[gentle music] - If you wanted to divide the South into fish regions, the inland South, where I live, would be catfish, and the mountainous South, to my west, would be trout.
Today, we're going to the mountains.
♪ ♪ - ♪ One two three four ♪ - I'm Vivian, and I'm a chef.
My husband Ben and I were working for some of the best chefs in New York City, when my parents offered to help us open our own restaurant.
Of course, there was a catch.
We had to open this restaurant in eastern North Carolina, where I grew up and said I would never return.
["Will You Return" by the Avett Brothers] - ♪ I wish you'd see yourself ♪ ♪ As beautiful as I see you ♪ all: ♪ Why can't you see yourself ♪ ♪ As beautiful as I see you ♪ - So this is my life.
Raising twins, living on my parents' farm, and exploring the South, one ingredient at a time.
Previously, on "A Chef's Life"...
I have to go to Atlanta.
- What's in Atlanta?
- I'm cooking at a thing called Hired Guns.
I have, uh, charred--sorry, this is my first time doing this.
[laughs] - That's all right.
- Tell me about your book schedule.
Has it driven you crazy yet?
- You know, I'm done pretty much with the book tour.
I think I'm coming out of it.
- But I think I'm gonna be okay.
[both laugh] - I'm sure you will.
[laughs] [relaxing acoustic guitar music] ♪ ♪ - Although the terrain is really different here, for some reason, western North Carolina reminds me of home.
Lots of small farms, lots of dilapidated barns, and, of course, plenty of charm.
- Hey, Vivian.
- Nice to meet you.
- Yeah, nice to meet you too.
- John, you can come over here.
- [laughs] John is our sous-chef at the restaurant.
- Hey, John, nice to meet you.
- Hi, nice to meet you.
- He does the ordering now... - Great.
- So you need to start pestering him, not me.
- Okay, I will take you off the list immediately.
- So tell me where we are.
- This is Sunburst Trout Farms.
My grandfather, who started the business, had the forethought to have better water source.
This is all what is originally mountain water from the Pisgah National Forest.
Water that flows out of the mountain is virtually untouched when we receive it.
- We're pulling the water directly out of that into our farm, at the rate of 6,000 or 7,000 gallons a minute.
So what that does is mimic what they see in nature.
Trout swim upstream.
They're swimming upstream here.
That heavy flow gives them a nice resistance to swim against, so they're in good shape.
You probably see that with the fish that you guys get.
You know, the loin's very thick.
- You know, it's not very limp, bouncing around.
It's nice and firm, which makes for a good product.
- So y'all have 'em in, like, this, right here?
- Yeah, these are called raceways.
So it's a gravity-fed flow-through system.
What that means is, when we pull the water out of the lake, gravity is doing the work.
These fish are contained there.
And a cool thing that we do is, we have a very low swimming capacity.
There's a lot of fish in there.
We could have five times the amount, and they would survive.
But it adds more stress to 'em, and when the stress is high, that's not good for 'em.
- Okay, so the density is much greater up here.
- So now, you can get a little better view of how many trout are in here.
- They look bigger than-- I mean, I guess 'cause we always get 'em with the head off.
- Okay, so yeah, there's a lot more.
And these are how big, would you say?
- These are running about a pound and a quarter to a pound and a half.
- Then how old is a pound-and-a-half fish?
- About a year and a half, two years.
- So this is gonna sound-- this is completely ridiculous, but can you compare salmon and trout?
Yeah, they're similar.
I tell people... - They're in the same family, right?
- They're basically cousins.
- The skeletal system's identical.
Cutout's pretty similar.
Salmon, obviously bigger, they're gonna have a higher fat content.
Salmon have an even stronger-- I hate the word "fishy flavor," but more people would describe salmon as a fishier flavor.
- It has a more robust flavor.
- "Robust" is a more fair word, for sure, yeah.
- Most of your fish, does it go to restaurants?
- Restaurants are our bread and butter.
- I also think just like the average home cook doesn't know what to do with a whole trout.
- I agree.
There's still a lot of people that freak out when... [both chuckle] Those eyes are looking at you, but you guys can always remove that if you'd like.
- For our little Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, we're probably gonna have to fillet them, because I can't imagine that going well upstairs.
- So one of the really interesting things about what y'all do is this whole roe situation... - Yeah.
- Or caviar, as you call it.
- Can we see some of that?
♪ ♪ - We'll stand back a little bit.
It's a little bit of a splash zone here.
- Oh, yeah, I don't wanna get wet.
- So he's pulled the first one to let some water start flowing out, and here they come.
♪ ♪ - Look how beautiful they are themselves.
- Yeah, there's some really nice fish in here.
- So rainbow trout is something that people would go fishing for here in the mountains and in the wild.
Is there a traditional way to cook it?
- Yeah, certainly here in the mountains, people like to fry 'em.
Cast-iron skillet, nice little cornmeal breading... - Oh, really?
- And then fry 'em.
- So what are they doing here?
- All right, so now it's time for another harvest.
♪ ♪ [indistinct chatter] All right, so here we are at the beginning of our fresh process.
Run it through a machine here that's gonna lop the head off.
We're gonna split the belly by hand, pull the entrails by hand.
- So this is the fillet machine, and the fish are gonna go in right here, and come out filleted right there.
- So these are eggs that have already been harvested out of the cavity of the fish.
You might have a general idea if it's egg-bearing or not, but you really ultimately don't know until you actually split the belly.
Let's see if these are egg-bearing here.
- There's one.
- You can see that's got a couple in there.
He's gonna pull those out.
Those look to be a little bit small.
We'll have to sort through those and see if we got any big enough.
That's a thing in the caviar world.
Only the best live, you know.
- So little is not good?
- Yeah, if it's too small, at least for trout roe, it will not have developed that nice pop yet... - Okay.
- And you really want that.
♪ ♪ Here is the trout roe.
This is the next step.
♪ ♪ - What is that?
- This is the drawing screen.
For someone who loves fish eggs of all kinds, getting to see trout roe turned into trout caviar is super cool.
- So we're gonna look down at them.
You can see that bright color.
You're gonna look for any of what you call dead eggs.
And the dead egg will be almost translucent.
- You don't want those.
This looks good.
See that thin little membrane on the outside?
- That's called a skein.
- That's what houses all those eggs together.
- Can I just try just an egg?
- You're welcome to.
This is in its most natural state.
♪ ♪ - It's very mild.
- It does not gross me out at all.
- It's not what you end up having.
- But the pop is definitely... - Pop's there.
- So what we're gonna do is, we're gonna lay the open side down.
And you're gonna use the palm of your hand, and you're gonna just apply some pressure and push through.
I'm afraid I'm gonna, like... - There--they are... - Hurt it.
- More resilient than you think.
What I'm left with is the dirty old skein here.
- [indistinct] - I'm gonna discard that.
What's fallen through is the eggs that I want to use.
- That's so cool.
- We're gonna put 'em in a container with salt and a little dash of sugar.
After 15 minutes back on the drying rack, and then from there, they're ready to jar and ship down to Chef & the Farmer.
- Then you sell it to me for an insane amount of money.
- Some might say insane.
- [laughing] - I say fair and reasonable.
♪ ♪ There's your fish.
- Oh, cool.
- We'll ship 'em out this afternoon, and you should have 'em tomorrow.
- I'll have a special connection to these.
- There you go.
- [laughs] ♪ ♪ [indistinct chatter] - And, um, Vivian, can you tell me a little bit about what you're doing here at Mary's Kitchen?
- Yeah, I am, um, just kind of spearheading one meal out of many that these fine folks over here operate seven days a week.
And I'm ashamed to say that I've never done this before.
Mary Hosea asked us to do it.
She felt like it was something that we should do, and she's absolutely right.
- And what are you making for them here today?
- We're making a pork and sweet potato and barley stew.
We've got a salad.
We've got some garlic bread.
And I made some cookies that I think I cooked a little bit too long, but they'll be all right.
[both chuckle] So how many people do you serve in a given day?
- This week, it's been about 130 in here.
- That's my kinda bowl.
- [laughs] ♪ ♪ - Just a little bit more, 'cause more ranch is more ranch.
♪ ♪ It makes me very uncomfortable that this is a media event.
I get that I can bring attention to Mary's Kitchen, and that's definitely a good thing, but there are people who cook here every day.
It bothers me that I get applauded for doing it once.
- [laughing] Hey, but they're loving it.
♪ ♪ - Well, I'm serious about us doing it once a month.
I think it would be good for our whole organization to participate and... - People were asking you about revitalizing us, and you said, "If we didn't revitalize Kinston, we wouldn't need a soup kitchen."
- Yeah, like, I get so frustrated with that.
It's like we've only provided something for a very small demographic.
- Well... - There's children out there too.
- During school vacation times, we serve a lot too.
♪ ♪ - We've been trying to do a lot more parties upstairs since we remodeled the space, so we're doing a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner to celebrate the holidays.
Now, typically, a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner would be done on Christmas Eve by Italian families, but this is not Christmas Eve, and I'm not Italian, so it's gonna be a little different.
So do you still want to take care of the amuse?
- Yeah, I want to do the oysters.
- Mignonette marinated orange.
The sweet potato skins with trout roe and buttermilk crème fraîche.
- Okay, John started crème fraîche last night... - Okay, great, great.
- So that's working.
- What was my third one?
- Man, I had it written down... - King crab legs.
- Oh, yeah, the crab legs.
- And then, I will take care of the trout.
The components will be sunchokes and olive and lemon.
And how that is, I'm not really...
I mean, I gotta do it.
- Get out the sunchokes, and I'll come and show you how we're gonna work with them.
I've got this awful headache, and I'm hoping it passes so that I can help.
- Got it.
- Thank you.
♪ ♪ Okay, so... these little knobs... - Uh-huh.
- And so basically, what's gonna happen is, we're going to boil these so they're just tender, and then bring them out and smash them, and then tomorrow, we'll fry them, and they'll be a crispy component on the fish.
And that's gonna go in another container.
It's gonna get boiled and then blended for a really stark white purée.
♪ ♪ - Hey.
How are you?
- I'm doing fine.
- When I was on the book tour, it was very clear that my job was to sign books and shake hands.
But now that I'm back at the restaurant, I feel kind of silly signing books and not cooking.
Thank y'all very much.
- I think it's official.
- [sneezes] - Bless you.
- What's that?
- This is your last pile of books.
- I know.
- Let the tears flow.
- [laughs] ♪ ♪ [blender whirs] - Is that all right?
You want me to whiz it some more?
- Yeah, I want it to be so smooth.
♪ Smoother than smooth ♪ - [chuckles] You got it.
- I'm trying to honor the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes by using things we don't typically use.
King crab legs are not an ingredient that's shown up in our kitchen before.
But it's a challenge, and if we did the same thing all the time, it'd be pretty boring.
I just cut myself... - Are you okay?
- On the crab?
- On the crab.
[laughs] I don't even know how to eat these.
We're gonna have to give everybody Wet-Naps up there.
- You should get those plastic-- what are the--bibs, with your face on 'em printed real quick.
- [chuckles] More stuff with your face.
- More stuff with my face on it.
- Yes, exactly.
- Oh, my God, that's good.
Okay, so we're gonna have to open these for them beforehand, so that's what I've just learned.
And I think I have crab all over me now.
Kim, fix me.
♪ ♪ All right, so, tonight's our Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner.
One of the things we're doing is an antipasto, or an hors d'oeuvre, that is based on the idea of a potato skin.
You know, a potato skin, you would have, like, bacon, which is salty, and lots of umami flavor.
You'd have sour cream, and you'd have chives.
So we're having a sweet potato skin with crème fraîche, which acts like the sour cream, chives and trout roe, instead of the bacon.
♪ ♪ I'm pleased with that.
I like the little sweetness of the sweet potato.
- Yeah, the sweetness of the potato is kinda key.
- All right, so I'm gonna do a few whole fish for my family.
And this is really the way that I love to cook trout, 'cause I think meat of any kind cooked on the bone is generally more succulent.
It's naturally insulated.
So I'm seasoning the inside of the cavity with some salt.
You can stuff your fish with whatever you want.
We're gonna stuff it with some lemon slices.
And we have these fennel stems.
Fennel has kind of like an anise, licorice-y thing going on.
And so this is really just gonna create an aromatic situation.
They're not gonna season the fish tremendously, although the lemon will affect the flavor.
And then I like to tie the fish up so that nothing falls out, so it helps it cook evenly.
♪ ♪ Are you gonna be able to finish that by service?
- When--how far away are we?
- I'm giving Casey a really almost impossible job to do.
- That's my specialty.
[both laugh] ♪ ♪ Because we're gonna be serving 30-some people at a time, we are filleting it, and everybody's gonna get one fillet.
You know, a lot of times when we cook fish, we use really high heat, but this little guy just can't take that.
We're gonna cook it at a low temperature, poach in air with moisture, so the fish will end up being really soft.
♪ ♪ What do you think?
- I think it's delicious.
I'm not getting a big textural element-- I'm, like, not getting a big crunch element.
- Did you get--I think some of these were more than... ♪ ♪ - Oh, yeah, that one's crunchy.
- It's, like, really crunchy, yeah.
- Mmm, that's good.
♪ ♪ - Does everybody know what Feast of the Seven Fishes is?
It's traditionally the way a lot of Italian-Americans would celebrate Christmas Eve.
Every course that they had, some sort of fish would be represented.
We're gonna have these Cedar Island oysters on the half-shell.
Also on the table will be kind of like a riff on a potato skin.
And then the last course is Sunburst Farms' rainbow trout.
We have sunchoke purée, crispy sunchokes, some crispy roasted broccoli, and an olive tapenade.
And the olive tapenade, I've purposely kind of spread it into the sunchoke purée, so people get it, whether they want it or not, because I think it's needed, but people are often turned off by olives.
- It looks great.
- So let me ask, the trout... - Nice work.
- How is it prepared?
- So my family's coming to this first seating, and I'm gonna try and cook their fish whole, and so I'll come up and help them with that, assuming everything goes well.
[smooth jazz music] ♪ ♪ - Hey, good to see ya.
How are ya?
It's nice to sit down and have dinner with people.
[laughter] ♪ ♪ - Yeah, I like the sweetness...
So these are sweet potato skins with trout roe and crème fraîche.
And then you have oysters on the half-shell.
- Are they steamed... - They're raw.
- They're raw.
- They're raw.
- Are you sitting down?
- Oh, no.
- Oh, I thought the whole thing you were sitting down.
- I'm kinda, like, spearheading this whole thing.
- Oh... [chuckles] - Thank you.
- Thank y'all.
I thought she was sitting down with us.
- Warren Brothers just showed up, so I need another salad.
- And then John Morton may come in a few minutes, and so then, y'all need another salad then.
- What's Warren doing here?
- I don't know.
I don't even know what day it is right now, so I don't know.
- The holidays at the restaurant are always insane, but now we're adding these very complex dinners upstairs, and that just raises the level of intensity in the entire restaurant several notches.
Get ready and fire my fish shortly.
♪ ♪ Bryan, I'm gonna give you these to spire.
- I can do that.
I'll get some pans hot.
♪ ♪ [sizzling] - I think for a lot of people, cooking whole fish, or just cooking fish in general, is intimidating to do at home.
But listen, cooking a whole fish is more forgiving than cooking a boneless, skinless chicken breast, or a steak to medium-rare.
So if you have the opportunity, cook yourself a whole trout.
It will be moist and juicy.
- Gotta make 'em perfect.
You can tell when the trout is done by touching it on the outside.
It will seem like the fish is flaking, all the way to the bone.
You kinda get a sense that it has some give.
It doesn't spring back as much.
And that's how you can tell when the trout is done.
- We're gonna bring the first tray of fish out, the top one.
So we'll start plating now... - Okay.
- And we'll help run it up.
♪ ♪ All right, there you go.
I'm taking this up.
- Okay, my family's table does not get this... - Okay.
♪ ♪ This is just for my family.
- It's the-- - It's the same trout.
So far, so good, guys.
♪ ♪ Being back at the restaurant, that ain't no joke.
Never underestimate the challenge a dinner service presents.
[laughter] - That's really good, though.
- I'm tired.
I'm sure I look tired.
It's great to be back.
[indistinct chatter] I think I'd rather be signing books right now.
♪ ♪ - Mommy!
- Yeah, babe.
- I need you.
The broken triangle fell off, and this one fell off when I dropped it.
- Flo, please don't mess with it.
- I was gonna-- [object thuds] - Flo, you're just tearing everything up.
[object clatters] Stop.
Did I hurt your feelings?
I just had a long day.
[indistinct chatter] - Zoe there?
- Let's call Santa Claus, tell him how well you've been behaving.
- I have been behaving!
- Let's do it.
[gentle music] ♪ ♪ - So my mom, for the past ten or so years, I'd say, has been cooking salmon every Monday night.
I'm not sure why Monday night.
But what she does is really simple, but really tasty, and we all enjoy it, and I do it sometimes with trout.
And basically, she just puts it in the oven at a low temperature, and she squeezes lemon all over it, before it goes in the oven, and then puts salt on it, and that's it, and then she cooks it.
She cooks it way too long, but... [chuckles] She cooks it till it's done, done, done, and then brings it out and squeezes the rest of the lemon on top of it.
And it's just simple and good.
This is a low temperature.
So I would generally cook these about ten minutes.
♪ ♪ - How do I spell "Ben"?
What do you think it starts with?
- I... - No.
E... - E. - Ben-nuh-nuh-nuh.
♪ ♪ This is so delicate and delicious, and you really taste the trout.
You wanna try it, Iris?
- Okay, sure.
♪ ♪ - It's really good.
- It's cooked through, but it's very soft and juicy and moist.
♪ ♪ [laughter] - Yeah.
- Is Daddy here?
- I feel guilty for all the time that I was gone, so I'm gonna overcompensate and do Christmas like I have never done it before, which is not saying a whole lot.
But I'm gonna try to make it like "A Christmas Carol" here in Howard-ville.
[violin music playing] ♪ ♪ - It's so good.
♪ ♪ - For more information on "A Chef's Life," visit pbs.org/food.
♪ ♪ "A Chef's Life" is available on DVD.
To - That's great, Flo.
- [clapping] Whoo!