You know Vivian Howard as the star of award-winning TV show “A Chef’s Life.” Author of “Deep Run Roots,” and the visionary behind Kinston, North Carolina, restaurant Chef & the Farmer, Howard is as renowned for her philanthropic touch as her cooking prowess.
A member of FSR’s Top 100 Independents for 2018, Howard chatted with FSR about what it means to go farm to table in today’s industry, and how giving back always makes sense, no matter the season.
What does farm-to-table mean to you?
It’s about making my community, or contributing to the economy of my community, and supporting and seeing and knowing the person that’s growing the food we’re cooking and eating. So it’s about economic growth in that community and having a tangible connection to a food source.
What is the biggest challenge sourcing locally?
Winter. That’s a big challenge because diners don’t really get excited about roots and sprouts the same way they do about tomatoes and sweet corn. Most restaurants work with, you know, maybe two or three purveyors and we work with like 20. So that’s a big challenge. It’s almost just one person’s job to manage that part of it.
What is the best advice you can offer a chef or restauranteur looking to restructure their sourcing to be more local in focus?
What’s really more viable for a business is to source as much local as works for you. It’s kind of our concept and our mantra at Chef & the Farmer. So that’s what we do, but instead of having such a stringent set of guidelines about where you buy, how you buy, and what you serve, I think it makes sense for a restaurant to source what they can and supplement with some other options that are always available, because it doesn’t work for everyone, particularly somewhere like North Carolina where we have four distinct seasons. In California it’s different, places where there’s a yearlong growing season. But I don’t think the hyper-local concept really works for a lot of restaurants.
What has been your most successful experiment in trying to ferment, can, pickle, or otherwise preserve local goods for off-seasons?
Chef & the Farmer is all about supporting our local economy by using local farmers, but we’re also about exalting the food traditions of this very small place, Eastern North Carolina. So, something that people make here is collard kraut, and that’s something that we do a lot and we take great pride in.