[gentle music] - Till I was about 20 years old, I thought persimmons were flowers.
So to say I don't have deep experience cooking with them is probably fair.
But there my new thing, and you know I love new things.
♪ ♪ - 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"...
This is our third stop.
The truck has broken down twice.
Personalities are clashing.
- Everything just takes, like, longer than I anticipated.
- Yeah, okay.
The whole reason the book tour even came to Kentucky is because I'm getting a TasteMaker's Award from Maker's Mark.
This is magical.
Thank you very much.
[applause] Right now I've got to get ready to go get these persimmons and then fly to Atlanta.
- What time's your flight?
Where are they now, watching television?
- Of course.
They're sitting in bed eating chocolate and watching television.
- Mommy, I'm gonna try on my Mario costume to show you later.
- So we need to get them dressed.
So do y'all want to go see the persimmons?
[laughs] [gentle music] ♪ ♪ I don't always get ingredients from people who farm for a living.
Oftentimes people will bring me huge amounts of fruit from random trees on their property.
That's how I've always gotten persimmons.
All right, let's go see what we go.
- Come on, let's go see the persimmons.
- Guys, can you meet Miss Betty?
- Nice to meet you, young lady.
And nice to meet you, sir.
- Miss Betty, a Lenoir County native, has a persimmon tree in her backyard, but this year she has more than she can handle, so she called the restaurant, and we came running.
- One right there!
- This is a persimmon.
- They're kind like a tomato.
You can pick them and keep them in a basket and decorate with them, and as they soften up then you can start using them.
- So did you plant this tree, this-- - I did.
It's 20 years old.
- It is?
Such a beautiful tree.
I've never seen one before.
I know that's hard to believe, but... - Me neither.
- See, to pick it, you have to twist it.
- You have to twist it, and then-- - Okay, you gotta twist.
- There you go.
- You did it.
- I picked it.
- You did.
- [laughs] This is an experience, isn't it?
- It is.
This is-- - My father loved persimmons.
- So your father loved the wild persimmons?
- He loved the wild ones.
He was used to the little ones that you couldn't eat them till they fell off the tree.
- So he liked to eat them out of hand, like an apple or something?
And the only thing we really know to do with them is persimmon pudding, really.
- See, that's a beauty.
- It is.
Here, I'll twist it.
♪ ♪ - They're delightful fruits to me.
- I'm going to Atlanta this afternoon, and I was gonna take these and-- How many days will it take for something like this to ripen?
- As soon as the skin starts to give, it's gonna be just a few days before that's ready.
So this tree's about 20 years old?
- I had no idea that it would ever grow this big.
But the first three years, it never had a single piece of fruit on it.
These leaves will turn the most gorgeous orange you've ever seen.
- Right, so the leaves fall off.
I've seen pictures of these trees with, like, no leaves and just it looks like Christmas balls hanging.
- Can I eat a persimmon inside?
- We do need to try one, don't we?
- Well, come on inside, and I've got one that's ready.
♪ ♪ As soon as they have a give to them... - Mm-hmm.
- Then you can slice them and chop-- and fix them in salads, and they're wonderful.
♪ ♪ Isn't that wonderful?
♪ ♪ - It's not your best thing, huh?
- No, I think she likes it.
- That's good.
- What do you think, Theo?
- Well, thank you so much for doing this.
This has been great.
- It has been my pleasure.
- Thank you.
I have to go to Atlanta, but I'll be back next week, okay?
I love you.
[indistinct chatter] Y'all have a lot of fun.
Thank you so much.
♪ ♪ - Good.
How are you?
Oh, it's persimmon time.
- It is.
I just picked these, but I'm taking some of them to Atlanta, and I was gonna leave the rest of them for y'all to let ripen.
- What's in Atlanta?
- I'm cooking at, uh, Gunshow.
There's this thing called Hired Guns.
Each cook does two dishes, and they go around with a dim sum cart and, like, basically sell their dishes to guests.
- Those aren't the fuyu.
Those are the-- - No, these are the fuyu.
- Oh, they are?
- Oh, cool.
- That's what they make that hoshigaki out of.
You know, the dried persimmons that Japanese hang 'em in a sunny window.
You should look that up.
It's like right up your alley.
- Yeah, hoshigaki.
I gotta go.
Gotta get packed.
- Good luck.
[gentle music] ♪ ♪ We're going from city to city and spending less than 24 hours in each place.
So everywhere is kinda looking the same to me at this point, but we're staying in Atlanta a bit longer, and my event at Gunshow is much different than my typical book signing, so I'm pretty sure I'll remember this one.
- Vivian, we've got you set up right here.
- It's all you.
You're helping me, right?
- Okay, perfect.
♪ ♪ So I was gonna have you help me put together the stew we were talking about.
- Maybe we can start with the potatoes.
- Both sweet and white.
I do want to peel them, 'cause part of what needs to happen is for it to break down a little bit and kind of thicken the stew.
- Can you show me where the other persimmons are just so I can look at them?
Okay, it'll be great.
According to Miss Betty, you wouldn't eat these, but... it's okay.
I was like, it looks really unripe, but it's actually sweet.
And I think they'll work great.
I have a question about where the cheese is that I requested and the lettuces.
I just wanna look at it.
- Walk-in's right here.
Coolest thing about the walk-in is it's right in the middle of the dining room.
- That's my worst nightmare.
- Oh, not at all.
- Let's pull those two bitter boxes down.
- I got it.
♪ ♪ So this is Gunshow.
It's a really out-of-the-box restaurant.
And one of the things that strikes me that's incredibly different about this place than really anywhere else I've ever been is that it seems to me that it's each cook for themselves.
They develop and then execute-- How many dishes every night?
- Two a night.
- Two a night.
And then they take them out into the dining room and ask diners if they want them.
That's kind of what I'm doing, except everybody here tonight has to get my dish.
And I'm doing two dishes.
One is a riff on Eastern North Carolina fish stew.
And the other is a warm, bitter green salad.
I'm gonna try to get some char on these and toss them in pureed persimmon and orange juice.
And then I'm gonna top the bitter lettuces with diced persimmons, vinegar, some toasted pecans and some pecorino.
I want that all to be really juicy and sweet and salty on top of this really bitter, earthy lettuce.
How are you?
Thank you for having me here.
- Good to see you.
No, we're thrilled to have you here.
It's gonna be awesome.
People are gonna love it.
- I first came to admire Kevin Gillespie from the show "Top Chef."
He grew up in the rural South, and I think we see Southern food through a similar lens.
So, Kevin, you know I have to ask the obligatory question about the name, Gunshow?
- The name originates from my dad, who worked basically three jobs, seven days a week my whole life.
And he said, you know, you'll have to work harder than everybody else and you'll have to make more sacrifices than everybody else.
The hard work part was pretty obvious immediately.
You know, this business just beats you up.
10, 15 years of doing this and looking up and then going, I haven't gone to a single wedding.
I've missed family members' funerals.
And I can probably count on one hand how many, like, actual friends I have at this point because I'm a terrible friend, I'm super neglectful.
I've always chosen my career over everything.
Like, ruined relationships.
- Hey, you're preaching to the choir.
- Yeah, so you understand.
Yeah, and it's like, I named it Gunshow because my dad, like, he missed a lot of football games and a lot of graduations, but there was this little local gun show that was at a flea market, and it was on a Sunday afternoon, and so my dad would take off in between jobs, and we would go, and that was like our father/son bonding experience.
- That's-- that's a beautiful story.
[smooth music] ♪ ♪ Unlike a lot of fruits, persimmons tend to kinda hang out in the background.
They don't have a whole lot of acidity.
What they do have is a nice sweetness.
It's very easy to overpower the flavor of a persimmon, so my goal with this salad is to give the persimmons everything they need to shine without overwhelming them.
- Vivian, did you grow up eating persimmons?
- I didn't either.
I feel like Southern people talk about them a lot, but we never--we never ate 'em, like, when I was a kid.
- Bill Smith is the first person who introduced me to persimmon anything, and he makes this persimmons pudding that's really wonderful.
Then we went to this woman's house yesterday to get these persimmons, and she said her father loved persimmons, but I think generally the persimmons that people used to eat were really the really small ones that were riddled with seeds.
- We tried to use them at the restaurant, 'cause they're one of the few things that happening right now.
♪ ♪ - What I'm trying to create with this salad is a balance of flavor.
I start with my bitter greens that I char a little bit, and that brings out the sweetness and a different type of bitterness than the greens already have.
Then I have the umami and salty notes coming from the pecorino Romano cheese.
And then in my persimmon salsa, I have acid, I have heat, and I have sweetness.
If it all works, it will be nice and balanced and delicious.
♪ ♪ - Vivian, do you want to taste this chutney now that it's done?
- It's real hot.
- It's burning the tip of my tongue.
[laughter] - This is a dish that's from Nagaland, which is, like, far northeastern India.
The food that they make there though reminds me a lot of Southern food, 'cause they eat a ton of smoked pork and dried, cured meat, and lots of greens that are, like, stewed down and-- - Really?
When you work in one restaurant, it's hard to study what other chefs do and evolve based on things that you see.
So what Kevin has set up here at Gunshow for himself and for his cooks is really smart.
- It would be sort of a symbiotic, you come here and we see how you cook and we learn from you and then simultaneously you get to see a very different style of service, and maybe you learn something from it, or you're inspired by something.
- I think it's great, like, from my perspective because generally when I go to other people's spots and do dinners, I'm the only one really cooking and-- - Right, right.
- And, you know, I love seeing what y'all are doing.
It's always hard to cook and crank out a service, but when you add in the mix of then taking your food to the dining room and talking to every single guest-- - I'm dreading it.
- You're gonna do great.
They're gonna love you.
♪ ♪ - Hi, guys.
- Vivian is the owner of Chef & the Farmer.
I'm gonna let her tell you guys a little bit more about herself so that you can help us obviously tell her story tableside to our guests, so, Vivian... - Hi.
I live in Eastern North Carolina, a little-known part of the state.
So I'm making a really micro regional fish stew.
Also have a bitter lettuce salad, and then that's gonna be topped with kind of like a really juicy persimmon, pecan and pecorino-- I didn't mean for it to have all those Ps, but it did-- [laughter] ...kind of salsa.
And I guess it doesn't really matter, 'cause I'm gonna be telling the tables myself.
Anyway, I'm really honored to be here, and it's been a great experience so far, so thank you.
- I'll go over my dish real fast.
I am doing the hottest dish I have done all year.
- Um...can I-- It's the hottest dish we've ever had in this room.
- Vivian, you're good to go?
Ready to go?
Let's get in position, bud.
All right, we're good to go.
[upbeat music] ♪ ♪ - I have a charred-- sorry, this is my first time doing this.
Charred chicories with persimmon, pecan and pecorino.
Peter Piper picked a pepper-- you know.
- Perfect, thank you.
- Thank you.
I have bitter lettuces charred [indistinct].
with persimmon, pecan, pecorino.
How are you doing?
- I'm good.
How are you?
I love Gunshow and all, but I could not work here.
The act of taking my food to people and watching them eat it makes me very uncomfortable.
I've always had a rule at Chef & the Farmer that I never go to a table when they're eating, and there's a reason for that.
- Hey, how's it going, guys?
This dish is very temperature-sensitive, so just be sure to get at it first.
This is our raw diver scallop.
It's dressed with a bit of wasabi creme fraiche.
♪ ♪ - Ooh.
[laughs] - That's about half as hot as it normally is.
I toned it down, so... ♪ ♪ - To be honest, instead of cooking and serving people my food, I really wish I were sitting down in the dining room and being served myself.
All this food looks great.
Owen, would you crack three eggs in there?
It's the Eastern North Caroline style fish stew with bacon and eggs.
- Are you gonna selfie it?
- I'm scared to see myself.
Oh, my Lord!
- Did you have fun?
- I did.
- I did.
♪ ♪ [thunder rumbles] - Hey.
- Sorry, I had to take care of some personnel issues.
How you doing?
- I'm good.
How are you?
- I'm all right, yeah.
- You see our little hoshi-- How do you say it?
You know, when they hang the persimmons and they massage-- - I don't know how to say it, but yes, I see it.
- They're such a beautiful fruit.
I would have completely missed the boat if I made a persimmon show and did not have Bill Smith make his world-famous persimmon pudding.
All right, so what do we got?
- All right, here we go.
Those are wild persimmons.
They're bright orange.
- So they're only about that big.
- Yeah, and they're everywhere, and they're something of a nuisance, because they attract possums and wasps and stuff.
- Your persimmon pudding is the only one I've ever had that I liked.
- It's one of the top two or three things we make at Crook's honestly.
This is, like, real fluffy, and it's like a soufflé almost, and it's got equal parts buttermilk and fruit, which is really weird.
This recipe was in the box at Crook's.
I'm guessing it's Bill's.
- When he says this is one of Bill's original recipes, he's talking about Bill Neal, who was the-- - Right, the founder of Crook's.
- The founder of Crook's Corner and was the godfather of Southern food.
He first was the first person who kind of exalted in the restaurant setting.
- Okay, so wild persimmons... - Wild persimmons.
- Go in the food mill.
- In the food mill.
- Could you do this with a non-wild--what would you call that--a domesticated-- - They behave differently.
- Oh, they do?
- Yeah, they have a different moisture content.
♪ ♪ - It's such a beautiful color.
- It's a wonderful color.
I know, I love it.
♪ ♪ - Look how beautiful that is.
♪ ♪ - I used to cook for a living.
Theo, we were driving to school and he says, "Yeah, Daddy has three jobs.
"One is running Chef & the Farmer.
"One is painting.
"And one is taking care of us.
"And you've only got one job, and that's just signing your books all the time."
- Was that praise or accusation?
- It was--it was confusion.
- Oh, I see.
- Which I have cleared up.
[laughter] All right, so I greased that, so then we gotta put this and the sugar in the mixer.
♪ ♪ So how much sugar?
- We need a cup and a half.
- So we're gonna cream this?
- Yeah, just fluff it.
♪ ♪ All right, we'll just let 'em drop in one at a time.
All recipes for cakes and stuff just say add eggs one at a time and then let it be absorbed.
- Why is that?
- I don't know.
I just do what they say usually.
- Me too.
All right, so you're gonna add the persimmon here.
- This all goes in there.
- There's a lot of persimmon in here.
- It's four cups of persimmon and four cups of buttermilk.
All right, so we're gonna put all the dry ingredients together, and we're gonna add the buttermilk.
I'm thinking we can probably stir the dry ingredients into that bowl.
- But we don't have enough buttermilk there.
- We don't.
We need four cups.
- Holly, we need more buttermilk.
- 'Cause what we did is I think we put too many persimmons in there.
It's too late to get them out, so what we're gonna have to do-- - Thank God we got this recipe here.
- I know, really.
Isn't this good?
So what we're gonna have to do is all right-- - I'm just glad it's not me.
- So we're gonna need three more eggs.
And we're gonna need-- yeah, this will be okay.
- So we'll need two more cups of buttermilk.
- Two more cups of buttermilk.
All right, so what we're gonna do is feed this butter in.
This would be a good time to talk about how you have to make things work no matter what.
So do you need more sugar?
- We're gonna need more sugar.
[laughter] You couldn't make this stuff up.
- No, you know, I'm thinking this is so typical.
This is actually perfect.
♪ ♪ Thank you.
- Thank you, Holly.
You can have some persimmon pudding later.
- You get to have all you want now, yeah.
- Now we need four cups of buttermilk.
So slowly add it?
- Yeah, yeah.
Jimmy Carter drinks buttermilk.
They'd come into dinner and he'd always want a glass of buttermilk after dinner.
Which better him than me is all I can say.
- I like it.
- I like it okay.
I wouldn't want to drink a glass of it.
- It's not my after-dinner drink.
- Yeah, no.
So let's combine all our dry ingredients together first.
We're gonna need three cups of flour.
This is an interesting recipe, in that it uses the same amount of baking soda and baking powder.
You don't see that very much.
- Almost never, uh-uh.
- Oh, wait, so don't mess this up.
You just put two, I thought.
Okay, yes, okay.
- Right, and then one.
O ye of little faith.
[both chuckle] Some people get really mad that I put ginger in it.
You know, "I just don't like ginger."
And then nutmeg, I sorta aim for a teaspoon.
- I always tell people, like, if they're gonna buy one spice whole, then it should be nutmeg.
- I always do it, too.
♪ ♪ All right.
- Got my grandmother's sifter.
- Oh, let's do it.
- It's working.
See how runny it is?
You think it's not gonna work 'cause it's like-- - Is that right?
- So this is how you would bake almost any kind of pudding... - Custard.
- ...or custard.
They want a gentle, moist heat.
♪ ♪ That's actually glorious-looking, isn't it?
- So then we'll go in here.
- Let's go.
♪ ♪ There we go.
- So you think it takes about two hours?
- That's what it often takes.
- Wow, that's a long time.
Luckily, Bill made one and brought it.
♪ ♪ - Smells good.
- It does.
- That is so wonderful.
- I love this so much.
This may be the best thing we make.
There's a few things I feel that way about when they show up, but this is certainly one of them.
- Oh, my gosh, I'm gonna make this for Christmas.
- So...tell me about your book schedule and your holiday schedule, and has it driven you crazy yet?
- Uh, yeah, you know, I'm done pretty much with the book tour.
I think I'm coming out of it.
- You know, I was, like, really irritable and-- - You really have to shift gears to pull that off.
- Yeah, and, like, I didn't have any ideas or interest or, I mean, I couldn't read.
I mean, I was just like giving so much of myself every day to people, and so-- but I think I'm gonna be okay.
[laughter] - I'm sure you will.
♪ ♪ [mellow music] ♪ ♪ - For more information on "A Chef's Life," visit pbs.org/food.