On the phone with Chef Vivian Howard: Handy & Hot and more
By Helen Mitternight
The show, which features multicultural contributions to Southern food, will not change in concept because of the recently heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Back in early March, celebrity chefVivian Howard,perhaps, most well known for her popular television series,A Chef's Life,was looking forward to opening a pair of restaurants in Charleston. She was grateful to have space in a hotel owned byMarriottthat seemed guaranteed to bring in foot traffic, at least from tourists.
And then COVID-19 hit. Most feet in the city were making tracks from their refrigerator to the sofa, not out in the streets.
But that didn’t stop Chef Howard — slowed her down, yes, but not for long. The opening ofHandy + Hotoriginally slated for June was delayed until now.
“I’m grateful to have a project to think about that’s positive,” she said in a phone call this week, just days after it opened at the Renaissance Charleston on Wentworth Street.
The restaurant offers food that she says is right for the moment. Not as many people are lingering in sit-down restaurants, so a place that offers grab-and-go feels right to her. The second restaurant, Lenoir, named after the North Carolina town that made her famous, is on hold for now.
“Having Handy & Hot right there lets us bide our time until it’s time to open,” she says, adding that October is projected for Lenoir’s opening, but the virus may push that back a bit.
Handy & Hot has the biscuits and hand pies the North Carolina chef is known for, along with salads and other healthy fare. And look for local collaborations like boozy fruit withHigh Wire Distilling Co.(think peaches infused with Southern Amaro Liqueur,) andPepsisherbet with candied salted peanuts fromLife Raft Treat’sCynthia Wong.
“We were really purposeful in designing our menu and we have food for people who don’t want a big carb-heavy experience,” she explains.
Howard has been living in Charleston for about a month to prepare for the opening. She plans to divide her time between the Holy City and her hometown in North Carolina, with trips eventually to promote her new book due out this fall as well as“Somewhere South,”her PBS television show.
“Somewhere South,” is another thing in her life that feels right for the time, she says.
“We were fortunate that it aired during the height of the pandemic,” she says. “We had really good viewership because people were at home.”
A second season is in the works, but production is on hold, as is almost everything else until COVID-related restrictions are lifted. The show, which features multicultural contributions to Southern food, will not change in concept because of the recently heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The whole point and premise of the show was to shed light on stories and people and food traditions that are not often celebrated in media,” she insists. “It’s one reason I am proud of ‘Somewhere South.’ I don’t think we can just talk about Black Lives Matter for a few months and then turn a corner and move on. This is a conversation we need to be having and addressing in the long term, and we were already doing it. The show is meant to reveal that we all share a lot, and it’s meant to reveal that, while we have distinctions, we are a lot more alike than we are different.”