ATLANTA — Atlanta native Stephen Satterfield had never hosted a TV show or really even imagined he’d ever do so.
So when the producers of Netflix’s new docuseries “High on the Hog” contacted Satterfield, he thought they were merely seeking his expertise as a sommelier, culinary anthropologist and activist. “I was producing things behind the scenes,” he said. “Podcasting, and working as editor and publisher.”
But they had more in mind for him. They wanted Satterfield to host the four-part series focused on how African Americans shaped cuisine in the United States. He was befuddled at first but ultimately said yes, in part because he got to work with an idol of his, Jessica Harris. Harris wrote the book the series is based on and accompanies him to Africa for the show.
“I deeply admired her work and was honored she gave me her blessing to host this,” Satterfield said.
Sommelier at 21
Satterfield, who was born at Crawford Long Hospital, lived in Stone Mountain and Decatur as a child and attended West- minster Schools for two years. He transferred to Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs for junior and senior years.
“I have always been outspoken, and let’s just say I was even more so as a young person,” he said. “Westminster wasn’t a good match for me.”
He later attended culinary school in Oregon. “I wanted to move to the West Coast,” he said. “I knew it was far different than Atlanta.”
Satterfield became a sommelier by age 21, inspired by the wines of Oregon. “I felt marginalized as a Black sommelier,” he said. “It was a pretty myopic world.”
He moved back to Atlanta in 2007 and started a nonprofit to support Black winemakers in Africa. After the 2008 financial crash, funding dried up, and he landed in the San Francisco area.
There, he continued to build his interest in the history of food and its cultural threads. This led him to launch Whetstone in 2016, a magazine and podcast to explore those topics. It has 200 contributors from 80 countries.
On African visit
In the first episode, he visits Benin, in West Africa, including Cotonou, the port city.
“My experience being Black in America has been so rooted in the struggle to belong,” he said on the show. “I was surprised by how I was embraced in Cotonou.” The connection between Africa and America felt even stronger for him once he was physically there and the emotional poignancy hit him as he learned about how the slave trade worked in Africa.
“We have to understand where we’ve come from in order to understand ourselves,” he noted. “The story of food is also the story of who we are.”
Satterfield said “High on the Hog” is “the first time we’ve ever seen a show dedicated to Black food culture on this scale with this kind of investment and production and distribution. We’re excited for the world to see this.”