At The Gracious Posse we love bringing you inspiration, especially when it’s with the help of our friends. Last week I nearly overdosed on inspiration while visiting Kinston, North Carolina and couldn’t wait to share why.
Before Vivian and her husband Ben Knight opened Chef and the Farmer, on which the series is based,
Kinston was struggling to survive like many tobacco farming hamlets. Flash forward ten years and Vivian now presides over a culinary powerhouse, and Kinston shows signs of vibrant life. In addition to the flagship Chef and the Farmer, she opened an oyster bar called The Boiler Room
and has two other eateries underway: a breakfast spot in Kinston and a pizzeria in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In between creating all these, she wrote Deep Run Roots
and traveled six weeks on the book tour promoting it.
I was fortunate to join Tricia Sauer and two other friends for a getaway to Kinston to experience the restaurants, meet Vivian’s team and tour Brothers Farm where much of the filming of the show occurs. Tricia’s husband is CEO and President of C.F. Sauer Company in Richmond, which has owned Duke’s Mayonnaise since 1929.
Duke’s is now a proud a sponsor of A Chef’s Life, a match made in southern heaven. Many thanks to the First Lady of Duke’s for including me on this opportunity to visit the source of this extraordinary story.
After a childhood spent in Deep Run in eastern North Carolina, Vivian Howard fled to the big city vowing never to return. However, when her parents offered to set her and Ben up in their own restaurant, a dream come true for the experienced New York City chefs, the offer came with one stipulation: it had to be in eastern North Carolina. They accepted the offer, and Vivian decided to do what any salt-of-the-earth southern gal would do: she made the best of what she had. Vivian committed to cultivating local farmers and meat suppliers and, if successful, hoped to turn the tide for her corner of the world.
Chef & the Farmer – A Progressive Eatery
At the flagship restaurant, rather than bringing cutting-edge cuisine from New York, Vivian embraced the food and local ingredients of her heritage. With humble ingredients like beets, collards, cucumbers, cabbage, potatoes, peas, berries, shrimp and pork, Vivian elevates the simple to the exquisite in dishes like Flash Fried Collards, Asparagus and Poached Egg, Shrimp Stuffed Sweet Potato and
Strawberry Gazpacho (above). The menu changes daily, and the handcrafted cocktail menu rivals any I’ve seen.
An Old Fashioned is my benchmark cocktail, and Vivian’s version made with cherry shrub proved sublime. Now I’m on the hunt to find or make the cherry shrub, but I digress. That’s what happens when you run into inspiration!
The warm and inviting interior of the restaurant provides just enough ambient buzz without being too loud. Ben’s large contemporary art
creates a dramatic effect in the dining room.
The cozy bar also offers food service from the menu.
The top-notch food, superb service and local flair make for an unforgettable evening worthy of the drive to Kinston.
Boiler Room Oyster Bar
Across the street from Chef & the Farmer lies the Boiler Room, a casual oyster bar with a cool vibe and a menu boasting something for everyone, from housewife to farmhand. You can drop in for a snack and a beer or make a meal of a oysters and shrimp or the most intriguing dish,
the Butterbean Caesar Salad (above). I’d return to Kinston just to enjoy that salad one more time.
How can you not LOVE a place who covers the facilities entrance with this adorably appropriate wallpaper?
Brothers Farm and The Farmer’s House
When Warren Brothers found out Vivian Howard was opening her restaurant, he asked if he could supply her with organic produce from his farm. Now part of A Chef’s Life lore, we paid Warren and his farm a visit.
Warren Brothers is the fifth-generation farmer of Brothers Farm.
Jane Brothers, Warren’s wife, welcomed us to the farmhouse with a mimosa
as we admired the freshly picked veggies spread on the farm table.
The prior day’s torrential rain had cleared the area, leaving us with a beautiful day to tour the farm.
Brothers supplies restaurants with fresh flowers in addition to produce.
Warren’s guinea fowl follow him like a Pied Piper
Brothers Farm began in 1824 growing tobacco. Warren switched to organic and sustainable farming, supplying local restaurants and creating a CSA with his produce and flowers. He and Vivian consult with each other, and he confided that Vivian likes her vegetables small, like these petite potatoes.
Take a look at Brothers’ method for cleaning greens pulled fresh from the field:
a washing machine. Now you know!
In addition to farming, Warren and Jane run a bed and breakfast a half mile away called The Farmer’s House to capitalize on the growing agritourism in North Carolina.
The porch welcomes guests to The Farmer’s House.
Many scenes on A Chef’s Life are filmed in The Farmer’s House’s kitchen.
I could spend hours perusing the books on the coffee table in the living room.
Deep Run Roots – More Than Just a Cookbook
Weighing in at nearly 5 pounds, Deep Run Roots combines Vivian’s love of writing and cooking. The introduction to the book includes Vivian’s Rules (preferred ingredients and tools), an Ode to Seasoning Meat (using all parts of pork), and How to Can in a Hot-Water Bath. Organized by ingredient,
the book offers recipes and insight into each one that Vivian has gleaned from her relationships with local farmers, experienced home cooks (notably her grandmother, mother and Lillie Hardy) and her training as a professional chef. Each section opens with a fascinating essay on the ingredient (why she likes and uses it) plus her wisdom (helpful hints) for cooking with the ingredient. I particularly love her Oyster Wisdom.
The book also contains a helpful, more traditional listing of recipes according to type of dish (breakfast, snacks, salads, soups, etc). I’ve spent hours with this cookbook, amazed at the inventive use of common produce and meat. The contents inspired me to make Crab Hoecakes with Blueberry Corn Salsa.
If you can make pancakes, chop veggies and herbs, and LOVE crab, blueberries and corn, then buy this book and put this on your summer menu! LDB and I have raved about it for days. Each of the three recipes (Hoecakes, Lemony Crab and Salsa) also can stand on their own for other menus. I would serve the salsa as a side salad, for example. I can attest that the recipes are thorough and delicious, and the art by Tatsuro Kiuchi for each ingredient is frame-worthy.
Next up on the must-try list is
Cocktail Tomatoes with Brown-Butter Scallops.
What an amazing dose of culinary and professional inspiration! Since I’ve been in a tired-of-cooking funk, the trip and cookbook motivated me to get out of my rut and try something new. I admire Vivian and her team for their passion and drive to do more than just open a fabulous restaurant. They’ve intentionally transformed their hometown themselves, not looking to others for help. Brava!
Next up from my Kinston adventure is making biscuits with Miss Lillie from Vivian Howard’s test kitchen. Don’t miss it!
p.s. – last few days of sales prices on EGBreeze stationery products:
15% savings on embossed stationery and 20% savings on memos and notepads regularly priced $23.95 and up. Stock up now for hostess gifts, graduations and even Christmas! Savings end May 30.
May 24, 2017