As the owner of Saw’s Juke Joint, a barbecue and blues bar in Birmingham, Alabama, American Idol Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks knows a little something about good food.
“You can’t be from Alabama and not be a foodie,” he tells Billboard.
Hicks will put his palate to good use as the host of State Plate, a food and travel show premiering on INSP at 9 p.m. Friday night (Oct. 21).
“I’ve always been interested in hosting a food and travel show,” he says. “I cast the net, and INSP had a genius concept in a food show. I’ve been pitching food concepts and show ideas to different networks, and this was a home run because it literally touches on every state. It touches on the culinary arts of every state, and not only that, but it’s kind of a cross between Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives – you know, a history lesson in what iconic foods make up each state. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
The concept of State Plate is simple, he explains. In each episode, Hicks will visit a specific state and fill up a plate with “emblematic state foods,” including appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts. Hicks will visit Maine, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Georgia and Wisconsin.
In his travels, he shucked clams, rode horseback, planted beans, and hopped on a lobster boat in his quest to sample the unique cuisine of each region.
“Our goal is to reach all 50 states,” he says. “I’m really excited, because it’s also educational, and a never-ending culinary journey. I love meeting the people who really make up some of these wonderful culinary ideas that keep the tradition and patriotism of their own states. They carry that torch. It’s such a unique way to learn about the specific foods that make up our country.”
Hicks — who returned to our television sets in April for the American Idol series finaleis well seasoned himself, with chops honed not only on the Fox singing competition, but with appearances on shows like The Choice and Law & Order, Special Victims Unit.
Hosting a television show, he says, is a natural step for performers closely aligned with the medium.
“I’ve always told myself that for who comes off of American Idol it’s always smart to stay close to television,” he says. “Because that’s where people know you from.”
So what is Hicks learning on his magical mystery food tour? Read on for Hicks’ thoughts, and watch an exclusive clip from the show:
Tell us about State Plate. It’s great to see you back on television. You and Kellie Pickler (who has her own reality show, I Love Kellie Pickler, on CMT) both have shows!
She’s one that has been close to TV. People that were on our season — you know, we were so visible from TV. It’s just really smart to stay close to the medium in which you broke. Music is important, too, but for me it always seems to connect when there’s the television angle.
On this show, you are trying the cuisine and sampling food at festivals, fairs, and farms.
It’s a really cool concept, because it’s truly a farm-to-table show, so to speak. It’s going to wherever this iconic state food is made and finding its origins, and more times than not it is the farm. Somebody asked me what I’ve been up to, and I always like to say, “I’ve been on a dairy farm milking cows, what about you?” It’s really, truly going to the farm or going to a production facility, or sometimes it’s a plant.
One state you visited is Georgia. Did you learn many different ways to make food with a peach?
We did! We touched on that in the state of Georgia with peaches! This has definitely been an educational experience for me because it’s the first show of my own that I’ve ever hosted and also I get to learn about the people and the foods that really make the state iconic when it comes to culinary arts.
Are you also in the kitchen, watching people prepare the dishes?
Oh yeah, we literally start from in the ground to the table, so I’m definitely getting my hands dirty. There are different foods from each state that people don’t know about, but these foods are foods that everybody in their own state knows about. So that’s what I’ve enjoyed, just traveling around and really seeing the country, and also talking with the people that make the products and the foods iconic. It’s awesome.
What was your favorite place so far?
Maine is a beautiful state. Being from Alabama I didn’t really get to travel in my younger years. I was always traveling performing music, but I didn’t get to play up in the northeast, and Maine is a wondrous state — for not only its scenery but also its foods.
In the middle of all of this, you are recording new music! What can you tell us about that?
I’m trying to put together new music for release in the spring of next year. New music for me has obviously been a slow burn, but with the new television show and some really great things happening with that, it’s definitely moved the process along a lot quicker. I know the songs that I want to record, and that’s 75 percent of the battle, being emotionally connected to your music and knowing that every song that you’re going to record is a song that you whole-heartedly believe in and you’ve had time to live with. For me, that’s where the best art comes from a musical perspective and it’s time to do that now.
I have some really great material and now it’s time to record it. I’m looking to record in Nashville, and that’s one of my favorite places to record — because if I’m on a food kick, I definitely like nice southern food to go with lunch every day at the studio.
Where do you like to eat in Nashville?
I love this restaurant Firefly, the culinary scene is pretty happening. There’s Kayne Prime — that’s a great steak place. Obviously we do our meat ‘n threes, and there’s a plethora of the meat ‘n threes that you get. It’s good old southern comfort food, and if you’re recording music, musicians definitely like to be comfortable.
If State Plate gets a second season, where do you want to go?
Well we’ve stayed up in the northeast and the south, and we went over to Arizona. We’ve got nine states, and we’re trying to touch on nine more with the second season. I probably shouldn’t say “in the second season,” assuming that there might be one, but it’s kind of funny — I kind of look at it like this is Idol season one, you know what I mean? Because you have a host, you have a show, and we really are on the ground floor, and we travel a lot of different places.
I just enjoy hosting this show because I think it’s truly a great concept. People are very interested in food shows these days and this is one that kind of touches on all the aspects of them.