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Vivian Howard never wanted to be a chef.
“I got into cooking because I wanted to be a food writer,” Howard told fans who filled the gym Tuesday night for Barton College’s Friends of Hackney Library and the Friends of the Wilson County Public Library fall event.
The dream of the Kinston chef, restaurateur and star of the PBS award-winning show, “A Chef’s Life,” became a reality with the publication of her New York Times bestselling book, “Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South.”
The book features more than 200 recipes and stories celebrating the flavors of eastern North Carolina.
“I had a tremendous drive to prove myself, and it’s why this thing ended up being about 600 pages,” Howard said with a laugh to the crowd at Barton College. “I didn’t know 420,000 words was a lot.”
While it took her 16 years to achieve one of her dreams, she wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the experiences and journey along the way that shaped who and where she is today.
“I think that’s a testament to setting your goals and keeping your eye on the prize and being able to take all the opportunities your way seriously,” she said.
Howard told Wilsonians she’s incredibly proud of her book.
“I grew up in Deep Run, North Carolina,” she said. “My goal for ‘Deep Run Roots’ was to kind of be a time capsule or a document that represents the food culture of eastern North Carolina, our past food culture, the pantry that we cook from and also a collection of stories that speak to our region and our people.”
She is also working on a second book.
Howard is the owner and award-winning chef of two Kinston restaurants, the acclaimed Chef & The Farmer Progressive Eatery and the Boiler Room Oyster Bar. In 2017, she and her husband and business partner, Ben Knight, opened a third restaurant, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, in Wilmington.
Fans also got a chance to meet Howard Tuesday before the dinner for a personal book signing.
‘A DISH THAT EVERY CULTURE SHARES’
Howard also shared with the crowd current projects underway.
While the series finale of “A Chef’s Life” will air Oct. 22 on PBS, she is working on a new show she pitched to PBS. She gave the audience a taste of what that show will be like for fans.
“My idea was to make a show that is also filtered through my profession and personal lens to a certain extent,” Howard said.
The new show, which hasn’t been named yet, is slated to air in June in primetime on PBS across the country.
“Every episode is about a dish that every culture shares,” she said. “Every culture has a dumpling; every culture has their specific way of cooking greens. Every culture has their chicken and rice dish. Every culture has a way of using sugar or a type of sugar they use.”
She said instead of learning about a traditional Southern ingredient, she’s going to learn about one of those dishes in each episode that “every culture shares.”
“I will go to friends of mine who live in and around the South who are of different cultures and learn to make their version,” she said. “It really is a larger snapshot of what the American South looks like.”
Howard said a lot of the new show will continue to be filmed in eastern North Carolina.
“We will always touch on our regions’ version of that dish,” she said. “It really is an effort for me to show us how we are all more alike than we are different through the foods that we eat.”
‘COUNTRY AS CORNBREAD’
Howard is also giving back to those affected by Hurricane Florence in Jones County.
It was an area, she says, that suffered much damage. Limited edition “Country as Cornbread” T-shirts are being sold for $25. They are available for purchase through the end of the month. Proceeds will benefit families in Jones County to rebuild after the storm. She said 19 inches of rain fell, and hundreds of homes were damaged in the rural community.
If you would like to help, visit her website at vivianhoward.com/products/country-as-cornbread.