Chef Vivian Howard made a major leap of faith when she moved back to her hometown of Deep Run, North Carolina, about a decade ago. She and her husband, Ben Knight, had been working in a string of New York City restaurants for several years when they were lured back to the South by an offer that was too good to refuse. Her parents would make the couple’s dream of opening an eatery of their own a reality, with just one small catch: The restaurant had to be located in the area where Howard grew up. The couple opened Chef & the Farmer in 2006.
Howard’s story is quite familiar to the devoted viewers of her James Beard Award-winning PBS show A Chef’s Life. The program is perhaps so highly acclaimed because it shows the highs and the lows of running one’s own place, as well as the highs and the lows of working with one’s spouse.
Her new book, Deep Run Roots, collects many of the recipes she serves at Chef & the Farmer, as well as ones she has cooked on her show. It is a mammoth tome, clocking in at 576 pages.
Howard was recently in New York for several days to promote the launch of the book, which is her first. I asked her to keep a diary of the roughly 72 hours she was in the five boroughs doing a launch blitz. (Her tour continues through the end of November.) Read on for a sneak peek before her adventures appear on the next season of her show.
MONDAY, OCT. 3
Noon: Landed at LaGuardia Airport to learn Deep Run Roots got a starred review from Publishers Weekly, calling it an “enduring classic.” (Yay!) Then learned the cooler, with much of our food for the dinner at Bon Appétit Magazine, didn’t arrive with us! (Boo!)
2 p.m.: Ubered to my agent’s house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to drop off my giant duffle full of shoes and a hanging bag stocked with clothes I probably wouldn’t get around to wearing. Forgot the duffle also housed my knife roll, as well as the knife rolls of my sous chefs, Brian and Luke. Walked around the corner to Alex Raij’s Tekoá for a quick bite. Lucky for my waistline they were out of the deviled dog, so I got the broccoli rabe and Manouri cheese sandwich and went halfsies with Brian, who chose the pressed jamón and artichoke.
3 p.m.: Headed to One World Trade Center and Bon App test kitchen to start prep work for the next night’s book-launch dinner. Already suffering the delay of our food cooler, I realize we’ve left all our knives in Brooklyn. A cook without his knife is lost, so I sent my guys to the market and, on Bon App’s 35th floor, I made gouda and hot apple-jelly thumbprint cookies while staring uptown at the Empire State Building and the cluttered skyscraper roofs.
8 p.m.: Settled in kitchen-side at Llama Inn for tasty as hell cocktails before devouring a wave of Peruvian-ish small plates, followed by one very, very big plate. Anticuchos, or skewers of pork belly, beef heart, octopus, and chicken thigh, came after a fluke tiradito with goose berries that was bright, balanced, and memorable. The very, very big plate pleased with stir-fried fillet of beef under a mountain of french fries squirted with a mayonnaise-y sauce. X-rated and dirty, I want it again. Against my better judgement, we walked to Maison Premiere for theatre and a nightcap.
TUESDAY, OCT. 4
9 a.m.: Headed to the Madison Square Garden area to record a segment for The Joan Hamburg Show. When I stepped out of the cab, the A Chef’s Life crew was waiting on the sidewalk, cameras in tow. I had no idea what I was in for with Joan, but I quickly realized I was in the presence of a storied, classic New Yorker.
Noon: Afterward Joan and I rushed over to the Colony Club on Park Avenue for a luncheon honoring Deep Run Roots. Colony Club is the oldest women’s club in the city and, like Joan, an “only in New York” kind of thing.
2 p.m.: Arrived at Bon App’s test kitchen to finish preparation for the launch dinner. Brian and Luke were in good shape so I talked Insta-stories and food-world gossip with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport.
6:30 p.m.: Guests start to arrive and are welcomed with Tom Thumb sausage and muscadine grape skewers, oyster ceviche, creamed collard potato skins, and a Jefferson’s Bourbon cocktail made with the juice from my canned peaches. Bon App let me invite friends, so my New York posse celebrated the book alongside media folks. It was great.
9:30 p.m.: My team, as well as the A Chef’s Life crew, shot uptown a bit to Wild Air, where we snacked on the whole menu and drank from giant bottles of wine. Needless to say, we shut the place down.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 5
10 a.m.: Arrived at Le Coucou for a very important business breakfast. I had the oeuf special. My guest had the saumon fumé and we split a French pancake with blueberries and crème fraiche.
Noon: I walked out of Le Coucou exhilarated and ran into my friend and fellow chef, Ashley Christensen. She was also in town to promote her first book, so we had a lot to talk about. Undeterred by the fact I had just eaten a huge breakfast, I walked to the West Village with Ashley and enjoyed a sprawling lunch at Via Carota with new and old friends. I’d say this spontaneous event was the most enjoyable of the trip.
3:30 p.m.: After rushing back to Brooklyn to fetch my bags, I made a pit-stop at Bloomberg Radio to talk all things Deep Run Roots before running (literally) to the Williams-Sonoma in Columbus Circle for my first official book signing.
5:30 p.m.: After the signing, I hopped in a cab to head to the airport. Unfortunately, I went to the wrong airport, missed my flight to Nashville and spent the night at a creepy hotel in Queens.