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 trailing under the restaurant’s chef, Scott Barton. She went on to learn from creative cutting edge chefs, Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason at WD50 and later, was a member of the opening team at JeanGeorges Vongerichten’s 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. Nine years in, Vivian and her restaurant have won numerous accolades, including her selection as a 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 James Beard semifinalist 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. Three years later, the two women have produced three seasons of “A Chef’s Life,” a PBS series that celebrates family, work and food. In it’s first two seasons, “A Chef’s Life” won a Peabody Award and a Daytime Emmy. Most recently, Vivian earned a coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Personality/Host 2016.
Vivian has a line of rubs and sauces exclusively with Williams Sonoma that launched in spring 2016. In October 2016, Vivian will release her first ever cookbook — Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South — published by Little, Brown. 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.