Hurricane Matthew has taken a tragic toll in North Carolina, the state we call home, and as I write this column our friends at Chef and the Farmer are watching the Neuse River rise just blocks from the restaurant. The hurricane passed through four days ago, but the river isn’t expected to crest until a week after the storm.
There’s a terrible irony in finalizing an issue that pays tribute to the revitalization that Chef Vivian Howard has brought to the community when much of that community now faces potentially devastating floods.
The town of Kinston, like many communities in eastern North Carolina, is being hit particularly hard. A 9 p.m. curfew is in place, so Chef and the Farmer—the restaurant owned by Vivian and her husband/partner Ben Knight—remains closed for a fourth consecutive night, and its sister restaurant, Boiler Room Oyster Bar, will close by 8 p.m.
I called to check on them—Vivian was on her book tour in Greenville, South Carolina—but the young woman working in the restaurant said Ben had just made the decision to keep Chef and the Farmer closed since it would be difficult to provide comfortable dinner service and meet the curfew. At Boiler Room, guests would be able to place orders until 7:30, but they wanted to get everyone home by the curfew.
The water was rising, but their concern was all about the safety of the people and the community. Even the girl I spoke with—who lives within walking distance of the restaurants—was more concerned about the well-being of those already affected and others potentially in harm’s way than about her own home, which was predicted to be among the properties that would likely flood in days to come.
While they thought both restaurants would be spared from flooding (neither building flooded in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd), compassion for the community was the palpable undercurrent of our conversation. That’s the culture that Vivian and Ben have fostered within their community—a community that extends beyond their restaurant, employees, and town to include all of the farmers in the region who partner with them.
You can learn all about that culture, and the profound differences that Chef Vivian has made, in the feature story where she notes: “In order to invest in your community, you have to believe in it and you have to believe it has intrinsic worth.” She also gives a refreshingly realistic perspective on what the farm-to-table movement should entail and why “A Chef’s Life” is purposefully unlike a celebrity food show.
For a chef who’s consumed with convictions and commitment—starting with her loyalty to the communities and people of eastern North Carolina—there simply ain’t no river wide enough to keep her from making a difference.
Wishing Thanksgiving blessings to all.