The PBS show, which endeavors to probe the methods and motivations of the nation’s most progressive chefs, last year won a James Beard Foundation award for its season’s worth of episodes devoted to David Chang. For the second season, April Bloomfield is splitting hosting duties with Sean Brock: The show’s first eight episodes feature Brock’s travels in Louisiana, Virginia, Tennessee and Senegal.
But the show’s opener – premiering nationally on Saturday, but scheduled to first air locally at 10 p.m. on Oct. 17 — is set mostly in Charleston. To demonstrate that Southern food “is not just a plate of fried chicken,” Brock invites a series of pals into Husk’s kitchen. He makes a peanut and field pea salad with Steven Satterfield, who regularly demonstrates his vegetable mastery at Atlanta’s Miller Union, and prepares Delta-style tamales with Mississippi’s John Currence.
“We’re at Husk,” points out Currence, who Brock identifies as one of his best friends. “How the hell do you not make tamales?”
“There will now be tamales on the Husk menu,” Brock promises.
Then Brock heads out for a field trip to Fishnet Seafood with Matt and Ted Lee, who maintains that deviled crab (sold as Jesus crab at Fishnet) is “ready for its comeback moment.” Yet it’s the fried crabs which captivate Brock, who had never before visited Fishnet:
According to Matt Lee, the production team chose the venue Brock reports he chose the venue for filming. For Fishnet, it may have been a propitious choice.
“Now it’s in my rotation to bring people who’ve never been to the South,” Brock tells the camera in a sit-down interview after the excursion.
While Fishnet’s previously showed up in the national press – Jane and Michael Stern extolled the shop’s “wildly delicious…brittle-crusted shrimp, local oysters, crab cakes, filets of flounder, bone-in or bone-out croaker” on their Roadfood website and public radio’s The Splendid Table – Brock’s word carries significant weight with food writers. His oft-voiced love of Martha Lou’s probably helped land the restaurant a spot in a 2011 New York Times review of McCrady’s and Husk, in which then-critic Sam Sifton concluded, “In the cosmology of Southern cooking, Martha Lou’s is no dwarf planet. It is close to the sun itself.” Culinary tourists have been flocking to the once-sleepy soul food joint since.
“We came all the way from Philadelphia for this!” a visiting chef recently exclaimed when Martha Lou Gadsden stopped by his table to survey the emptied plates of pork chops, fried chicken and lima beans.
Fishnet manager Jeanette Wethington says every media mention brings a throng of first-timers to the store.
“They kind of look lost,” Wethington says. “The outside of the building looks nothing like the inside.”
Confusing matters further, on Mind of a Chef, the inside of the building looks nothing like the inside: The show’s crew brought a table to Fishnet, making it appear as though the take-out joint offers seated dining. Despite the adjustments, Wethington enjoyed the filming:
“We were all pretty nervous, but it went pretty well,” she says.
Wethington says Fishnet’s ready to serve Mind of a Chef fans, although the store’s now coping with owner Joe Pleasant’s recent injury.
“The bossman got himself hurt pretty bad,” Wethington says of Pleasant’s lawnmower accident. “It messed him up pretty good: He got a ruptured spleen, broken ribs.”
Pleasant worked for three days following the accident before taking time off to recuperate.
Pleasant’s absence has strained the staff, which is also hustling to keep up with an expanded schedule. In a move which will surely please folks inclined to take Brock’s advice, the store last month added Sunday hours.