Review of “Deep Run Roots”

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Deep Run Roots
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Her voice was the first thing I noticed about Vivian Howard. My wife watches the Saturday PBS cooking shows and I heard this marvelous Southern accent–not Deep South, mind you, but Virginia-like, and then noticed it was coming from an attractive brunette in a kitchen. Mary Jane was watching “A Chef’s Life,” and so I sat down and watched, too. Vivian was a natural on camera and the script seemed minimal–she was just being herself, explaining how to cook “Deep Run”-style. That’s a farming community in eastern North Carolina, and specifically at the restaurant owned by Vivian and her husband Ben Knight: Chef and the Farmer in Kinston. I was so impressed with Vivian’s down-to-earth presentation that I watched several more episodes, and when this book was published, I bought it immediately. I’m very impressed with it. Vivian has mastered the roots and then expands upon them with her own flair. Take grits, for example. The roots are diner grits, but then with her chef’s skills, she transforms them into Grits and Greens with Hot Sauce and Pork Rinds and then Pimento Cheese Grits with Salsa.
grilled lamb kebabs with beet tzatzikiThere’s only one real way to test a cookbook, and that’s to cook from it. So yesterday, Mary Jane temporarily rescinded her ban on me cooking in her kitchen on her stove, and I made Vivian’s Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Beet Tzatziki (left). The only difference from the photo was the fact that I used golden beets, so the color of the tzadziki was not iridescent pink, but a nice shade of light yellow. I added rice pilaf to the menu, and wow, what a meal!
Here are some other dishes–besides those two grits recipes–that I’m going to try: Hamburger Steak with Red Pea and Onion Gravy; Jalapeño Peach Chicken; Crab Hoecakes with Blueberry Corn Salsa; Spoonbread with Sausage Ragout; and Fried Popcorn Oysters with Kitchen-Sink Mayo. Vivian Howard won the Peabody Award as the co-creator of “A Chef’s Life,” the first woman to win it since Julia Child. Therefore, it would be wonderful if she won the Julia Child Award for best first cookbook in the IACP Awards. I wouldn’t be surprised if her cookbook also won the James Beard Award for American Cooking. Good luck, Vivian. [Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South; Little, Brown and Company, hardcover large format, 564 pages, full color, $40.00, available here.]