Living in a small town, many of us likely look to our roots for food inspiration; family recipes, community and church cookbooks…and let’s be real, probably a lot of Google. (It’s okay, we’re all guilty.) We have our favorite “celebrity cookbooks” to which we turn to for something fresh to bring to holiday parties. But, I don’t know that many of us flip through those books and think, “I might cook through every recipe.” However, after a chance encounter with Chef Vivian Howard, Chelsea local Allyssa Floyd decided to do just that. Howard is a James Beard Award-Winning Chef, Restaurateur, and host of PBS’ “A Chef’s Life,” and “Somewhere South.” Her cookbook, Deep Run Roots, is a special, story-telling cookbook detailing her rural North Carolina roots, jam-packed with nearly 200 recipes, many of which required ingredients that were not easily accessible in our small community, proving this project to be no easy task.
Chef Vivian Howard and Allyssa Floyd after shooting “Dear Vivian” in Kinston, NC
Floyd started her journey in July of 2019, with a goal to finish the project within a year. A couple of days after arriving home from her North Carolina trip, she completed her first recipe from the book, Tomato Pie. Feeling accomplished and ready to roll, she began cooking these recipes daily, and started an online blog to detail the highlights of each recipe. As she became more confident, Allyssa added Chef Howard to her social media circle, in hopes that she might be interested in her journey…and was pleasantly surprised when she began giving feedback and encouragement on many of the recipes. Three months in, having worked her way through 80 recipes, Floyd decided to hit the road for North Carolina again, and was asked to join Chef Howard for a special episode of her Instagram video special, “Dear Vivian.” The two talked about favorite recipes and challenges throughout the project, and bantered back and forth about the correct way to pronounce pecan.
As soon as her feet were back on Oklahoma ground, Allyssa hit the ground running, hitting 120 recipes as the year came to an end. Progressing further into the book led to some hiccups in finding both seasonal and locally accessible ingredients. Frequent trips to grocery stores, farmers markets, and fish markets became a normal weekly routine…and then there was the time Floyd actually met one of her blog followers at a gas station to get her hands on some muscadine grapes, you do what you gotta do! Unfortunately, with springtime came the largest of the setbacks, Covid-19. Not only were the ingredients hard to find, but actually feeling comfortable to make the trips or meet ups became very stressful, and left Allyssa feeling discouraged, and unsure if she would be able to finish her goal. Nonetheless, she said some extra prayers and progressed on, finishing her last recipe, Air Dried Sausage and Biscuits, just shy of the one year mark.
The completion called for a celebration! Initially Floyd had planned a North Carolina trip with friends, with plans to celebrate with dinner at one of Chef Howard’s restaurants, Chef and The Farmer. Unfortunately, due to these unforeseen times, the restaurant, along with many of the other planned activities, were shut down. Making the best of the situation, Allyssa canceled the initial flights, and set out for a roadtrip with her husband, Ryan and sister, Holly. The trio made the long trip, and enjoyed a socially distanced vacation on Carolina Beach, where she was surprised with Deep Run Roots inspired cookies, and a celebratory toast.
Chef Vivian Howard, left, and Allyssa Floyd at Brothers Farm in La Grange, NC
But, before leaving, Holly and Ryan had one more surprise up their sleeve. Having reached out to Howard and her team, they were able to put together a surprise meet up at Brothers Farm, a familiar spot from Chef’s PBS show, “A Chef’s Life.” Keeping the secret wasn’t easy, but the joy on Floyd’s face as she was greeted by Vivian and her team was the highlight of the trip. A couple of hours were spent together discussing the highs and lows of the journey, and a conversation was had as to whether Floyd was ready to take on the next cookbook when it is released this fall. (The answer is yes, of course!) The perfect ending to the completion was met when Chef Howard expressed her gratitude, and the words “I’m really proud of you” to Allyssa as they said their goodbyes for this trip. Floyd says hearing those words was the highlight of the entire project, and meant the world! What an incredible journey!
To keep up with Allyssa’s adventures in the kitchen, follow her on Instagram @chefandtheblogger.
-by Holly White