Fine Dining, Southern Style: Chef Vivian Howard Brings Originality Back to the TV Table
Wanted to take a moment to tell you about A Chef’s Life. Are you watching this show about southern cooking? Out here in Tucson, it’s been airing on Saturdays around noon on PBS, but not always. We are touched, moved, and inspired by what Chef Vivian and husband Ben are up to, so do yourself a favor and set your DVR to record, or even better, and in keeping with idea that food nuts like us love few things more than immediate gratification, you can also access and watch the last two seasons online at:
Reference one of the most recent episodes, titled “Collard Green Queen.” If you’ve ever wondered what “pot liquor” is, it’s the liquid created by cooking collard greens to death. It’s delicious, and my grandmothers’ – both of theirs! – was the best. Although at the time you couldn’t get me within ten feet of a collard, all that has changed. (By the way, if you don’t eat your greens – shame on you! – try out an episode on heirloom tomatoes, Muscadine grapes, or ten or so other delicious star ingredients.) I think it fair to note that I am currently a happy transplant in Tucson, for many years now, but my roots and my cooking heritage is firmly entrenched in Eastern North Carolina.
Anyway, as one who loves all things related to cooking and eating, what I seek when it comes to foodie TV is the same thing I looked for when I was a music venue owner responsible for booking four live bands per week. All I asked was that you bring me something original, someone who can inspire me, and, to borrow from the vernacular of food, something delicious.
Segue to food and all things culinary: there was a time when my insatiable appetite for something new and delicious could be satisfied by one or more of the never-ending stream of Food Network cooking shows. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. And just like the days when I used to get five promo packs apiece from 50 not-so-great bands every week, the food is everywhere but the inspiration virtually nowhere. In other words, my appetite for something inspiring when it comes to cooking has been going, well, unfulfilled.
That’s because, as of late, it seems that you can’t tune into cable TV without running into what can only be described as a cacophony of cooking shows. I’m expecting ESPN to try their hand at it any day. So, just like the bands vying for a spot on our stage, thousands of them a year, the vast majority of these heat-it-and-eat-it shows tend to fall somewhere between a mediocre cover band and your typical high school garage punk band. That is to say, they fall somewhere between tolerable and delusional.
Gone are the days of Alton Brown’s Good Eats, or Mario Batali and Bobby Flay standing in front of a camera in a kitchen and, through simple sharing, teaching us to cook. At least, that’s what I thought, up until one fateful Saturday a few weeks ago.
Enter stage left: Chef Vivian Howard, her husband Ben Knight, and their new show about southern cooking, A Chef’s Life. Their television recipe looks something like, “1 part cooking, 2 parts documentary, and a dash of sharing what it takes to overcome the challenges of being a restaurant owner.” Tasty and fascinating.
Finding this show reminds me of the time I booked a band called “Dave Matthews,” for their first of three shows over a year-long period in Greenville, North Carolina. The show was $4 a head and about 80 people showed up, many of them on my guest list. I’d heard good things about this new band from Charlottesville, Virginia – and even though, as a promoter, I was always skeptical of hype, during sound check I quickly realized we were in for a special night. Afterward, Dave drank beer with my roommate into the wee hours of the morning and slept on the couch for a few hours before he and the rest of the band headed out.
I equate discovering Dave’s music with Chef Vivian because two Saturdays ago, I happened to stumble onto Chef Vivian’s show on PBS. Call it her “sound check”…a moment when I get to see something before most others and can say, this is something special viagra a paris. And that is what her show feels like. It feels like you’ve been given backstage access to her life as a chef and all the challenges of being a restaurateur, especially in a small town. And, just like her cooking, she’s been able to produce a show that is about her and about preparing farm-to-table, locally-sourced food. All of which comes off as passionate, inspired, and original.
She’s not passionate for the camera. She’s passionate for her food and her family. The fact that she wraps it all up in our shared Eastern North Carolina heritage makes it all that much more enticing.
And in this food lover’s opinion, that makes her and her songs…dishes…special.
That’s right, Kitchen Liaison has a little bit of a chef’s crush and I can not wait until my next visit back home and to treat my mother and anyone else who will meet me, to an evening at their restaurant, Chef & The Farmer which is located in Kinston North Carolina.
Everything they want you to know about them is at http://chefandthefarmer.com/
P.S. Note that A Chef’s Life also features The Avett Brothers’ music throughout the show, as yet another homage to North Carolina. They played our stage at Peasants Cafe numerous Sunday nights over the years. There’s a connection!