Born in Deep Run, NC to tobacco and hog farming parents, Vivian Howard learned early on to appreciate the ebb and flow of eating with the seasons. Still, it took 23 years and a start in the advertising business to convince her a career in food was feasible. After college, Vivian moved to New York for work, but found the city’s food and restaurant scene far more intriguing. A server position at Greenwich Village’s Voyage made it possible for her to begin training under the restaurant’s chef Scott Barton. She went on to learn from creative cutting-edge chefs Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason at WD 50 and later, joined the opening team at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s critically-acclaimed Spice Market.
In 2005, Vivian, and her now husband, Ben Knight decided to return to Vivian’s roots to open a “farm to fork” restaurant in the small town of Kinston, NC. They opened Chef & the Farmer in the summer of 2006 serving local, seasonal, creative cuisine. Vivian and her restaurant have won numerous accolades, including her selection as a five-time James Beard Foundation Award semi finalist for Best Chef: Southeast. She also owns and operates a second restaurant right across the street from Chef & the Farmer – The Boiler Room.
In 2012, Vivian approached her childhood neighbor turned filmmaker, Cynthia Hill, about directing a documentary film series about Eastern North Carolina’s food traditions. Five years later, the two women have produced five seasons of “A Chef’s Life,” a PBS series that celebrates family, work and food. The show’s fifth season is slated to air in October 2017. In its first two seasons, “A Chef’s Life” won a Peabody Award and a Daytime Emmy. In 2016, Vivian earned a coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Personality/Host.
In October 2016, Vivian released her first ever cookbook – Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South – published by Little, Brown & Co. The cookbook is Vivian’s comprehensive record of modern Southern cooking, filled with stories and more than 200 recipes that celebrate the flavors of her eastern North Carolina home. The cookbook was nominated for a James Beard Award for the American Cooking category and was named ‘Cookbook of the Year’ by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Recently, Deep Run Roots was selected as the winner of the 2017 Southern Book Prize for the Nonfiction – Cooking category.
Up next, Vivian will expand her brand with two new establishments. In fall 2017, she will open her first restaurant outside of Kinston, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, NC. In early 2018, Vivian will also open Handy & Hot, a bakery in Kinston located on the same block as her existing two restaurants.