Hosted by food journalist Stephen Satterfield based on Dr. Jessica B. Harris' 2012 book of the same name by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog "aims to do is to slow food history down, uncovering the particularities that have been lost and buried over the years," says Justin Kirkland. "As Harris (and her book) points out, it’s African ingredients that created so much of America. Not just the dishes we’ve grown accustomed to on Thanksgiving, but the cities we inhabit. To marvel at American food is to marvel at African American food. Period. As the docuseries moves forward, the story moves stateside, bringing centuries-old traditions into the present. While myth-busting and food trivia may be delightful highlights in each episode, the moments that resonate most deeply are the personal stories that state history so matter of factly, flipping accepted notions on their heads without explicitly bringing them up. In episode three, the roots of macaroni and cheese are traced to James Hemings, the first American-born, French-trained chef. There’s no justification or debunking needed for a story like Hemings. The point is only that the story be told. High on the Hog provides an introductory course into how entangled African American culture is with American cuisine in just four episodes. Beyond the history of the food, Satterfield and his many guests along the way begin to unravel African American food history and the arms it has in the sociological, cultural, and historical contexts that often get ignored."
It’s a shame that High on the Hog is only four episodes: "By the end of the last one, it’s clear the series could have delved even deeper into the African American culinary experience," says Lovia Gyarkye. "Etienne’s story in particular might have lent itself to a closer examination of the precarity of Black farmers and the scarcity of affordable fresh food in some Black communities. Caribbean cuisine could have been more prominently featured as well, not only as a way to stress the sheer size of the slave trade but to recognize how forced movement within the Western hemisphere contributed to an evolving palate. These criticisms have less to do with the docuseries and more to do with the embarrassing dearth of mainstream projects chronicling the history of Black American food, which places an unfair burden on the few that do exist to fully encompass a centuries-long narrative. If we’re lucky, High on the Hog is just the beginning."
High on the Hog will make you ravenous in every way: "For the culinary delights with which it is stuffed to bursting, for its nuanced intelligence, its joy, its pace; for the expertise of its presenter, the chef, food writer and former sommelier Stephen Satterfield, for his extraordinarily ego-free warmth; and, most of all, for its profound difference in spirit and content from almost everything that has gone before," says Lucy Mangan.
To say there has never been a food show like this is not a stretch: "Historically, American food TV has largely reduced African American cooking to Southern or soul food," says Kim Severson. "Even when it came to barbecue, producers favored white cooking personalities over Black ones." Severson calls High on the Hog "an overdue corrective," adding: "The seeds of the show were sown six years ago when the food journalist Jeff Gordinier was reporting an article for The New York Times on African American cooking. Alexander Smalls, the chef and co-owner of the Cecil, in Harlem, told him to read Dr. Harris’s book. Mr. Gordinier did, then told a friend, the producer Fabienne Toback. Ms. Toback read High on the Hog in one sitting, and wept. She and (producer Karis) Jagger, her longtime creative partner, were raw from the 2014 killing of Michael Brown Jr. by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and were looking for material that had more depth and meaning to them. They quickly asked Dr. Harris for the rights." "She said yes to a couple of scrappy middle-aged Black women, and we were so grateful,” says Toback. “We wanted to make something grand, like she is.” Dr. Harris called the women angels. “They were just hellbent on getting it produced,” said Harris.
What was it like working on a project with a predominantly Black creative team?: "It was the part of the production that made me say yes right away," says Satterfield. "So much of the power of this project is about the content, but also, who had the agency to make the show. I think that what you see — us sharing these stories from our communities — is a level of care and sensitivity that I don’t think would have been possible without completely allowing those of us with the lived experience to be the arbiters and interpreters of these stories, to project and reflect back into the world. I don’t think it’s something that will be lost on Black viewers, either in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world."