Vivian Howard - A Chef's Life

Vivian Howard is a woman with many hats. She was in the public eye between 2013 and 2017. She hosted A Chef’s Life, a television series on The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The show used cooking traditions and ingredients from the eastern North Carolina region. It had the backdrop of a North Carolinian restaurant in Kinston. The restaurant, Chef and the Farmer, is co-owned with Howard and her husband, Ben Knight.

She won a Peabody Award for a cooking program in 2014. This made her the first woman since Julia Child to win the award.

Early Life

Vivian Howard’s birthplace is Deep Run in North Carolina. It is a small town in the area. She was raised by farmer parents. Some of the crops her parents grew are;

· Cotton
· Corn
· Tobacco
· Soybeans

They also raised hogs at their farm.

Howard went to a Monrovian boarding school when she was 14 years old. The school was an all-female institution. It is known as Salem Academy. It is in Winston-Salem in North Carolina. After her first boarding school, she had a two-year stay at Virginia Episcopal School. This is in Lynchburg in Virginia.

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English as a Language. Howard attained this degree in 2001 from North Carolina State University (NCSU). While at the university, she studied abroad. This was in Argentina for one semester. She was attending a program that was culinary themed.

When Vivian Howard graduated, she relocated to New York City. There, she worked for Grey Worldwide. She was in the advertising department. She quit her job 18 months later. She found a waitressing job at Voyage restaurant. Voyage’s executive chef at the time was Scott Barton. He ended up becoming an early mentor to Howard.


Howard met her husband, Ben Knight, at Voyage restaurant. The establishment is in New York City.

They have twin children and live in Deep Run in North Carolina. They reside on Howard’s family homestead.

Career Life

In 2004, she graduated from a New York culinary school. She had attended the Institute of Culinary Education. As part of her studies, she gained experience with the following institutions;

1. Wd-50 by chef Wylie Dufresne: Howard interned for Dufresne
2. Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market: trained as Chef de Partie

Her First Restaurant

Vivian met her husband, Ben Knight, at Voyage. He was a coworker. They started a business to deliver soup. This was done from their Harlem apartment. Their business involved using the bathtub to chill the soups. There were a number of offers from investors for a restaurant location. The investors preferred a New York restaurant. The design would have been brick and mortar.

At around the same time, Howard’s parents gave them an offer they could not refuse. They offered to buy them a restaurant in her hometown, Kinston. In 2005 the couple moved back to North Carolina.

They opened the restaurant in 2006. It was called Chef and the Farmer. The location was in a building downtown. The building was formerly a mule stable. They used locally sourced ingredients for most of the recipes.

Chef and the Farmer uses traditional southern dishes to innovate modern versions. The traditional recipes are from her family members. They are original to the Eastern North Carolina community. Howard learns the traditional recipes from older members of the community. She relies on the wisdom of the older generation to make her recipes.

The building that housed Chef and the Farmer caught fire in 2012. It was rebuilt the same year.

Other Works

Howard and her husband opened the Boiler Room in 2013. It is a casual location near the Chef and the Framer. The menu at the Boiler Room includes burgers and oysters.

In 2016, she wrote a memoir and cookbook. The title of the book is Deep Run Roots – Stories and Recipes from my Corner of the South. The book was released in October. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 3 weeks after its release. There were four IACP Cookbook Awards awarded to the book. These include;

· Julia Child First Book Award
· Cookbook of the Year
· Outstanding Cookbook in the General Category
· Outstanding Restaurant Cookbook

The couple also opened another restaurant. This one was called Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. It opened its doors on December 12, 2017. Its location is the Warehouse District of Wilmington in North Carolina.

The TV Series – A Chef’s Life

Vivian Howard began getting concerned for the recipes she was creating. She feared that some of the food traditions would be lost. She got in touch with her filmmaker friend, Cynthia Hill. Hill is from eastern North Carolina.

The two of them filmed a pilot episode for the show, A Chef’s Life. The show was picked up by South Carolina Educational Television and PBS. They were able to produce 2 seasons. The seasons aired between 2013 and 2015 nationally. The show continued to have 5 seasons. The fifth season ended with a finale that lasted for an hour. The finale episode was called “Harvest Special.”

A Chef’s Life introduced many fans to Chef and the Framer. This also made Kinston’s economic growth substantially increase.

Recognition For Her Work

The awards given to A Chef’s Life include;

· Peabody for Excellence in Broadcasting: 2014 winner
· Daytime Emmy for Best Directing of a Travel/Lifestyle/Culinary program: 2015 winner
· James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Culinary Host: 2016

She was granted a nomination for the following awards;

· James Beard Foundation Award for Television Program
· On Location – 2014, 2015, 2016
· Visual and Technical Excellence – 2015
· Outstanding Personality Host – 2015
· American Cooking: Deep Run Roots – 2017

She was nominated for two more Daytime Emmys with;

· Outstanding Single-Camera Photography – 2015
· Outstanding Culinary Host – 2017

Her Restaurant, Chef and the Farmer has the following awards;

· AAA Four Diamond Award – 2010 to 2016 consecutively
· Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – 2009

Chef and the Farmer was also listed among the OpenTable Top 100 Restaurants in America. This was received in 2011.

Vivian Howard is a mom, daughter, wife, and author from Deep Run in North Carolina. She lives her life looking for challenges related to food. She blends food, family, and storytelling to touch people and remind them of home. She is an award-winning restaurateur and a bestselling author. Howard lives for her work and family. She has led an interesting and rewarding life to this point.