Full Exclusive interview with Heather Burgiss

Foodie viewers may have noticed a new show on KLCS’ Saturday afternoon cooking block; The Key Ingredient with Sheri Castle takes us behind the scenes to meet food producers and host Sheri Castle takes us back to the kitchen to make delicious food using those key ingredients. The show’s Executive Producer, Heather Burgiss, shares with us how this series come about, her favorite moments, recipe and Julia Child memory.

Heather, how did the show come about?
During Covid we were always looking for different ways to highlight something we could do for staying home. So we had started some recipes in the kitchen, some of our hosts were doing that. Our CEO was the former editor of Southern Living and he had an idea to do a cooking show, for us to get into more of the lifestyle programming. So I was tasked with coming up for five different ideas for cooking shows and Sheri Castle, a beloved food writer and Southern storyteller, and home cook, and cookbook author, was one of those ideas. We were always intent on making sure that the cooking show was a modern stand and stir, and not a traditional just tied to the kitchen. I’ve really enjoyed throughout my career telling the stories behind what we see. For me, looking at one ingredient per episode was really fascinating, to see the stories behind the ingredient. So, connecting with Sheri in the summer of 2020, and quickly coming up with a pre-production plan, we want
to visit the producer and the farmers and visit the people behind the ingredients.  And then, we would have two Sheri Castle original recipes in her kitchen and a tip, and also do a cook-along.

Season One was shot during the pandemic lockdown? 
It was shot the fall of 2020 and into the winter. Our first season debuted in the fall of 2021. And then we did eight more episodes. So for APT audiences, the 16 episodes is the first season for the national airing. With Sheri, she’s such a wonderful storyteller in her own right. Southern Foodways named Sheri one of their storytellers, when they were going through their list of Southern folks to know about. She is from Boone, North Carolina, which is up in the mountains of western North Carolina. She knows all about the food ways of Appalachia. So that was extremely interesting to us from a producing standpoint, because she knows the stories behind the food, and she tells them so well. That was really important for us, for the audience too, who we had on screen and the audience definitely connects to Sheri.

How was the process to bring this show to TV screens nationally?
From the very beginning when we produced this show, and all the production, we had in mind for it to be elevated and modern. That it would not be just a regional show, that we would offer this up in some way to a national audience. The crew did such a wonderful job of making sure that this was something everyone could enjoy. We reached out to American Public Television and they loved it, and programmers then approved it, and we were able to bring Season One, all 16 episodes, to 250 public television stations across country. That was in September of this year.
I loved watching the episode where they talk about raising chickens, since there are details that people don’t know and can learn from. Going and visiting that family and seeing how they raise chickens, I think the viewer can glean so much from that. Maybe they’ll never raise backyard chickens, but I think seeing it and experiencing it is so important.

Do you have a favorite moment or place, or food, on the show?
Being out on the water with the oyster farmer Ryan and just being out on the boat on a chilly December day. Just seeing Sheri eat oysters right out of the ocean is something pretty magical, to be right there experiencing it, having Ryan take her through each step of oyster farming and harvesting was really special. Do you have a favorite recipe that you like to cook? Sheri’s Carmel Apple Cake is to die for, and I have made that and it’s delicious. Another thing is the tomato pie.

What was your path to your role as Executive Producer?
I started out in commercial news, I was a reporter and producer. I have been at PBS North Carolina for the past 20 years and I started out as a producer-director, doing stories of people and place. As the storyteller, I love finding people’s unique voices and sharing unique places across the state. So, I already was really drawn to that type of documentary storytelling. I worked on several series. “My Home” shows the people and places and delves into the type of things we do with “The Key Ingredient” as well. So it was a natural progression as we started producing this show.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I think the favorite part for me is the storytelling, but it’s also working with a team to create that story. That is magical when you get the right team together and you get the right expertise and talents, and seeing something that started out as a little seed of an idea grow into something that’s really incredible and award-winning; it’s just really rewarding. And being able to connect with the people behind the story and really take them with you on your journey; I think that’s something that not everyone gets to do. So, being able to meet so many different people with what we
do is incredible as well. Everyone’s had a Julia Child story, how they met her or that she was an influence.

Do you have a Julia story?
My Julia Child story is really with Jacques Pepin on PBS, when they would get together; I remember watching that. And when I got married, we were newlyweds and we bought the VHS tape and Julia Child was on there with him, so that is my experience with her. That’s how we learned to cut stuff and cook, so borne out of PBS – that relationship. I always remember that when I’m cooking, is them cooking together.

Do ever just pinch yourself you get to do this for a living and follow in her footsteps of educating people about food and traveling on PBS?
It’s never lost on me how lucky I am to do what I do, I’m always very humbled when someone trusts us to tell their story. And I will always know what an incredible responsibility that is, when somebody trusts you to tell their story, and that is something that I am very grateful for. Not everyone gets to do what we do and it’s an incredibly rewarding job I have in life.

When you were in L.A., did you have a favorite place to eat?
We were there for 36 hours; we were there so quick. We stayed in a little boutique
hotel, it was so cute, the Avalon. It was such a great place. Marilyn Monroe had
stayed there, she used to swim in their pool. After the Taste awards, our crew went
to In-N-Out. With our fancy clothes on, to taste In-N-Out burgers.

The Key Ingredient with Sheri Castle airs on KLCS Public Media Saturdays at 5:00 PM.
Visit: www.klcs.org/schedule for a complete listing of air dates/times.
You can learn more about the show on PBS NC’s website,
www.pbsnc.org/watch/the-key-ingredient, or visit Sheri Castle’s website,
www.shericastle.com. You can follow Sheri on her socials: Instagram
(@sheri.castle) or Facebook (@shericastlefood)

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