Vivian Howard, whose PBS show “A Chef’s Life” has won Peabody, James Beard and Daytime Emmy awards, is coming to Kentucky.
She will be swinging through on her nine-week tour for her first cookbook, “Deep Run Roots,” stopping in Louisville with a large, colorful food truck before heading to Maker’s Mark in Loretto to be honored as the 2016 Maker’s Mark TasteMaker.
Oh, and she’ll be filming an episode of her fifth season along the way. The ingredient? Bourbon, of course.
Despite all that, the distillery dinner may be the easiest part of the tour, she said.
“While I’m sure I’ll help, I won’t be carrying it all on my shoulders,” Howard said during a recent interview. “And who doesn’t want to go to Maker’s Mark and be bourboned and fed?”
The menu for the $160-a-plate dinner includes favorites from her massive newly released cookbook such as tomato pie, blueberry BBQ chicken, and Viv’s favorite beet salad, all accompanied by Maker’s Mark cocktails.
“We’ve always wanted to do a bourbon episode but I’ve never had an authentic reason to be in Kentucky,” Howard said. “I don’t go somewhere just to do the show.”
Keeping the show authentic means everything to Howard. While “A Chef’s Life” has a solid following among foodies, Howard doesn’t consider it a “food show.” Likewise, although it’s a documentary about her restaurant in Kinston, N.C., and her work as a chef, it certainly isn’t a traditional reality show either.
“I feel really proud to be on PBS. I don’t sacrifice the respect of my peers, and don’t have to cook a muskrat on the road across the ditch from someone who is trying cook a muskrat faster than I am,” she said.
Howard likes to keep the focus on the farmers and the “unsung heroes” of Southern food and builds each show, and each chapter of her book, around a specific ingredient.
“I like to cook things I like to eat. So I cook a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit because we get a lot of beautiful fruit here. The book has 26 chapters and 10 at least are about a specific fruit. I really love cooking with fruit in a savory fashion, and love cooking vegetables of all kinds,” she said. The book is an ode to great Southern cooking without being either pretentious or precious.
The show will tape its fifth season as she travels throughout the southeast on the book tour. After that, Howard isn’t sure what will become of “A Chef’s Life” but she has plenty of ingredients to profile on the trip.
She plans to explore bourbon with Maker’s Mark and with Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon in Louisville.
“I’m going to see Trey because he’s into collaborations and I have an idea ... but it’s questionable whether or not it will work,” Howard said. (She wants to keep the idea under wraps for now.)
Howard likes to tie her food and her roots in North Carolina together.
“At the Maker’s Mark dinner we’ll cook with bourbon, and also the dessert will be peanut and Pepsi float with a bourbon topper,” she said. Peanuts in Pepsi is a traditional North Carolina snack that stems from the tradition of tobacco field workers dumping a sleeve of peanuts in the drink to avoid getting them sticky from the tobacco, she said.
“I know Kentucky and Eastern North Carolina share a tobacco culture, and I’m interested in that,” she said. But she doesn’t know that much about Kentucky regional foods such as mutton barbecue or banana croquettes.
For the similarly uninitiated, banana croquettes are sliced raw bananas rolled in mayonnaise and peanuts, popular in Western Kentucky.
But amazingly, Howard found common ground there. “The peanut butter and jelly of my youth was a banana and mayonnaise sandwich,” she said. “We’re serving a version on the food truck, calling them Deep Run rolls. ... I think there must have been a big push by Chiquita bananas in the 1960s that was incredibly successful in the south. And now we have this.”
Howard is looking to toward new culinary horizons, both on and off camera.
“After spending my 20s and 30s focused on Southern food, and writing 600 pages on Southern food, I’m looking forward to working my way through some other cuisines,” she said.
That may mean a shift to a different type of television show.
“I’d certainly like to write more cookbooks but I probably need the show as a platform to write the books. ... We always think TV has to have shock value, has to be over the top, have some kind of gag, but our show has proven that’s not the case.
“There’s a lot of stories out there that have not been told because people don’t think you can,” she said. “We have tremendous divide in this country between rural and urban, both groups very afraid of each other, and I’m interested in showing people how they are more the same than different, and I feel like one of the best ways to do that is through food. Those are the stories I’m really interested in telling.”
If you go
On Oct. 8, Maker’s Mark Distillery, 3350 Burks Spring Road in Loretto, will honor chef Vivian Howard as the 2016 TasteMaker with a special dinner. Tickets are $160 per person, available at MakersMark.com/Distillery/Events, and include a copy of her new book, Deep Run Roots.
The evening will kick off at 4 p.m. with Maker’s Mark cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and live Bluegrass music from The Wooks. Dinner will feature some of Vivian’s favorite recipes, including Tomato Pie, Blueberry BBQ Chicken, and Viv’s Favorite Beet Salad. You must be 21 years old to purchase tickets and attend this event.
Howard’s book tour, along with her food truck, also will stop in Louisville from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 9 at Carmichael’s Books, 2720 Frankfort Avenue. Tickets for the book signing, which also includes a sandwich and beverage, are $53 and available at carmichaelsbookstore.com.
Roasted and fresh tomato pie
From Vivian Howard’s “Deep Run Roots — Stories & Recipes from My Corner of the South.”
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into julienne with the grain
2 teaspoons salt, divided
3 1/2 pounds tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch dice, divided
1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 turns of the pepper mill or 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated fontina
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons ice-cold water
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Make the crust: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds. Then begin adding the butter. Continue until the flour is speckled and crumbly.
With the mixer still running, add the water and vinegar until just combined. Do not overmix. Lay roughly a 10x10-inch square of plastic wrap on the counter and turn the dough out onto it. Wrap the dough tightly in the plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Bring the crust to room temperature. Dust your counter and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the crust slightly larger than your pie pan. Lay the crust in the pan and press gently into its edges. Cut off the edges that hang over and discard.
Freeze the crust in the pie pan for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay foil or parchment paper on top of the crust and weight that down with dried beans or rice. Bake for 30 minutes.
Make the filling: Preheat your oven to 375. In a medium sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook the onions over medium-low heat till they are deeply caramelized. This will take about an hour. If your onions burn a little, add ¼ cup of water to the pan, scrape up the overbrowned bits, and keep going. In the end, you’ll have a scant ⅔ cup caramelized onions.
Toss half the tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon sugar. Set them over a colander and let them drain at least 30 minutes.
Toss the remaining tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt, the thyme, and the olive oil. Spread them out in a single layer on a sheet tray with as much room separating the individual pieces as possible. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast for 20 to 30 minutes. You’re looking for the tomatoes to dry out and brown slightly.
Once all the individual components are done, stir together onions, fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, remaining salt, sugar, black pepper, and basil. In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, fontina, and Parm.
Spoon the filling into your baked crust and crown it with the topping. Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 30 minutes. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.
Makes one 10-inch pie