High on the Hog

Photograph: Netflix
Rating 8.3
Streamer Netflix
Seasons 1
Episodes 4 x 50 mins

We’re a sucker for a travelogue series, especially when it involves mouth-watering grub from across the globe. And this new one from Netflix, documenting how African food made its way around America, is an absolute feast for the eyes.

Make sure you’ve eaten before you start watching this show, and maybe even have some snacks on the go too, as this is going to make you seriously peckish. This four-part series has been adapted for TV from the 2011 book by Jessica B Harris, and is presented by the utterly watchable Stephen Satterfield, a well-known chef, food writer and former sommelier. With him we journey through the history of African food in America, from slavery to modern day, beginning in Benin, one of West Africa’s biggest slave trading ports. We learn about the foods that travelled across the Atlantic with the enslaved, like okra and yams, meeting a local restaurateur who is trying to keep traditional recipes alive. We then move back to America to discover how these recipes have adapted and changed over time, visiting the Carolinas to look at the human cost of rice farming, before travelling on to Virginia, Texas and New York, uncovering the African origins of much-loved dishes like mac and cheese, barbecued brisket and oyster platters.

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We’re pretty much down for any food show – so much so, we even have a list of our favourites – and can’t resist a show that revels in the joy of food and cooking. And this one does just that. The dishes featured look so good you wish you could do a Mike Teavee and reach out and grab a plate. But it’s also much more than an excuse for TV food porn – this is righting the history of food, whose truths may leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

We hear of the awful conditions under which African slaves were kept at the Benin port, watching as Satterfield weeps at the Cemetery of Slaves. And we come to understand the genius of the black cooks that shaped American food, only for it to be reduced (or whitewashed) into terms like ‘soul food’, or ‘Southern cuisine’. In terms of food TV, this is unlike anything we’ve seen before – created by an all black team, it is honest, enlightening and informative.

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan gives High on the Hog four stars, calling it “fascinating” and praising it for being “glorious, complex, innovative rest, which remains a feast for the mind, heart and soul.” She says: “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.” And The New York Times’s Kim Severson agrees on that last point, she says: “As a food-show host, Mr. Satterfield is as introspective as Stanley Tucci is effusive or Anthony Bourdain was bold. He turned out to be exactly the host the show called for.”

First shown May 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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