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“Finding Edna Lewis,” a new VPM docuseries, explores the life and legacy of a renowned Black chef with award-winning food writer Deb Freeman and Emmy-winning producers

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Richmond, Va. — Award-winning writer, podcaster, and food editor of Style Weekly, Deb Freeman, leads a new docuseries from VPM and the Emmy-winning producers at Field Studio, revealing the life and legacy of famed chef Edna Lewis.

The series seeks to reach distinct audiences by offering content in two formats — digital and television. Starting on Friday, July 19, VPM will release one, seven-minute episode of Finding Edna Lewis each month through February 2025 on the VPM Culture YouTube page and VPM’s social media channels. Each episode will consist of a conversation and cooking with a guest who reveals an important aspect of Lewis’s life and legacy. Then, the producers will weave the episodes into a one-hour special for television broadcast set to premiere at an in-person event and then on-air in February.

Born in the Virginia hamlet of Freetown, a village that her formerly enslaved ancestors helped to build shortly after Emancipation, Lewis departed north amid the Great Migration – alone, at age 16 – and ultimately left an outsized mark on American culinary history. She introduced many Americans to seasonal cooking, while also changing perceptions of Southern food. As an early proponent of the now famous farm-to-table movement, Lewis’s contributions at noted New York City restaurants Café Nicholson and Gage and Tollner, along with a series of chef residencies in Georgia and South Carolina and several bestselling cookbooks made Lewis a culinary star. She received many accolades and honors, including the very first "Living Legend" award from the James Beard Foundation. 

When she passed away in 2006, Edna Lewis was widely admired throughout the American culinary landscape, but not a household name. Recognized today as an essential interpreter of American cuisine, she remains an enigmatic figure. And until now, no major documentary has fully explored her singular life.

FINDING EDNA LEWIS follows host Deb Freeman — creator of Setting the Table, a critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning podcast exploring Black foodways and culinary history — on a journey to uncover the life of an American original. Little archival footage or audio featuring Edna Lewis survives, but Freeman finds that memories of her remain strong not only among those who knew her best, but also chefs who have discovered her cookbooks. Today, Lewis is an inspiration for a new generation of chefs, and Freeman tracks her legacy through conversations and cooking.

“It’s my responsibility to talk about my culture,” says Freeman, the host and executive producer of FINDING EDNA LEWIS, “because these stories deserve to be told.” She adds, “African-American cuisine deserves to be on the same table as arguably more celebrated foodways – it’s just as technical and worthy – and Edna Lewis is one of the most significant interpreters of Black food traditions. However, the fact that she’s not a household name outside of foodie insiders makes this series essential viewing.”

Freeman notes that even as FINDING EDNA LEWIS reveals a hidden history, it’s far from homework. “I’ve met some of the people who knew her best, and am thrilled to show viewers who Edna Lewis was and why so many chefs describe her as a culinary hero,” she adds.

VPM anticipates that many viewers will be self-described foodies and history buffs, those who loved hit series like High on the Hog or A Chef’s Life but wanted to learn more about Virginia culinary pioneers — especially the Black women forebears of African American and American foodways.

Steve Humble, chief content officer for VPM says, “We love this story – and we’re so fortunate to work with Deb to bring the life and cooking of Edna Lewis to a wide audience. Her ability to get to the heart of what made Lewis special – while keeping the show lighthearted and touching – makes this project shine.”

FINDING EDNA LEWIS is produced by Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, the four-time Emmy-winning historical documentary filmmakers of Field Studio, whose past work for VPM includes The Future of America’s Past and How the Monuments Came Down.

About VPM

As Virginia’s home for public media, VPM connects nearly 2 million people across Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley to insightful programming in news, education, arts and culture across its television, radio and digital channels. The VPM News team delivers award-winning coverage of Virginia’s General Assembly; statewide politics; educational, economic and legal issues; as well as the news of the day. VPM produces acclaimed series and documentaries, plus a range of music shows with local hosts curating selections in classical, jazz, hop-hop and alternative music. VPM also creates content through its Science Matters initiative and provides early childhood educational resources to families, caregivers and educators. Since 2021, VPM has operated Style Weekly, a magazine centered on deeper arts and culture coverage and local storytelling. Learn more at VPM.org and on Facebook, Bluesky, TikTok, Instagram and several channels on YouTube.

About Deb Freeman

Through writing and podcasting, Deb Freeman delves into the intersections of race, culture, and food – especially in Virginia and across the South. She is the host and creator of Setting the Table, a critically acclaimed and multi-award winning podcast exploring Black foodways and culinary history. Setting the Table was named by Apple Podcasts as “one of the shows we loved in 2022,” while Texas Monthly wrote that the podcast “explored topics they wished they had covered.”

In 2023, Setting the Table was honored by the International Association of Culinary Professionals as “Podcast of the Year,” and also won gold in the food and drink category at the Signal Awards. Freeman was named by Axios one of the “Most Powerful Richmonders of 2022.”

Her written work includes contributions to Eater, Condé Nast Traveler, Food52, Modern Farmer, The Local Palate, Plate Magazine, Epicurious, Garden and Gun, Pit Magazine, Gravy, Southern Grit Magazine, and Gastro Obscura, and she has provided cultural commentary for BBC Radio. Most recently, Freeman has taken the role of food editor for Richmond’s Style Weekly.

About Field Studio

Winners of four regional Emmy Awards, producers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren have made documentary media at the intersection of history and social justice for more than a decade under the banner of Field Studio. Their work for VPM includes the nationally televised and Emmy-winning docuseries The Future of America’s Past and the feature film How the Monuments Came Down. Monuments also received the American Historical Association’s annual honor for best historical documentary. An earlier film, An Outrage, exploring the history and legacy of lynching in the American South, premiered by invitation at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in 2017. Ayers and Warren’s most recent film is the feature documentary Picturing the Obamas, produced for the Smithsonian Channel and Paramount in 2022.

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