Born in Deep Run, N.C. as the youngest daughter in a tobacco and hog farming family, Vivian Howard’s upbringing was steeped in the Southern food traditions of her neighbors. After college, Vivian moved to New York to work in advertising, but soon transitioned to the city’s food and restaurant scene. Vivian honed her culinary skills in the kitchens of some of New York’s most esteemed restaurants and trained under some of the most cutting-edge chefs, including Scott Barton of Voyage, Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason of WD-50 and Jean Georges Vongerichten at his critically-acclaimed restaurant, Spice Market.
In 2005, Vivian returned to Kinston, N.C. to open her first restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, a farm-to-table fine dining restaurant celebrating the foods of eastern North Carolina. She became a five-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Southeast award. She later opened the Boiler Room, an oyster and burger bar in Kinston in 2012 that has since closed due to the pandemic; and Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, N.C. in 2017. In the spring of 2019, Vivian launched an online, limited-release bakeshop concept, Handy + Hot. Last year, Vivian opened a brick-and-mortar coffee and bakery by the same name at the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel in Charleston, S.C. In the spring of 2021, Vivian opened Lenoir, an upscale restaurant steeped in the food traditions of the agricultural South, also at the Renaissance hotel.
In 2012, Vivian and filmmaker Cynthia Hill premiered “A Chef’s Life,” an award-winning documentary television series celebrating eastern North Carolina foodways on PBS. The series, which aired for five seasons and two one-hour specials, earned a Daytime Emmy, a Peabody award, and a James Beard award for Outstanding Personality/Host. In 2020, Vivian and Hill created a new series for PBS primetime: “Somewhere South,” which united viewers during the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic around the diverse foodways and stories of the American South.
Vivian released her first cookbook, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South in October 2016. A comprehensive record of modern Southern cooking, filled with stories and more than 200 recipes that celebrate the flavors of her eastern North Carolina home, Deep Run Roots catapulted to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers List for Advice, How To & Miscellaneous. The cookbook was nominated for a James Beard award for the American Cooking category, was named Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and was selected as the winner of the 2017 Southern Book Prize for the Nonfiction – Cooking category.
Four years later, Vivian debuted her second book, This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path To Simple Cooking. With this cookbook, she brings a groundbreaking new collection of recipes and stories for cooks of all skill levels. This Will Make It Taste Good offers readers dead-easy recipes that rely on powerful “flavor heroes” — like deeply caramelized onions and spicy pickled tomatoes and fruit preserves — to turn basic food into something special. And because Vivian is a storyteller by nature, she shares powerful stories about her family, the challenge of navigating work and self-care, her struggle as her restaurants were forced to pivot during COVID-19, her battle with imposter syndrome, and how she gets inspired.