Within the first two minutes of the opening episode, I felt two decades of remaining childhood guilt fade away. When I saw Satterfield eat mashed yam (a cousin of Fufu) and lamb with his hands in Benin and slurp crab and okra stew in South Carolina, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of familiarity, comfort and belonging – my own sense of homecoming.
Satterfield, who is also the founder of whetstone, a magazine and media company, is more reluctant and vulnerable than any documentary filmmaker I’ve seen. He never seeks the limelight or centers himself. He has the journalist’s ability to observe and listen, which makes it all the more powerful when his own emotions arise. Through his innate empathy and genuine curiosity, he creates an intentional space within conversation that lets the spiritual magic of black storytelling shine brightly. The show’s spirituality isn’t particularly religious (though Satterfield stops for a barbecue in a Texas Baptist church by a Pastor Slash Pitmaster), but rather focuses on honoring the indomitable spirits of ancestors who continue to lead us forward – the soul of African American heritage .
“We are the only people who have named our kitchen after something invisible that you can feel, like love and God,” says the culinary historian Michael Twitty says of Soul Food in the second episode. “Something completely transcendental. It’s about a connection between us and our dead and us and those waiting to be born. “Twitty’s words open a necessary window into the mindset of our African American predecessors who poured every ounce of themselves into their kitchens. By imbibing their food with their soul, our ancestors created a way to feel the comfort and safety of home no matter where they ended up or how terribly they were treated. “Despite the fact that we were in Hell,” says Twitty, “that we were worked to death, we created a kitchen.”
HOTH doesn’t shy away from discussing the horrors of slavery, but it makes the conscientious decision to only bring up the topic at key moments on the show – a welcome departure from the media Obsession with the charisma of black suffering. Instead, the series focuses on paying tribute to the resilience of enslaved Africans who, despite constant physical and psychological torture, have built culinary legacies out of love for the distant offspring they would never encounter.
Many of HOTH’s guest stars now carry the torch of these legacies BJ Dennis, the chef who preserves the Gullah culture of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, whole roast pork at a time; like Chris Williams, chef and owner of Lucille’s in Houston, named after his great-grandmother, who a successful food business operator in the early 1900s; and like Gabrielle Etienne, a cultural activist who serves special farm-to-table dinners from her own backyard on family properties in North Carolina. “Our legacy is not in statues or history books,” says Satterfield. “It lives on in the people who guard the gates of our culture and continue to share our stories.”
It is impossible to exaggerate the power of seeing African Americans share our own story on HOTH. With an all-black directing team under the direction of Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams behind the camera, the series not only shares authentically black stories, but also rejects narrow-minded assumptions about what African Americans can achieve. “The constraints placed on us by defining black hands are exhausting,” says Chef Chris Williams in episode four of Satterfield. “We are the innovators of everything that is pop culture right now. It’s born out of us and taken, monetized, whitewashed and shipped all over the world, but it’s still ours. “