Vivian Howard

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Vivian Howard at the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards

Vivian Howard (born 1978) is an American chef and television personality. She is most famous for being the head chef and co-owner of the restaurant Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, and for starring in the award-winning PBS television series A Chef's Life.[1]

Early life[edit]

Howard grew up in Deep Run, North Carolina, a small community near the town of Kinston.[1] Her parents were farmers who raised hogs and grew tobacco, cotton, soybeans, and corn.

At age 14, Howard attended an all-female Moravian boarding school, Salem Academy, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and then spent two years at Virginia Episcopal School. In 2001, she earned her BA in English Language from North Carolina State University. During her time at NCSU, she would study abroad for a semester in Argentina, as part of a culinary-themed program.[2] After graduating, Howard moved to New York City and began working in advertising for Grey Worldwide. She quit after 18 months and started working as a waitress at Voyage restaurant. Scott Barton, the restaurant’s executive chef, became her early mentor.[1]

Restaurant career[edit]

Howard graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC in 2004.[3] She completed an internship at Wylie Dufresne's wd~50 and trained as Chef de Partie at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market.[3]

Howard married Ben Knight, one of her coworkers at Voyage, and the two started a soup delivery business out of their apartment in Harlem, an effort that included chilling soup in the bathtub.[4] Despite offers from investors to open a brick and mortar location in New York, the couple agreed to accept Howard’s parents' offer to buy a restaurant in Kinston.[5] Howard and Knight moved to North Carolina in 2005 and opened Chef & the Farmer in 2006 in a downtown building that had once been a mule stable.[4] More than 60% of the ingredients used in the restaurant come from within a 90-mile radius.[6]

The restaurant strives to create modern interpretations of traditional regional dishes, as collected from members of the small Eastern North Carolina community. Howard says, "Older folks in our community teach me how to make something very simple. One of the things I like about A Chef's Life and dislike about modern media, in general, is that [our culture is] very young-person-new-ideas driven, and I don’t think people call on the wisdom of older folks very much. To learn from them and share has been wonderful."[7]

In 2012, the Chef & the Farmer building caught fire and had to be rebuilt.[8] In 2013, Howard and Knight opened the Boiler Room, a casual spot that serves oysters and burgers across the street from Chef & the Farmer.[9]

Howard has authored one cookbook, titled Deep Run Roots - Stories and Recipes from my Corner of the South, which was released in October 2016.[10] After the book was released, it remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for 3 weeks straight. In 2017, "Deep Run Roots - Stories and Recipes from my Corner of the South," won four IACP Cookbook Awards including: Cookbook of the Year, Julia Child First Book Award, Outstanding Restaurant Cookbook, and Outstanding Cookbook in the General Category. Howard plans to write another cookbook which will release in 2019.

Howard and Knight are opening a new restaurant in the Wilmington Warehouse District, 206 Greenfield Street, in Wilmington, NC called Benny's Big Time Pizzeria set to open in November or December 2017.[11]

A Chef's Life[edit]

Storytelling is an essential piece of Howard's style as a chef: "I believe in cooking food that has a story behind it and integrity to it - food with a very specific sense of place and that people want to eat."[3]

In 2011, after being concerned that certain food traditions would be lost without documentation, Howard contacted her friend Cynthia Hill, a filmmaker from Eastern North Carolina.[12] Together, Howard and Hill filmed a pilot. PBS and South Carolina Educational Television picked up the show, and Seasons 1 and 2 aired nationally from 2013 to 2015. Season 5 premiered in October 2017.[13]

The show has attracted many fans to Chef & the Farmer, and has contributed to Kinston's increasing economic growth.[14]

Awards and accolades[edit]

A Chef's Life is a 2014 Peabody winner for Excellence in Broadcasting, a 2015 Daytime Emmy winner for Best Directing of a Lifestyle/Travel/Culinary program, and was a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Culinary Host.[6]

Howard in addition was nominated for James Beard Foundation Award for Television Program, On Location (2014, 2015, 2016), Visual and Technical Excellence (2015), Outstanding Personality Host (2015), and American Cooking: Deep Run Roots (2017).[15] Howard was named a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast five consecutive times (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).[9] She was also nominated for two other Daytime Emmy's including: Outstanding Single Camera Photography (2015) and Outstanding Culinary Host (2017).

Chef & the Farmer has been given a AAA Four Diamond Award seven times (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016),[16] a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence (2009),[17] and was named an OpenTable Top 100 Restaurants in America (2011).[17]

Restaurant reviewer Greg Cox of the News and Observer wrote, "Chef & the Farmer is much more than a stopover. It's a worthy destination in its own right, well worth the hour and a half drive from the Triangle."[17]

Personal life[edit]

Howard is married to Ben Knight. The couple met while working together at Voyage restaurant in NYC. They currently reside on Howard's homestead in Deep Run, North Carolina, with their twin children, Theo and Flo.[6][13]


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  11. ^ Schachtman, Benjamin (March 12, 2017). "Vivian Howard restaurant could lead the way for new 'warehouse district' near Greenfield Lake". Port City Daily. Retrieved April 19, 2017. 
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  13. ^ a b Severson, Kim (January 18, 2017). "A Chef Looks Homeward". Food. The New York Times (New England ed.). New York City, NY: The New York Times Company. pp. D1,D4. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. 
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