Season 2 of High On The Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America starts like Season 1, with host Stephen Satterfield, a chef and author, taking a journey with Jessica B. Harris, whose book of the same name the show is based on. However, instead of being in Benin, one of the African nations where the slave trade was active, they’re in New Orleans, one of the many regions where the people from Benin and other African nations became enslaved.
HIGH ON THE HOG: HOW AFRICAN AMERICAN CUISINE TRANSFORMED AMERICA: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: During a spectacular sunset, Stephen Satterfield and Jessica B. Harris walk along a beach. She talks about how the Atlantic Ocean was “the birth canal of African-Americans.”
The Gist: In New Orleans, Satterfield and Harris find out the Senegalese influence on Creole cuisine, finding out that dishes that once were thought to be of French origin, like gumbo or jambalaya, are really more of a result of what Harris calls “African hands in the pot.”
Satterfield then goes out on a bayou canal with artist Michelle Joan Papillion, an eighth-generation Creole native, and talks to a man who fishes the canal he owns in order to feed his family. He also speaks to Elvin Shields, who grew up in a sharecropping family; they discuss how sharecropping, which Black families did after becoming free. While Satterfield has strong feelings about the practice, given the economics that kept Black families impoverished, Shields felt that the practice gave families like his ownership, something they never had before.
In Chicago, Satterfield discusses the Great Migration that happened in the first half of the 20th century, when millions of Black families came to northern cities to live and work. His grandfather was a Pullman Porter, working on the Pullman passenger trains; he speaks to 98-year-old Benjamin Gaines Sr., who actually worked as a Pullman Porter. He then explores the food history of the city’s South Side.
Our Take: What we appreciated about the first season of High On The Hog continues during its second season, which is Satterfield’s deep emotional connection to the history behind the food he’s sampling on the series.
In the two years between seasons, Satterfield has gotten a little more polished, but for the most part, he still leads with an earnestness and curiosity that serves him well. He’s deliberate in his speech, whether it’s his scripted voice overs or his off-the-cuff on-camera conversations. He’s there to learn, from Harris and his guests, and when he monologues, he’s not doing it as a way of showboating, like other hosts of shows like this tend do do (coughGordonRamsaycough), he really seems like he’s working through his thoughts and trying to sort out what he’s learning and how it fits with his existing knowledge.
Of course, the food that the various chefs make looks amazing; we wanted to fly down to New Orleans and go to the restaurants Satterfield and Harris visited. But what’s more satisfying is the chef-author’s continuing journey to learn how the African-American experience, starting with the tragedy of the slave trade, informs so much of what Americans of all origins eat.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Scenes from the next episode, where Satterfield visits Harlem.
Sleeper Star: We’ll give this to Jessica B. Harris, whose take on the journey Africans took to the Americas and how it has influenced this country’s cuisine is riveting to listen to.
Most Pilot-y Line: None we could find.
Our Call: STREAM IT. High On The Hog continues to be an informative treatise on how extensive the African influence on American cuisine is, with Satterfield providing a personal connection to the topic that makes the exploration even more interesting.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.