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15 Minutes with Vivian Howard

15 Minutes with Vivian Howard
November 2020

The chef, cookbook author, and TV personality, beloved for her unpretentious charm, talks about opening two downtown eateries in the midst of a pandemic

Howard at Handy + Hot, the first brick-and-mortar location of her online bakeshop, which opened in August at the Renaissance Hotel on Wentworth Street

CM: You opened Handy + Hot during a crippling time for food and bev. How’s it going?
When you open a restaurant in the middle of COVID, it’s like that tree that fell in the woods and no one knew it. But we’re meeting the pandemic where it’s at. The premise is grab-and-go, and we’ve gotten a great response. We’re even extending hours to do a biscuit and booze pop-up with cheeseburger hand pies and boozy fruit.

CM: What makes for a great hand pie?
A really assertive, tasty filling juxtaposed with a delicate, flaky crust. Right now, my favorite is a tomato pie in a pocket, but the one that will never go away is the Apple Jack, which has dried apples simmered with sugar, lemon juice, and black pepper.

CM: Tell us about Lenoir, your second Charleston restaurant, set to open this winter.
It’s named after the county where I grew up and currently live. I wanted to represent the food of the rural agricultural South, which is rooted in vegetables and grains, with meat as a condiment. It’s about preservation—stretching resources, not wasting, and making the most of a seasonal bounty. That type of food really complements Charleston because so many of its current restaurants’ focus on seafood-centric Lowcountry cooking.

Leap of Faith - Launching two restaurants in the age of COVID-19 takes guts and nerves of steel. There’s no doubt North Carolina chef and TV personality Vivian Howard (center) and team were thrilled to find diners lining up at her downtown bakeshop, Handy + Hot, this summer for her flaky hand pies, both sweet and savory.

CM: Charleston is a tad different from your hometown in Kinston, North Carolina. Why is our city the right host for your new ventures?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Charleston throughout my life. I lived there one summer during college, and we vacation there a lot. It feels warm and welcoming.

CM: You have a new cookbook hitting shelves this fall as well. What can readers expect?
This Will Make It Taste Good is filled with stories about how I cook with condiments. In my restaurants, we do lots of preserving and pickling during the summer to make these cool condiments that can be brought out during colder months to make winter food exciting. Every chapter covers a condiment with five or six recipes. One example, Little Green Dress, is like if chimichurri and olives had a baby. It’s bright, herbaceous, acidic, and briny, and it goes with everything.

CM: Do you have an update on Season 2 of your TV series, Somewhere South?
The pandemic makes production challenging, and we’re trying to figure out how to make it work. The show really seemed to speak to people and soften the edges around how we feel about each other. That was the goal, and I hope to do more of it.

CM: What was the most interesting thing you learned while filming?
That no matter where we come from or what our food traditions are, we break bread together in very much the same way. One of my most profound experiences was outside of Atlanta with a woman from Burundi. She cooked this feast with dishes I didn’t recognize, but when we sat down to eat, there were all the elements of a typical Southern table: a starchy thing to sop up and stretch the meat thing alongside slow-cooked veggies. No matter how different we perceive ourselves to be, we mostly eat the same way.