Chef Vivian Howard left North Carolina for the Big Apple, and then returned to invest in her home state and support the local agriculture community.
A native of Deep Run, Chef Howard and her husband, Benjamin Knight, opened the rustic, yet urban fine-dining restaurant Chef and the Farmer in 2006. Before farm-to-fork was a marketing phrase, Chef Howard began working with local farmers and producers to supply her restaurant.
She currently works with a network of 20 to 25 local farmers to obtain the freshest produce and meat around, and refers to these farmers as her better half. When she returned to her childhood home from her stint in New York, she saw that local farmers were suffering economically. It was a love of community that inspired her to support local growers.
Howard says farmers have become increasingly innovative in the 10 years since she opened Chef and the Farmer. In the beginning, available produce mostly consisted of traditional offerings such as yellow-necked squash, collards and turnips. These days, farmers are offering seemingly unlimited choices including heirloom produce.
READ MORE: Recipes From Chef Vivian Howard
Howard grew up on a tobacco farm not far from her restaurant, and enjoyed the camaraderie and support aspect found in rural life.
“People shared,” she says. “People gardened together. People dug potatoes and gave them to their neighbors. People made jam and gave it to their friends. There was a very real shared experience in the community.”
Her restaurant is 45 minutes from the coast, so her menu is often influenced by the food of her region – from fish stew to greens and beans. Her dishes still highlight traditional vegetables, but also include hydroponic lettuces. For proteins, staples such as beef and pork are on the menu along with quail and guinea hen.
“I take those traditional recipes and translate them through a modern lens,” she says.
Chef and the Farmer is located in Kinston.