For Vivian Howard, three years of planning for something even she didn’t think would happen is coming to fruition tonight.
“A Chef’s Life,” starring Howard and her husband Ben Knight, debuts today at 9:30 p.m. on PBS.
The 13-part series about Southern cuisine, Eastern North Carolina traditions and Howard’s and Knight’s restaurant, Chef and The Farmer, will run each Thursday at that time.
“It’s exciting,” said Howard, the chef at Chef and The Farmer. “We’ve worked for close to three years on this and it feels really good to have it out to the world and show Kinston and Lenoir County in a positive light.”
One of the biggest obstacles came with raising money for the show, but Howard was able to raise more than $50,000 in donations to handle PBS fees and other expenses.
“It was questionable to many if it would happen — myself included — and now we’re here,” Howard said.
The Kinston City Council named today as “A Chef’s Life Day,” at a public meeting last month.
“This show is a testimony to the hard work, quality of food and service and dedication to a career that Vivian has worked so hard for,” Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said. “The city of Kinston joins all of the patrons of Chef and The Farmer and our entire community to help celebrate this event and we look forward to watching Chef Howard on PBS.”
City Manager Tony Sears agreed, saying the event should have the encouragement of Kinston residents.
“I think Vivian and Chef and the Farmer getting a show is a great thing,” Sears said. “We have to give community support for someone whose hard work is being nationally recognized.”
Kinston City Councilman Sammy Aiken shared a story explaining how important Chef and The Farmer is to the area.
“I stopped in Raleigh to get some camera equipment, and I’m talking to someone who asked where I was from,” Aiken said. “I told him I was from Kinston, and he asked me if I had been to Chef and The Farmer. He said it was one of the best restaurants in North Carolina, which is a great compliment.
“We’re definitely pleased, and it’s well needed. Anytime we have positive publicity for Kinston, it’s a good thing.”
Lenoir County Commissioner Chairman Reuben Davis said he was proud of the show airing nationally. He said he believes it will be successful.
“I have tremendous respect for the Howard family,” Davis said. “There’s a good possibility this will be a popular show, and at the end of this run, I hope they can do more. It’s good for them, Chef and the Farmer, Kinston, Lenoir County, Eastern North Carolina and the state itself.”
Davis had positive reviews for the restaurant as well.
“This is a tremendous response for the city of Kinston and the nationally renowned restaurant,” Davis said. “I enjoy going there and a good portion of their customers are from surrounding counties or out of state. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Knight has been anxious for the public reaction, but enthusiastic as well.
“The past couple of weeks, I’ve been joking about how the show is like having a baby,” Knight said. “We know the sex, but we’re not sure about much else. There are a lot of unknowns, and a lot of anxiety, but we’re excited.”
With twin sons — two-and-a-half-year-olds Theodore and Florence — and a restaurant to operate, there hadn’t been an abundance of time to work on the series.
“Most of the show was shot on Sundays, which is really the only day we have off,” Knight said. “The last couple months have been challenging, with us working on the show and our family.”
Knight believes if the show is successful, it will open up opportunities for him and Howard, the restaurant, those who worked on the show, Kinston and Lenoir County.
Still, he said personal gratification isn’t the reasoning for the program.
“We’re not doing this so we can be on billboards in Times Square,” Knight said. “We started this business in a town where many didn’t think it would survive, and we felt like this is one of the best things we could’ve done to give back.
“Hopefully, we can look back in 15 to 20 years and say we did what we set out to do.”
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.