There are some people you meet and you just feel an instant connection, you are hooked. You know this person could be a part of your village if time and space allowed. This may seem a bit bizarre, but I felt this way when I watched Vivian Howard’s character driven documentary. Have I really met her? No. But by watching her food and life television program, The Chef’s Life, I was drawn deep into her reality and I knew she was a significant woman and chef. I got a glimpse into her daily comings and goings, her passions and adventures – I was intrigued.
Vivian’s television show documents key ingredients and recipes that are woven from her southern experience. She pulls you deep into her food and you feel her epicenter come alive. She has a passion for farm to table or better yet, backyard to table (sometimes she sources ingredients from a friend’s personal garden).
Each 30 minute show takes you to her hometown of Kinston, North Carolina (and beyond exploring the larger region – the Deep Run Fire District). You are suspended into the lives of her community members who grow the food she cooks and wrote recipes from her past and present. She then puts her own perspective on the ingredient, improvising and designing her own recipe to display her point of view. Some of these creations are showcased on her menu at her restaurant, Chef & the Farmer or have been given a space in her cookbook, Deep Run Roots. Her cookbook has now been released after many years cultivating and toiling. This book celebrates an array of freshly farmed ingredients prepared using techniques from her part of the “country” while mixing in her upmost respect and love for the southern rural cook and farmer.
Your probably thinking, you said you were talking about a cookbook and you have barely touched on it. You’re right. Vivian’s cookbook was a process that forced her to step back from being in her restaurant kitchen (all the time!). She had to find a quiet space where she could test, toil and develop. But it wasn’t all about the recipes, she had a story to tell. Each section imparts a narrative that connects you to the riches and beauty of her people and the ingredients they find memorable. Her cookbook, Deep Run Roots, embodies the traditional southern farm basket and it gives each ingredient a place of honor, showing you multiple preparations. Vivian is pushing you to further explore the food from her region and find a dish that resonates with you, so you come back for seconds, wanting more. Vivian’s cookbook highlights how she changed her point of view of in regards to her southern roots. She needed to understanded the depth of her people and their history, this experience has impacted the style and soul of her cooking. I am excited to try out some of her blueberry ideas and press into making new preparations and presenting them at my table.
Vivian isn’t the only gem, her folk, her village will keep you coming back for more and the life experience they share draws you in as a viewer/reader. She gives you a snapshot of her family and community – knitting you into her experiences and inspiring you to explore ingredients that may have been silent in your life, unnoticed or never revealed. I appreciate the way she introduces “new to you” ingredients that you may not connect with, unless you had this exposure. Each of her recipes are composed of traditional foods that are respected and grown in Eastern North Carolina, where her heart and her work lie.
P.S. Vivian, I may be weird, but I adore you – your mama has a raised a strong woman. I see you and Ben as food rockstars who are taking the wisdom of your region and giving it the light it deserves. Normally, we would put our favorites in our Friday Faves, but I think your more than that!!