The new Netflix documentary series High On The Hog is part food show, part historic documentary, and all-engrossing. The show, which is centered around Dr. Jessica B. Harris’s 2011 book of the same name, travels the planet tracking culinary history, foodways, and recipes of the African diaspora. Think mac and cheese, Southern barbecue, okra dishes, and countless American recipes that illustrate how American culture originates from enslaved Black people.
While the documentary series was curiously left off the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences nominees list one week ago, the snub does not diminish the impact the show has already had both domestically and abroad. Atlanta-born host and Whetstone publisher Steven Satterfield is front and center in the series, leading segments through Benin, South Carolina, and New York — though the origins of this groundbreaking show actually started right here in Los Angeles.
Executive producers and Los Angeles residents Karis Jagger and Fabienne Toback were the first to option Harris’s book for television. The pair successfully pitched the series to executives at Netflix offices on Sunset Boulevard, completing production just before COVID-19 changed everything. And while High on the Hog explores West Africa’s Benin and early U.S. history primarily across the East Coast and South, there are deep connections to the foods and people of Los Angeles. Eater LA spoke to Jagger and Toback about the LA underpinnings of the show recently over dinner at Post & Beam in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area.
As longtime Los Angeles residents (though Jagger was born in England and Toback is from Brooklyn) both have logged ample hours in the massive Southern California film production scene over the years. The two producers became lifelong friends after a chance meeting at a prenatal yoga class well before High on the Hog, culminating in years of pitches and content development together. Over time, the pair began to look for deeper meaning in the work they were doing, even starting a side blog called Hey Sista to engage with people.
“When we started [the blog], it was about LA,” says Jagger. “Part of it was about like going [to restaurants] and things that we wanted to point out, things that were happening around the city. It wasn’t about creating a High On The Hog thing, it was just a way to communicate with people in the food world and have a way to just like connect.”
Eventually, the pair optioned (and then sold) High on the Hog as a perfect example of a series that felt important to them; production began in 2019. While the majority of the four episodes take place elsewhere, the third episode was filmed at Culver City restaurant Hatchet Hall with chef Brian Dunsmoor and chef de cuisine Martin Draluck. That duo had launched the Hercules and Hemmings dinner series in 2019, a nod to two famous early Black American chefs who were enslaved under George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The dinners emphasize ingredients and cooking techniques from that time period while also leaning into the backstory of Hercules and Hemmings themselves, two of the earliest American celebrity chefs. The producers were intentional about filming the (pre-pandemic) Los Angeles dinners, and say they have plans to hopefully return to LA in the series.
“The arc really comes back here,” says Jagger. “There’s the Western migration, but then there was also a lot of early California history that we wanted to cover that we weren’t able to in the first four [episodes]. The idea of touching into Los Angeles was important to include for the whole country, that it wasn’t just a Southern, Northern, and Texas thing. Obviously, we live here, and this is a really important place for us.”
Jagger and Toback also noted the West Coast food connections from Dr. Harris’s High on the Hog book. “There’s the food, the influence, there’s a couple of ways to get to the West Coast through the book and through history,” says Toback. “There’s Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, which kind of comes from the Harlem Renaissance. There’s [also] the Civil Rights Movement. Food was a big part of that too.”
Locally, the Hercules and Hemmings dinner series continues, but Draluck is now chef de cuisine at Post & Beam. Owner John Cleveland and Draluck recently announced they’ll continue the dinners at the Baldwin Hills restaurant this summer.
As for High on the Hog the show, Season 2 has not yet been confirmed. Jagger and Toback hope to get the chance to cover the second half of Harris’s book, specifically the section that includes U.S. cities west of the Mississippi. “There’s so much more with the the Western migration, Colorado, [or] Northern during the Gold Rush,” says Toback. “There’s still a lot of history still to cover.” Season 1 of High On The Hog is currently streaming on Netflix, and Dr. Harris’s book, a New York Times bestseller, is available where books are sold.