At the Table with Chef Vivian Howard, of Chef and the Farmer and A Chef’s Life

vivian howard, chef and the farmer, a chefs life, where to eat in north carolina
Photo courtesy of Baxter Miller

Vivian Howard is an author, tv personality, chef, mom, and restaurateur from Deep Run, NC. She has been named a semi-finalist five times in a row for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast award. She won a JBF award for Best Television Personality in 2016. If you watched her show A Chef’s Life, you would understand why.

Vivian Howard is a Pisces. I’m a Pisces. That’s the first conversation I ever had with Howard. We were at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and I found myself standing beside her, trying to inch my way to the door to Irish exit. Of course I started ease dropping on the conversation because I’m that person who can hear a whisper across a room. She mentioned her birthday being at the beginning of March. Mine is at the beginning of March. I spoke up. For a brief moment, we bonded over our shared qualities of empathy and intuition (at least the three Manhattans told me we did).

Since our meeting, I’ve had the honor of getting to know Howard a little better and it’s true that she’s empathetic. She’s also quite hilarious. It’s refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, especially when they stand in the pubic eye. You’ll see what I mean when you pull up a seat at the table.

Cocktails

  1. Most notable food memory? My dad had this relationship with this man in our community that I never really understood, but I figured he owed my dad money. Instead of paying my dad, he brought us 3 or 4 BBQ chickens every Saturday morning. My bedroom was adjacent to the kitchen. I would always wake up to the smell vinegar, smoke, and charred chicken skin. It was like Folgers in your cup.
  2.  Most sought after dinner guest, living or not? At this moment in time, I would most like to have dinner with Jonathan Goldstein. I’m sure I’ll get tired of him and move on to someone else, but definitely him right now.
  3. If you were not doing what you were doing what would you be? If I could define what I’m doing now, that would really help. I think I’d love to own an easy-to-care-for indoor plant shop.
  4. Junk food vice? Cheese Doodles. Crunchy Cheetos. I used to tell myself that they were healthy because they had cheese in them, which has calcium. 
  5. What restaurant do you most want to visit? I went to this restaurant that just opened in NYC a few weeks ago and Jon Hamm was there. I would love to go to a restaurant where he is because he is so beautiful. 

Drinks

  1. What is your favorite food city that you have been to? Los Angeles. It doesn’t feel forced. It feels natural.
  2. What city do you most want to visit that you have not been to? Tokyo.
  3. What quality do you most look for in a vegetable? When I eat a vegetable, I want to feel like “mmm. I’m eating my vegetables.” I like bitter vegetables/greens like turnip greens, endive, and radicchio.
  4. What’s your greatest food extravagance? I love red meat. It feels extravagant now. I’m writing this cookbook and when I write a recipe with beef, I feel I have to explain why. 

Breakfast and Lunch

  1. What/who do you listen to while cooking? I generally listen to podcasts. “Heavy Weight” with Jonathan Goldstein, hence my desire to eat with him. I love “Dolly Parton’s America” and “Where Should We Begin?”.
  2. What was the last thing you made at home? Over the holidays, I made a leg of lamb that was marinated in yogurt and this herb purée, a cucumber feta salad, and meatloaf. 
  3. Where would you love to cook a meal at? I’ve always wanted to go camping and cook over a campfire. 
  4. What’s the most overrated ingredient? Shrimp.

Dinner

  1. If you had the chance to redo one meal/cocktail you’ve ever served, which one would it be, what would you serve instead? I cooked at the NC State chancellor’s house a few years ago, and I put my trust in someone I shouldn’t have. We were so ill prepared that I had to get ingredients out of the chancellor’s house to cook for it. I would definitely redo that one. 
  2. If you were only allowed to keep one sense, what would it be? Hearing.
  3. If you could bring back one deceased relative to cook for, who would it be and what would you cook for them? I would love to bring back my grandma Iris, my dad’s mom. She died before I was born. She was the best cook in our family, and I also look just like her. Maybe tom thumb sausage, cabbage, and a chow chow of some kind so she would know that her legacy lives on.
  4. Biggest culinary/bartender inspiration? Why? Formerly: Edna Lewis. But, I have recently been turned on by Julia Child. I have never watched her before but had to recently. I love how she shares info and doesn’t take herself seriously. She slaps around raw chicken on a board that she’s about to cut vegetables on.

Brunch

  1. What book are you currently reading? Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  2. Biggest threat to Food & Beverage industry? It’s a complex answer. We don’t value food in our culture, so we aren’t willing to pay the price for people to be paid a living wage and for it to be a profitable business. It makes it an unsustainable career for a lot of people. 
  3. If you can change one thing about the food and beverage industry what would it be? Make it more conducive to family hours. 
  4. How would you doctor up store bought Ramen? I would heat it according to the packaging instructions. Add pickles to the top (bread and butter, sweet style pickles), kimchi, or krout. Drizzle all of that with some hot honey and put fried garlic chips on top for texture.

Desserts

  1. What imaginary figure would you most want to cook for? What would you serve? Alf. A cat.
  2. What would you tell your 20 year old self? Don’t lament getting older. It really gets better.
  3. What’s your idea of a perfect meal? Taco bar at home. 
  4. What do you most value in your peers/team? Creativity and communication. Oh, and tech skills because I don’t have any.
  5. What’s your death row meal? Steak, baked potato, and french fries. 
  6. What is your motto? Full fat everything.

Follow Vivian Howard on the CurEat App (available for iOS and Android) for all of her restaurant and bar recommendations, including the restaurants that inspired Benny’s Big Time.

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