much about the grains and the pot liquor as it is the grits, so.
We've gotta have like equal amount of that.
We're gonna do a sausage shower, a big quenelle of this Tomato Marmalade.
This is the acid in it, it's the sweetness that's gonna balance the turnips.
- All right, got it.
[light guitar music] I know, I know, shocker.
Vivian Howard made grits.
In my defense, I like to make grits when I cook on the road, because they're forgiving, they're hard to mess up.
They're comforting, they're filling and the base line subtle nature of grits, makes them a great foil for more flavorful toppings.
They don't compete with the other stuff.
Thank you all very much.
[laughs] - Unless you want sausage [murmurs], there we go.
- So I was going to initially ask about how Edna Lewis's life's work has influenced your own work?
- Growing up in a black family, no one cooks better than your relatives [laughs], you know.
So the people who influenced me were my grandmothers, and I watched Chef's on TV, Frugal Gourmet, and Julia Child, but I couldn't really relate to them.
And so I went and I searched, and there she was.
She was just waiting for me to find her.
And I think that because of her, I cook how I cook, and I'm inspired to cook, especially in the South.
- What Miss Lewis did for me, was she let me know that the humble food that I grew up eating, was actually very special.
Porridge of any kind is kinda the most humble thing a culture has, and every culture has a porridge.
And ours was grits, in this part of South Carolina, often it would be like rice grit porridge, so that's why I made what I made.
[crowd applaud] - And thank you.
[light guitar music] - Whether it's made from rice, corn, oats, sorghum, barley or buck wheat, pots of porridge sit on stoves the world over.
Morning or evening, in homes or restaurants, it's one of those things that's always around.
And at the ready to fill bellies and provide fuel for a day's work.
It's inexpensive, carb loaded and arguably bland.
And like so much peasant food, or frugal food as I like to call it.
The subtle nature of porridge supports more exciting ingredients, like fruits, nuts, eggs, cheese, bacon and shrimp.
These things add punch to porridge's plain.
Everywhere you find it, porridge stands for comfort, and the sustenance of home.
So, today we're in Charleston, I'm with two friends, Cynthia Wong and Michael Solomonov, they're both Chefs.
Cynthia is a Pastry Chef at Butcher and Be, and Mike has a slue of restaurants in Philly.
So I've asked them to make a porridge that is an expression of their culture.
And Cynthia, what are you making?
- I'm making what is called Congee or Juk.
- And it's made from broken rice?
- Mm hm, broken rice and water or chicken stock.
- And what are you making?
I'm making Mamaliga, which is Romanian.
- Where did you grow up?
- I was born in Israel, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then we moved back to Israel when I was 15.
- And you grew up in Alabama?
- I grew up in Alabama, yeah, I'm from Mobile.
- Did they come from China?
- My dad did, my mom was from Burmese.
- And so the Congee would have been something that your dad introduced into the house?
- Yes, absolutely, growing up it was just kinda around.
And I guess it was just kinda around the way that grits are around?
- Okay, so you're gonna show me what to do.
- I'm gonna put the chicken stock in to boil, then I'm gonna throw the rice in and I threw a piece of ham in there.
[light guitar music] - So Cynthia, how did your mom get to Mobile from Burma?
- She and my dad met and married in Burma, and then they just kinda moved around and then I grew up in Mobile, more or less.
- Lucky you.
[laughs] - It sounds like, I don't know, Mobile can't be that bad, right?
- No, no.
- It is kinda that bad when you're like the only person there whose neither one color or the other.
You're you're own color, and it's a little bit weird.
- So why did your family move back to Israel?
- I don't know, I think they just, they were kinda ready to move back.
It wasn't super easy, I was like 15 and that's-- - Kinda traumatic, it's, I mean for a kid.
- It is traumatic, the problem is that I was there for one year, kicking and screaming and hated it.
And then I went back to the States, by myself.
And like everything was different, it felt less whole.
So what we're gonna do, is actually saute some peppers in garlic, and then fry eggs and that and put it right on top.
Like making a big pot of this, can feed a huge family.
In Romania, it's peasant food, it would be [speaking in foreign language].
And in the new world, it's cool.
Which I feel like is the thing, like they're holding onto it, they're making it special.
- Well I think for the immigrant experience.
You know, your parents were probably very concerned with being American.
- Oh my gosh, they are all about assimilation.
- The Congee is not something you would serve to anyone who came over to your house?
- Oh God no, we made Jello, I remember like making Jello out of the packet, and putting it in the mold and like, popping it out, and like.
- As a Chinese Burmese American, whose married to a big white guy.
[laughs] How do you impart your Chineseness to your children?
- It's actually something that we've kinda started talking about, because my kids were asking questions about my parents, and they were like.
Well, where did they grow up?
What were their lives like?
What did they eat?
What did they do?
And I realized that I kinda hadn't told them any of that, and you know, like my parents were so concerned with us assimilating, their cultural side of things, they stopped emphasizing them as much I think.
So, you know right now, we don't really have a cultural thing, it's been lost a little bit.
[light guitar music] - Hello, this is feta.
- That looks great.
This is delicious, and I love the feta, provides like some acidity that balances it.
So let's talk about your Tea Eggs.
- You soft boil some eggs, crack them with a spoon, and then you get Soy Sauce and Star anise to [murmurs] and peel, what else was in there?
- Tea, I forgot that, that's the major component of-- [laughs] and [murmurs] two eggs.
[light guitar music] - Oh, oh yeah, there you go.
- What is this?
- That is called Youtiao and it's a crawler kind of thing.
- It's kinda interesting to me to put something so starchy on top of something so starchy.
- Oh like a starch on starch crumb?
But you know, it was just like a peasant kinda thing to do to fill your stomach up.
[light guitar music] - It's good.
- Oh, thanks.
- And already the Youtiao makes a big difference, in the texture.
- The ham in this is really amazing.
I think the rice is awesome too.
You said this is Carolina Gold?
- I like it.
[light guitar music] - I'm rolling.
- I'm not good on camera [laugh].
- Should I freshen up my lipstick?
- I'll try not to [beep] it up.
- Okay, so what is the question that you want me to answer?
[chiming music] - Ah man, my favorite porridge is Carolina Gold Rice, Midlands, with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper, and fried catfish on the top.
- I love Malta Meal, it has like malted barley, it brings back all sorts of memories from cold winters in Minnesota.
- Oatmeal smothered in caramel sauce.
- Deal Cut oats, served with brown sugar and cranberries.
- Cooked quinoa, with sweetened coconut milk, and toasted pecans.
- I'm a big fan of Medjool dates, very nutritious, it would keep me going for a whole game of football or a game of rugby.
- Upma, Upma is like this broad term for Indian porridge, and it can be any grain, I like it with rice.
- Savory oatmeal that has homemade stewed tomatoes, with some spinach and fresh garlic.
It's the bomb.
[chiming music] - Every place on the planet has a grain that's used to make porridge.
Where I come from, it's corn ground into grits.
But in the Low Country of South Carolina, it's often rice.
In this part of the world, rice is king.
It's the grain that launched an economy, [horse neighs] Hey, I'm Vivian.
- Hey Vivian, John Laverne, Nice to see ya.
- Nice to see you.
- All right, our chariot awaits.
[squeaking sound] - It certainly is a nice day for this, wow, okay, okay!
[laughs] [light guitar music] - By the early 1700's, we had over 100 ships a day coming into port here.
Rice is what put Charleston on the map.
It made Charleston the wealthiest city, the majority of beautiful homes and Plantations and buildings that you see in Charleston, they have a tie in somewhere with the Carolina Gold Rice.
Oh Vivian, over to your right here, this is Chalmers Street, this is the longest cobblestone street in town.
The cobblestones came over in the bottom of ship's bows.
And there's a great museum down here on the right, The Charleston Slave Museum, the building that it's in, was one of five auction houses, used for the purpose of selling enslaved African's.
More slaves were sold here than any other place in America.
- When the Settlers arrived here, this was all new terrain to the British and the French Huguenots.
But the enslaved African's, this is the exact same geography that they had in the West Coast of Africa.
So when they got here, they were like.
Yes, rice fields, this is what we could plant here.
Enslaved African's, they should get the credit with making Charleston what it is today.
And they were the ones out in the field, planting the food, harvesting the food.
They're the ones making the menus.
Ran restaurants, you know these Plantation homes, they're the one's that took the British influence with the French Huguenots and then Native American.
And then fused it all together and it gave us what we know as Low Country Cuisine today.
[horse shoes clipping on cobblestones] [upbeat music] - Only one piece of the Southern Rice Story, lives in Charleston.
To try and understand the other parts of it, I need a teacher whose life and work is tied to both rice and it's role in the South.
BJ Dennis, a Chef whose work points hard at his Geechee heritage, is that person.
So BJ, you are a Chef in Charleston, and really are known for carrying on and celebrating the Geechee Gullah culture and tradition.
So, to be here on this Rice Plantation.
What does that mean for you?
- You know, it's a lot, it's a lot.
I mean because you see the beauty of it, but you know the pain behind it.
You have to come out here to let the ancestors know that you still recognize them.
Cause you see the greatness that they brought with them.
But it was shackles.
Many people died in these rice fields.
I mean the Low Country's one of the richest places in the world, in the colonial period, because of rice.
- Because of rice.
- And that rice was grown by the knowledge of West African's.
It's never talked about, but they specifically sought out African's on those coastal regions, because they had the knowledge of growing rice.
Which was science, the technology, astronomy.
All those things were brought here.
- I read that almost 60 percent of African Americans can trace their heritage to Charleston, essentially.
Like they came through the Ports of Charleston.
But not all African American's are Geechee Gullah.
How is your culture different?
- We were isolated during the colonial period.
It was so hot here in the summers that a lot of people, European decent, they would go up to the mountains, they'd get away from the threat of malaria.
So that isolation, especially on the Sea Islands-- - Like Edisto?
Sapelo, James Island, John's Island, Kiawah.
Have that isolation, we were able to keep a lot of our Africanism's.
Some of the language, the food ways, the farming.
And you had all these different people from different tribal groups from West Africa, coming together to form this beautiful culture.
- And that's why you have such a distinct accent?
- Yeah, I don't really think my accent is even thick like some people have-- - Oh yes, it is.
- I mean some people at home, you think my accent's thick, some people back home, you're like, what?
We talk to each other, we have, sometimes we laugh at each other, cause we really don't understand what we're saying half the time, we're like, huh, what?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah yeah.
We kept that language and that tongue.
It's a beautiful thing though, we're still here and we're still holding on strong.
We're not going anywhere.
- Geechee Gullah is descent from enslaved African's and call the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia home.
The Sea Islands are barrier islands and therefore isolated.
That's helped the Gullah maintain a well defined culture and language for more than 150 years.
And because Gullah food laid the foundation for Low Country Cuisine, the Gullah are responsible for a big chapter in American cooking.
Lets go in the rice field.
[walking through water] - You know you move forward but you can't forget the past and I think everybody should come out here and see the rice fields.
I mean it's beautiful out here.
But there's also a story behind it, it's a story of, It could be a painful story, it can be a story like that might make you a little angry, but you also have to come to terms to what it was.
[light guitar music] [birds chirping] - People today don't understand when you say, "Why should I be responsible?"
But this is what happened, when slavery ended, blacks were one third of the population.
One third of the population had nothing.
And they did the best they could.
It was hard earned land, some of it was stolen too.
If you was a delinquent, you know, your land could be sold.
Blacks, I think at one point, owned twelve million acres.
And the last time I heard, it was down to about five.
- As a Chef, BJ has made it his mission to shine a light on the cultural and economic contributions his ancestors made to the cuisine we call Southern.
Both of us live and work in the South.
But because of slavery's legacy, BJ's path to success meets a lot more roadblocks than my own.
[footsteps] What are we making?
- These are sorghum grits, but you know, we typically now see sorghum as syrup.
- Yeah, Molasses.
And this was brought through the Transatlantic Slave Trade by the enslaved Africans, who tend use it as a grain or flour.
So when you get the sorghum crushed up like that, you can cook it just like grits.
[light guitar music] - It's good!
- It's earthy, yeah.
Has a nice depth of flavor.
- I'm gonna serve it today with some local flounder.
I'll just crisp up this fish, dry fry.
[Flounder sizzling in the pan] [light guitar music] - It's really interesting to me that these sorghum grits, you know, this stuff is expensive now.
- You know.
And in a lot of ways, the preciousness of it, makes it something that's not available to the people who brought it to this country.
- You know you have to bring these things back.
You cook something like real stone ground grits, the texture might put them off.
- Yeah, I think it would freak some people out.
- Cause then they're so used, used to instant grits over the years.
Just to give a sense of the different types of varieties of rices, and the colors.
- It's like multiple shades.
- This is the color of what rice should look like.
The whole notion of Southern food isn't healthy, and we're more than Mac and Cheese and fried chicken.
We bring back the ingredients, we can really bring back what the South tasted like.
[light guitar music] [sizzling in pan] - So what you put in there with the fish?
- A plain and local stew.
- It almost acts like the gravy, in like the shrimp and grits-- - Yeah it is, yeah.
- You're in such an interesting position BJ, because you identify as Geechee Gullah, I mean Charleston is a restaurant city, it's full of restaurants that celebrate your culture, but it's white people.
- And I say exploit in a way what they don't know what they're exploiting.
You have a lot of Chef's who are not from the South, in Charleston right now.
Anywhere I travel, I wanna know the culture of that city.
And I think a lot of us don't take the time to do that.
I've been blessed to be able to get all crowds.
- It's so rare to get both crowds, because black people and white people still don't eat together.
- Yeah, that's funny, right?
But when you come to one of my events, it's a good mix.
When at the same time, it feels accessible to everybody.
- Right, I think that's a big part of it.
- A lot of these restaurants don't feel accessible.
Not just black people, just people in general.
Like they don't know if that's for them, Unless they're an elitist.
Food brings everybody together.
And food tells a story and tells history, that cannot be denied.
[light guitar music] - This looks really good.
[light guitar music] [murmurs] be good.
- You like it?
- The Okra Stew kind of is like acid and also the texture, it's good with the grits.
[light guitar music] [chiming music] - I think of grits at breakfast time.
- In the mid morning.
- I can eat it any time of the day.
- I eat porridge at night, when I probably shouldn't, when I'm going to bed [laughs].
- I think it's in the winter, on a rainy day or when there's snow on the ground outside.
You're stuck in the house.
- The right time to eat porridge is when you feel like I do today, a little sick, not have a voice, when you miss your mommy.
[chiming music] - Downtown Charleston is the hottest heat map for restaurants that exude Southerness.
Places that whisper in tourists with Low Country classics and deep tradition.
But you can count on one hand, how many of those restaurants are black owned.
[country music] [clanging dishes] So, we're at Hannibal's?
- Yeah, we're at Hannibal's, institution here [murmurs] favorite breakfast spot in the city.
- So grits a kinda a the thing to anchor it all.
- Oh yeah!
- Good morning.
- Good morning, I'm Vivian.
- Vivian, Safia.
- So Safia, tell me about yourself.
- Yeah, so I grew up here, so it's the third generation, like my grand daddy had it, we've been here since 1985.
- Oh wow!
- The [murmurs] is changing down here too, it's.
- What do you mean by that?
- Now being down town is more like more like the hot spot.
So our people it's like, you know what I'm saying?
Selling, moving, the demographic is changing.
- More of me?
- More of you.
[laughs] - Right.
- People still will come so far, because this is one of the few institutions that does what they do, in Charleston.
Particularly with the breakfasts.
- Yeah, I'd never seen shark on a menu here.
So, can we get some?
- Yeah, you should try the Sauteed Crab.
- Crab and shrimp.
- We all ready?
- You know I'm ready.
[heavy metal music] So we're gonna try this, this is Shrimp and Grits.
This is Shark and Grits.
- Oh wow!
- This is [murmurs] Liver.
And that's BJ's special.
[laughs] - We're gonna eat, should I put some hot sauce or something on it?
- Just a little TT.
- I like it with a little razzle, a little TT.
- A what?
- Is this razzle?
- Just a little razzle on it.
- Yeah, just a little TT.
- Okay [laughs].
[heavy metal music] This is good, so this is Crab and Shrimp-- - Sauteed with onion and bell pepper.
[heavy metal music] So what do you think about the Shark?
- So I think the Shark, it's meaty, but not strong flavored.
- It's not strong flavored.
- Okay, here we go, is it Beef Liver?
- Last time I had liver, it's been, I don't know.
Oh no, no, no no!
- I don't like that, but I appreciate it.
So how would you describe the food that you serve?
- I still would say Soul Food, on this base I'd say just like feeding the soul.
- Yeah, I like that.
[light guitar music] I connect with Safia, Safia has twins, I have twins.
She's a woman who runs a restaurant, and I can relate to that.
And her driving force is to serve food that feeds people's souls.
I strive to do the same.
Safia calls her food, Soul Food, and I would never do that.
But why not?
Tonight I've asked Doctor Jessica Harris and Toni Tipton-Martin, and Chef's Mashama Bailey, Ricky Moore and Ashleigh Shanti to talk about Soul Food, and what it means to them.
We're gonna get started and order some food and everything, but I just wanted to say thank you all for doing this.
I've spent my career studying and cooking Southern Food, and we all know of this elephant in the room, and I have a platform, and I'd like to share it for us to talk about what Soul Food means.
I think there's a lot of confusion about that.
We all can take it anywhere you want.
Is that okay?
- Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have some thoughts to share.
- Okay, so what-- - Yeah, I think all of our cooks are looking at each other like, can we take it where we wanna go?
[laughs] - What is Soul Food?
What do you think the general public thinks is Soul?
- Fried chicken, colored maize, macaroni and cheese, candy yams, corn bread.
So now, I'm talking about, I can go back further.
Pig tails, pig knuckles, ears, that sort of thing.
- As my grandmother would say, how would you cook your ears?
[laughs] - Soul Food to me, it's much broader than that narrow definition.
But I like retaining the definition because it defines a period of time.
The Soul Music and the Soul Dance.
[soul music] - The other part of that, is African American's are the only people, only people, who demonize their own traditional food.
- No one else does.
And it probably has to do with enslavement.
I can't eat no Catfish, I just want whatever.
- It's money.
- It's money, that's the answer [murmurs].
Are all the people that go, I want no dark meat, it's like stew?
- Just wanna chicken breast.
- Yeah, I want chicken breast.
- Go for it, you know.
And it's that thing that you come up against when you start talking about Soul Food.
Because we talk about it, but we don't always necessarily love it.
- Well I think Ashleigh's kind of an example of that.
- Yeah, you're like stabbing me in the heart right now.
[laughs] - I don't have particularly have the Southern experience, I guess my dad was kind of part of the flight from the South, he wanted to leave the South and he joined the military.
So I think I'm still kinda learning about what Southern Food means to me and that connection.
I've kind of never really favored things like Collard Greens, or Lime Beans.
I think cause I just wasn't used to 'em.
So I didn't have the traditional Soul Food experience.
- I did a Carriage Tour of Downtown, by myself.
But the Tour Guide said that enslaved African's got here and saw the Low Country and the low land, and determined that this was a place that rice would grow.
And then every house that we saw on the Carriage Tour, was like this guy was a rice shipper, or this guy made his fortune in rice, and this... You know, it was like all of Charleston was built on the rice trade.
- On the backs of the people who grew it.
- But if you've established a economic system, that is based on the rape and pillage of another culture, then you don't come back into your record books, and then record those expertise that you discovered in those people.
- It's not in the newspaper.
- It's not in the newspaper.
[light guitar music] - African American's are very diverse people, and the idea of narrowly defining us by just one category of dishes, has been unfair.
We are giving recognition to those people that created these dishes.
We wanna say, give us credit for having that same knowledge base and by tracing back to Africa, to be able to see, what were those cooking styles and techniques that did transfer here?
So I appreciate that you're willing to even begin a conversation.
- I mean, I don't know what the alternative is.
- It's not just a quick show.
It's a long, deeply embedded history and an embedded history in a country that for, whatever reasons, and we don't have time.
No place here to go into them, never gets fully discussed.
[restaurant patrons talk loudly] - I hear you.
After that night at Hannibal's, I wanted to talk to Mashama more.
Because our professional paths are kind of parallel.
We both worked in New York, we both moved back to the South.
We both run high end kitchens.
There a lot of similarities in our experience, but there a lot of differences too.
So I'm coming to Savannah, to see my friend Mashama.
Mashama is the Chef at a restaurant called "The Grey."
It's really probably the most beautiful restaurant I've ever seen.
It's in an old Greyhound Station.
I think she's gonna cook some kinda grit dish.
We have this ongoing conversation around Soul Food, Southern Food, what both of those things mean.
And the other night at Hannibal's, I wanted to talk more about it.
But honestly, I was really nervous.
So hopefully we can do more of that today.
[upbeat music] - Hi, how are ya?
- I'm good, how are you?
- Good, thanks for coming.
So, can you give me a tour?
- This is Downtown Savannah, correct?
- Yeah, in Downtown Savannah, when I came down to accept the job, my dad told me that him and my mom got married at that Courthouse across the street.
- Oh my God!
- So I was born in New York, then I remember we lived in an apartment in the Bronx, and then when I was about five, we moved to Savannah full time.
- So you were shaped some in the South?
- Aha, a little bit, yeah, I think so.
I think so, I called my mother Mama until I was like 16.
[laughs] I call her, Mama [laughs].
So this is the main entryway here.
- This is original obviously.
- And this is original.
- That's amazing!
- So, we've turned this into our Diner Bar.
- And you can drink in here all day?
- You can drink in here all day, from 11:30 til-- - I don't know why I asked that question.
[laughs] And this is where the kitchen is.
We opened up the whole kitchen, I really wanted an open kitchen.
And now that I have one, I don't know if I really wanted one-- - I know, I hate it.
[laughs] - Because you're like, yes, I really want to express what we do and I want people to see how hard we work.
And then you're like, why is that ham on the floor, sweep up you're area.
Why are you so messy?
This was the main entryway, the Information Desk, the reason why I was so curious to come down.
It was the first bus station in the South to be segregated and this was where the colored waiting room was.
And I was like, what [laughs]?
- This right here?
- This was it, so all that space belonged to white America, and this right here, is where colored folks were able to sit and wait for the bus, just this.
This was all the space that blacks had, in this big old bus station.
- Yeah, wow!
Upstairs, was the white woman's parlor.
- Mm hm.
And this was where the toilets were, the same size as the colored waiting room.
- This is incredible.
- It's really cool.
This room is the wine room, but it used to be the bunk room, where the drivers would sleep.
- My grandmother passed away, and so when we cleaned out her house, my cousins found this Greyhound Lines First Aid Kit.
And the coolest thing about that, is that she was a nurse.
- You were meant to come here.
- I was meant to come here, right?
Yeah, so that to me is like one of the most amazing things in the building.
[upbeat music] So that is the 50 cents tour.
- There's an eight downstairs at 8 o'clock.
- I just think the whole discovering of the food ways of Savannah is unlocked.
- Yeah, I don't know anything about, I mean we know about Charleston, we associate shrimp and grits with Charleston.
- Right, but nothing about Savannah, and it's so similar.
Oh thanks Trevor.
All right so these are some of the porridge's that we use here.
- So this looks like traditional corn grits.
- And we cook em with cream and butter.
- I can see the cream, I can see that.
[laughs] - We only use a little bit of cream.
We only use a little bit of water.
- You only use a little bit of grits, is what you use a little bit of [laughs].
- That's very true.
So and then we've got the nerve to put a piece of Foie Gras on top of it.
- And what's interesting, is that porridge is I think, you know, the most humble thing you can make.
And you're pairing it with-- - The most expensive, over privileged thing that you can possibly have-- - Exactly, it's like a marriage of the highest and the lowest.
- And these are my squids.
And we just got some first season [murmurs] shrimp in.
- What would be the porridge of this region?
- And it would be for breakfast, generally?
- Definitely, so I didn't put grits on for a long time, because we ate grits for breakfast when we grew up.
We never ate it for dinner.
- So you ate grits in the Bronx?
- New York City.
- In the Bronx, aha, and in Queens we ate grits for breakfast.
- So the [murmurs] is off the menu, are we're serving the Sword Fish.
[restaurant staff discussing the menu in the background] - It's delicious.
So it's interesting to me that your mom moved from here to the Bronx, but still carrying that with her.
- Yeah, because I think that's all she knew how to do.
- Did you identify that food as Southern Food, or Soul Food?
- I think I identified it as food, I think I just identified it as food.
And I think as I got older, I identified it as Soul Food, because that was what restaurants would name themselves.
- Do you think that's a term, like Soul Food is a way to take Southern Food, which is riddled with strife, and make it your own?
- I think so, I think Soul Food is for black folks, and I think Southern Food is for white folks.
In the 60's and 70's it was really about finding identity, no one wanted to be considered Southern, or no one wanted to be labeled as Southern because it just reminded them of just hard times.
They wanted to run away from the South, I think.
That's how Soul Food was sort of like, you know, boring.
It was like a reclaiming of what we ate and how we ate.
Ordering in a Ribs, two.
[soul music] - Do black people eat in here?
[laughs] But not as many as I would like.
- Like, so, it's funny, cause we're sort of like on the tail end of a review.
A couple came in here, a black couple came in here, you know, we did not have a stellar service.
And they really sort of felt like they were being targeted because they were black.
And first of all, that breaks my heart, that you would think that I would purposefully give you a terrible service because of the color of your skin or your race.
And second of all, what compounded your feelings about that, is that you were probably one or two of black people who were dining in here.
So you kinda look around, you don't really see anybody who looks like you, and then you know, you're having this terrible experience.
Of course you gonna take it personally, right?
So that is one of the things that I really wanna combat.
As far as diversity with the staff, I'm glad that I have black folks on the line cooking with me.
Because you don't really see that at fine dining restaurants.
But I do wanna see more service staff, more management staff of color coming in at the door and applying for the jobs.
I don't think any people who have come in here to be a manager, have been black.
I don't think not one person.
- So what kind of food do you serve here?
[gasps] [laughs] - I think I serve...
I think I serve Soul Food.
I think my food is soulful.
[country music] - Now I'm headed to Edisto Island, because BJ says I cannot leave the Low Country without meeting his mentor and trying her Crab Gravy over grits.
And why would I argue with that?
But first, we gotta grab some grits.
So we're gonna go in here and make some, grind some...
Grind some stuff.
- That's right, hopefully it's like "Walt Disney World" to you.
- Okay, great.
[country music] So this is gonna make a yellow grit, I'm guessing?
- Yeah, whites are higher in sugar, and yellow's are higher in oil content.
BJ might be able to explain more on the cooking side of it, because it doesn't cook the same as a lot of varieties.
- It reminds me of Couscous.
- Oh really?
- In the grits form, cause it holds the shape.
You're gonna see it at Miss Meggett's house.
- Oh, she's gonna make it?
- So, lets grind.
[grinding machine hums] This corn is gonna get shuffled down in here, and there's two stones, so when you hear a stone ground, then we're gonna grind the corn, and it's gonna come out as either corn flour?
- Yeah, corn flour, corn meal or grits.
[country music] - This is the most incredible color.
I mean it's almost like cheddar.
So, where I come from, people would not eat yellow grits.
They're like, they think that's for the animals.
- Yeah, here it's the opposite.
You save your white because it's higher and sugar free Moonshine.
So you don't wanna waste it and eat it when you can make good Moonshine.
So in return you gotta cook with the yellow.
- Okay, grits say a lot about who you are, I guess.
- That's right.
- It tells a story.
- That's right.
[country music] [machine humming] - Okay, so we've got Miss Meggett a bag too?
Is she expecting us?
- Yeah, she's waiting on us.
- Oh good.
- You better have an appetite.
- I'm so excited.
- Always a pleasure bro.
- Good seeing you.
- Thank you for coming by the farm.
- Thank you, thank you so much.
[country music] Mrs Emily Meggett isn't just BJ's mentor, she's an icon of Gullah culture.
BJ says she cooks the purest form of Low Country Cuisine.
Mrs Meggett is a descendant of enslaved African's, and her family's cabin was recently moved to the Smithsonian.
[country music] So BJ, where are we?
- So we are at Miss Emily Megget's house, 47 years, she's cooked for church groups, families.
So yeah, she's the matriarch and the cook of the island.
So this is such an honor to be here in her kitchen.
- This is super cool.
- Thank you.
[screen door creaks] - Hi Vivian.
Oh, I'm excited, thank you so much.
I hear that you're the matriarch of the island.
- You think so?
That's the title now.
I'm the Mayor of the island [laughs].
And when the Mayor go away, everything they shut down.
Cause I cook and feed the sick people and the elderly people.
And I said now, they should be cooking for me, because I'm 85.
- That's what I was going to say.
- Well I'm so honored to be here.
I can smell that you've been cooking.
[laughs] - Yeah, she's actually got Sunday dinner going for us.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] I got some Collard Greens and Ham.
And then this is peas.
- Do you cook on this wood stove?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Oh yes, I'm from the old school.
[light guitar music] - When I come over here, I just let her give me that knowledge, let her do her thing, so.
I think we've just gonna cook the grits straight up.
- start off there, or?
[sizzling bacon dripping] - [Mrs Emily Meggett] This is some bacon dripping.
- Bacon dripping?
I know I'll love that.
And Miss Meggett's, you've lived here your whole life?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] All my life.
- So, what percentage would you say of the people who live Edisto are Gullah?
- James [murmurs] and John's [murmurs], they said that most of people that live here are Gullah.
And the eldest of people they are Geechee.
[laughs] - How is that different?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] I don't know.
- The accents can vary from island to island, but it's all the same.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] It varies a little bit, but not a whole lot.
- Not a whole lot.
And they say us, who are raised up in the city, we might talk a little faster.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Yeah, the city people, they use more of English than the country people.
Now see, I don't measure.
- Are you rinsing them, or?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Mm hmm, see all that husk that come out.
- Mm hmm, you wanna, what are you gonna do with that?
Oh, I see.
So Miss Meggett's rinsing the grits, and some of the husk-- - [Mrs Emily Meggett] Gets the husk off it.
- Rise to the top, and they'll never cook.
So you wanna spoon them off, or if you're as adept as she is, you can pour it off.
- Yeah [chuckles].
- So who taught you how to cook?
- Miss Brown, she was the head cook.
They had two cook, I cook for the servants and she cook for dogs and the girls upstairs.
- You cooked for the servants?
- Mm hmm, we had seven help.
And I cook for the help.
[country music] I'm about to stick my finger in that frying pan and get a piece of that fat back.
[laughs] - It's like one of the earliest smells of my childhood, that smell of the onions in the pan, the sauteing, little bit of oil, some bacon fat and such, it's nostalgic.
- You better watch me now, cause I'll be working fast with this.
- We picked crab yesterday, so there's some local Blue Crab.
- Oh wow!
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] I'm in the flour.
- Mm, okay, flour.
And this, it seems as if it's moving fast.
- Yeah, this ain't her first rodeo.
[food simmering in pan] [shaking spices] - The fat back, there's a flavor, almost that crack gets in there and it starts to, all through there so.
- And there's onion, I mean I'm...
I can't remember being so excited to eat [laughs].
So about how many crabs did it take to get that much crab meat?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] I think we had seven.
You watching me?
- Yes Ma'am.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] All right, now when you eat this crab, you gotta have all crab meat.
You never want it to fall apart.
- And you're spooning it over it, rather than stirring it in so it doesn't all shred up.
- She was saying, back in the days when they lived off the land, they would have to pick crab, that was a day job.
They picked crab and from there, that was a meal.
Maybe Crab Gravy, Stuffed Crab, Crab Rice.
[banging on the side of the pot] - [Mrs Emily Meggett] That's ready.
Now this could take a long time to cook.
[country music] - Oh my, what is that?
- Muskudane, it's wine.
- Muskudane Wine.
- You got a little bit of wine we can taste?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Oh Lord have mercy.
- Would you like to join me for a little sip?
- Miss Meggett's, would you like some of your own wine?
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Mm mm, you know I make it, but I don't drink.
- You don't care for it?
- Mm mm, you know two things I wanted to do when I get grown, was learn how to drink and smoke.
And I never dunned either one.
- Well that's why you're moving so fast right now.
[laughs] Thank you.
- That gravy has to have that bed.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] Yes, have a bed to sit in.
- You tell me about how much, cause I'll keep going.
- [Mrs Emily Meggett] That's good, that's good.
[country music] - This is delicious.
- I like the texture of the grits.
- So growing up, was being Gullah, is it something you thought about?
- No, I never thought about it.
But you know as growing up, they said, "Oh and your dolls, are they [murmurs] or Geechee's?"
- And what did that mean to you?
- Nothing, cause I didn't even, you know, couldn't recognize, you know what...
But even now, even now.
- It doesn't mean?
- Because if you cut you, you know you aint no white blood.
And if you cut me, do you think you can get some black blood?
No, all of us got the same red blood.
No different, we make the different.
- So BJ, what does it mean to you, to be Gullah?
- Pride, heritage, I mean you have Harvard University classes on Gullah Geechee.
You know but, we need that here in our city.
Making sure people understand our culture and understand how important it is, not to just Southern culture, but American culture, so.
It's a great thing.
[country music] - At Hannibal's, Dr Harris mentioned how the deeply embedded contributions of African Americans to Southern Cuisine never gets fully recognized.
And she's right.
It's not the kind of history we talk about, because for many of us, it would require we rewrite a story that's been told for decades.
I've lived 40 years without ever really looking at this truth.
Without understanding or paying respect to the ancestors who, in a lot of ways, laid the foundation for our country's only native cuisine.
But in most cases, knowledge is power.
So as a Southern story teller, as a mom and a cook, I tell a different story now.
So you know we went to Mrs Emily Meggett's, and she's like the matriarch of Edisto Island.
And she made these grits, with Crab Gravy, which is something I'd never have before.
[whisking sound] Just whisk 'em in.
- [Vivian's Daughter] Can I do it mommy?
- You usually put cheese into our grits.
- I love cheese in my grits.
When I was your age, I woke up and made my own grits with sausage and cheese.
Here put some more cheese in there.
[sizzling food] [country music] [mimics kissing] What about your grits, how are they?
- They're good.
[country music] - You spend time working on something and it's eating, then gone.
[laughs] But I don't think it's lost, I think if it's good, it'll be remembered.
You remember something your mother did, or your grandmother.
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