Chef & The Farmer
Chef & The Farmer • "Like its name, Chef & The Farmer blends the old and the new, seamlessly, comfortably and unforgettably. A place that celebrates the culture and cuisine of Eastern North Carolina. Chef Howard works with over 15 small farms in eastern North Carolina to supply the restaurant with proteins, produce, dairy, nuts and grains. While Eastern Carolina is agriculture rich, historically much of its land was dedicated to tobacco production. Over the past 10 or so years, more and more farmers are getting out of the tobacco business and exploring other possibilities for their land. Several of these producers now work with Chef & the Farmer."
In 2004, Ben Knight and Vivian Howard were living on Manhattan’s upper upper west side, also known as Harlem, and operating a small catering operation out of their apartment. While the couple loved New York, a visit down to Vivian’s parent’s farm in Eastern North Carolina intrigued Ben, an artist and Chicago native. He liked the landscape, the pace and the people. A few months later, Ben and Vivian made what they believed would be a temporary move to Pleasant Hill, North Carolina, a small community in the State’s least populated county. The plan was that from there the couple would choose a town in which to open a restaurant.
They considered Wilmington, Asheville, Greenville and New Bern, but after visiting those areas, considering location and ultimately weighing the importance of being close to Vivian’s family, the couple chose downtown Kinston.
A 100 year old mule stable to be exact. Located across from the Lenoir County farmer’s market and in the center of Kinston’s downtown, this building had a lot of character, a lot of space and most importantly (as stated by Vivian’s mother) a parking lot.
With the location chosen, Ben and Vivian set out to create a dining experience unlike any other in the area. The couple wanted to provide a modern atmosphere and experience while highlighting the rich and unique culture of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain.
Opening in June 2006, with a 70 seat dining room and two private event spaces, Chef & the Farmer surprised locals with its rustic urban vibe and new southern cuisine. In fact, the most common comment of customers the first year at Chef & the Farmer was “I can’t believe I’m in Kinston!”
Since 2006 Ben and Vivian, he in the dining room and she in the kitchen, have continued to surprise and delight their customers.
Working with a network of small farmers, Vivian creates a menu that changes some every week and highlights the region’s culinary traditions as well as its agricultural bounty. Everything from the bread to the ice cream is made in house and all summer long Chef & the Farmer’s kitchen staff puts up preserves, pickles and jellies to be enjoyed all year long. Ben acts as general manager, builds and manages the restaurant’s award winning wine list and has most recently opened a wine and beer shop to complement Chef & the Farmer’s offerings.
Today, Chef & the Farmer is a leader in the revitalization of the community’s downtown bringing in locals as well as diners from all over the state. Combining polished yet warm service, a killer wine list and exceptional innovative food, Chef & the Farmer has earned the reputation of a destination restaurant worth the trip.
PRESS, TESTIMONIALS, AWARDS & ACCOLADES
"The hometown crowd actually shaped my cooking philosophy, at least my current one. We do things that are at once familiar for folks from our region and exotic for folks who are not. Our food is distinctly regional, versus basic Southern, and I think the hometown folks are less afraid because of that." • StarChefs, "Interview with Chef Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer – Kinston, NC"
"Go to nowhere and turn left… you’ll discover an extraordinary, epicurean experience where Chef Vivian Howard practices culinary artistry in a place steeped in tradition. Vivian has returned to her southern roots to create Chef and the Farmer. It celebrates simplicity, freshness and its own heritage. Anchored in a building that has meant much to a small community where Vivian was raised, she and partner Ben Knight converted a 100 year old mule stable into a warm, inviting, uniquely modern atmosphere. Chef and Farmer, like its name, blends the old and the new, seamlessly, comfortably and unforgettably." • OpenTable, "Chef and The Farmer"
"Though the restaurant had a shaky start — Howard notes that "cooking as a profession was not something that was respected" in the region at that time — it has become something of a destination restaurant. It’s also now at the center of Howard’s new PBS series, A Chef’s Life, that explores regional food traditions and has attracted considerable attention. In the following interview, Howard talks about opening a restaurant in Eastern North Carolina, why she’s obsessed with documenting obscure food traditions, and how her TV show has affected her restaurant and her community. She also reveals a little bit about her plans to write an "approachable" book about her regional cuisine." • Eater, "Chef Vivian Howard on Southern Food and Her PBS Show"
"Working in famous New York City restaurants, Vivian Howard swore she’d never move back to her home state of North Carolina. Then, in 2005, when she decided to open her restaurant, her family offered financial help with a catch: She had to open the restaurant near her home town." • The Story, Chef and The Farmer
"Howard, 35, left eastern North Carolina for New York City, became a chef and wanted to open her own restaurant. Her father, a successful hog farmer, offered to help her financially but there was a catch: She had to open her restaurant in Kinston." • News & Observer, "Chef Vivian Howard stars in ‘A Chef’s Life’ on UNC-TV"
"Before they came to Kinston, Vivian Howard and Benjamin Knight, wife and husband, lived in a small apartment in the ungentrified part of Harlem and eked out a living working in kitchens and waiting tables. One winter, they started a soup business out of their home. Every week, they emailed the menu to their client base, cooked it up in their 35-square-foot kitchen, chilled it in the bathtub, and delivered it around the city on their day off. Some investors offered to put them up with a real kitchen and a storefront. Then Howard and Knight got the kind of opportunity they’d never get in New York — an offer from her family to help open a full restaurant in eastern North Carolina." • Our State Magazine, "In small-town Kinston, one New York couple’s big-city ambition finds a home"
"Vivian and husband Ben Knight own Chef and the Farmer, a cozy, upscale eatery in Kinston celebrated for its inventive take on real Southern fare coupled with the mission to source locally and responsibly. The restaurant opened in 2006, earning accolades like a nod as a James Beard semifinalist and praise from around the South and country. But a fire set them back a year. They’ve now reopened to a town with newfangled approach to agriculture, as we learned on our Barn Storm Tour stop." • Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, "Kinston, her chef and her farmers."
"Cynthia Hill is currently in post production on a brand new food centered TV series, A Chef’s Life. The series follows Chef Vivian Howard as she relaunches Chef & the Farmer, a gourmet, locavore restaurant near her hometown in rural Eastern North Carolina. The show is a unique hybrid – part cooking show, part reality show, part travel show, with a heavy dose of documentary sensibility woven throughout. Each episode highlights one quintessentially Southern ingredient, tracing its culinary roots, but also its journey from nearby farms into Vivian’s restaurant kitchen." • Southern Documentary Fund, "Cynthia Hill is currently in post production on a brand new food centered TV series, A Chef’s Life."
"The good old days in Kinston, North Carolina, were certainly old but, in terms of healthy eating, not what you would call good. For three years in the mid-1970s, I lived in the area. The farming consisted of conventionally grown tobacco, corn, cotton and soybeans. The food was either fast food (which was very quickly taking over) or local fare such as pork barbecue, hush puppies, black-eyed peas and thick bacon fat (called fatback). But the Kinston farm-to-table restaurant Chef & the Farmer has changed that scene rather dramatically, and quite successfully. Since their opening in 2006, they have steadily built a following based on their modernized version of traditional Eastern North Carolina food culture. The ingredients are locally sourced from sustainable farmers. Not only has the restaurant become popular throughout the area, but it has had a major positive impact on the local food scene." • Organic Connections, "Chef and the Farmer: From Tobacco to Farm-to-Table"
"AAA Carolinas honored The Chef and the Farmer restaurant at the AAA Four Diamond Awards for central and eastern North Carolina during a ceremony at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel. This is the third year The Chef and the Farmer has achieved Four Diamond status. The restaurant is located in Kinston, NC." • AAA Carolinas, CHEF AND THE FARMER RESTAURANT RECEIVES 2013 AAA FOUR DIAMOND DISTINCTION
"With all the awards and praise this restaurant has received since its opening in 2006, it still shocks me that this culinary experience, this really unforgettable night I had there started with something as plain, ordinary and Southern as sausage and biscuits." • The Foraging Foodie, "Greenville NC, Eats: Chef & The Farmer"
• A Chef’s Life
• Boiler Room Oyster Bar
• Vivian Howard & Ben Knight
• Urban Spoon
For More Information
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The Mast Farm Inn is an award-winning historic country inn, in the Valle Crucis Historical District of North Carolina, which has been welcoming guests since the 1800s. The Mast Farm Inn is a Historic Hotels of America hotel, a Select Registry Inn, and is on The National Register of Historic Places.