• Click to contribute to WMHT
  • Click to make/update a sustaining contribution to WMHT
  • Click to join the WMHT e-news mailing list
A Chef's Life

A Chef's Life is a new half-hour character-driven documentary and cooking series that takes viewers inside the life of Chef Vivian Howard, who, with her husband Ben Knight, left the big c...


Watch on WMHT-TV
WMHT | A Chef's Life
When to watch

A Chef's Life

See Full Schedule

A Chef's Life is a new half-hour character-driven documentary and cooking series that takes viewers inside the life of Chef Vivian Howard, who, with her husband Ben Knight, left the big city to open a fine dining restaurant in small-town Eastern North Carolina.

Episode Descriptions

Season 1

EP.1: SWEET CORN & EXPENSIVE TEA

Vivian and her husband Ben leave New York to open a restaurant in her small North Carolina hometown. Vivian revisits the Southern tradition of “putting up” corn and shares her method for making smoked corn relish. As the episode concludes, a devastating setback threatens their new life. 

EP.2: STRAWBERRY STAY AT HOME

Vivian and Ben rebuild their restaurant against the backdrop of the Southern harbinger of spring, the strawberry. Their twins go on their first strawberry picking excursion and Vivian and a friend develop a recipe for Coconut Cornbread Strawberry Shortcake with Basil whipped cream.

EP.3: PIMP MY GRITS

The restaurant gears up for a practice service where the new equipment and new menu will be tested in real time – but nothing is going as planned. One of the big changes to the restaurant’s menus is the addition of a section called “Pimp My Grits,” where Vivian exalts the lowly, quintessentially Southern ingredient in four distinct ways.

EP.4: CRACKLIN’ KITCHEN

Vivian goes about christening the restaurant’s new “whole animal, no waste” program with two little pigs from Warren Brothers’ farm. She uses everything – including the skin – and shows us, upon her father’s recommendation, how to make her version of sweet potatoes with cracklins.

EP.5: YOU SAY HEIRLOOM, I SAY OLD TIMEY

Vivian preps for a Southern Foodways Alliance luncheon. Food enthusiasts from around the country are coming to study BBQ & Vivian plans to serve them the ultimate tomato sandwich. She weighs the risk of serving something so simple to this discerning crowd, but in her gut she believes it will be the highlight of their trip.

EP.6: THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER

Vivian and Ben go to Cedar Island to explore the new culture of farm-raised oysters in NC. Vivian shares their plans of opening an oyster bar across the street from Chef and the Farmer & orchestrates with her dad, their first ever family oyster roast. She is blown away by how much everyone enjoys it.

EP.7: MUSCADINE TIME

Ben, Vivian & the twins pick muscadine grapes at a small local vineyard while learning the history of this native grape. Vivian visits Mike & Gator, to make homemade wine. Back at the restaurant, Vivian makes a pizza with mulled muscadines, and Ben tests this new creation during their first stressful pizza night in the wine shop.

EP.8: A ROAD TRIP FOR RICE
 
Vivian travels to Columbia, SC to meet with Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills where he explains their efforts to save heirloom grains. Glenn's passion inspires Vivian to host a "rice dinner", where each course centers around this grain. Scarlett, Vivian's mom, schools her daughter on making Chicken & Rice.    
 
EP.9: PEANUT PASTIME
 
Vivian visits neighbor Marty Harper's peanut farm just before & during harvest. Vivian’s dad introduces Ben & Vivian to an old school snack-break, a pack of salted peanuts dumped into a glass Pepsi bottle. At the restaurant, Vivian translates the snack into Pepsi glazed pork belly with country ham braised peanuts. Vivian reinvents, the popular Southern snack, boiled peanuts for the local farmer's market.
 
EP.10: LOVE ME SOME CANDIED YAMS!
 
Vivian visits Tull Hill Farm, one of the largest sweet potato farms in the country. She makes her grandmother’s candied yams with her mom & niece. Vivian re-imagines these for the restaurant with bacon, sorghum & pecans. The restaurant teams up with Mother Earth Brewing for a beer & sweet potato dinner.
 
EP.11: COLLARD GREEN QUEEN
 
Vivian spends the morning with her neighbors participating in their 100 year old family tradition of making collard kraut. She visits Warren to talk about an Eastern Carolina favorite, the Cabbage Collard. Vivian prepares for Terra Vita where she makes collards the star they deserve to be.
 
EP.12: THE BUTTERMILK BELT
 
Vivian & Ben go to Maple View Farm to pick up product for the restaurant. The dairy manager shows them around & talks buttermilk. Lillie Hardy schools Vivian on buttermilk biscuits at Warren Brothers's house. After finding her great-grandmother's butter churn, Vivian & her family desperately try to make buttermilk.
 
EP.13: HAVE YOURSELF SOME MOONSHINE
 
Vivian & Ben visit Broadslab Distillery where they talk about the art & soul of white lightning. The restaurant's mixologist works moonshine into a few new drinks while the staff takes on the holiday party season. They end the season with a party of their own at Ben & Vivian's new house where AppleJack Moonshine Cocktails make a guest appearance.
Season 2

EP.1: BLUEBERRIES AND BOILING OVER

After a year recovering from a restaurant fire and re-opening Chef and the Farmer, Vivian and Ben go all-in to open a burger/oyster bar called The Boiler Room. Vivian boils over with the stress of staffing adjustments, testing new menu concepts, and the enormous task of putting 500 pounds of blueberries to good use.

EP.2: SHRIMP SELLS

Vivian & Ben head to the beach for their annual summer vacation with the Howard family. A bit of friendly competition with her older sisters stews as she tries her hand at Frogmore Stew. She visits a fish camp & learns the heads & tails of fresh shrimp. Back in Kinston, as Vivian & Ben prepare to open their second restaurant, the Boiler Room, controversy brews over the bun for the burgers. 

EP.3: R-E-S-P-E-C-T THE BUTTERBEAN

Burgers. Oysters. Beer. Hallelujah! Vivian and Ben are on the cusp of opening their new restaurant, the Boiler Room, and they are facing a new challenge: how to make a veggie burger stand out. Vivian waxes romantic about the beloved butter bean and chooses it as the star of her new burger, but quickly learns that the butter bean is a straight up diva when it comes to growing conditions.

EP.4: DON’T TOM THUMB YOUR NOSE AT ME! (PART 1)

Vivian, Ben and the entire Chef and the Farmer staff hustle to complete the mammoth preparations necessary for her big luncheon at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. Vivian uses the women in her life as inspiration for her menu, honoring those who have made her the woman she has become. As preparations get underway, the sheer math of this moment is astounding: 4 courses for 400 food writers and Southern food enthusiasts, totaling 1600 plates.

EP.5: DON’T TOM THUMB YOUR NOSE AT ME! (PART 2)

Excitement turns into heightened emotion and real nerves for Vivian as she faces one challenge after another in the prep kitchen before her big SFA luncheon. Vivian is glad to have Chef Jason Vincent to lend some street cred. Rice almost brings Vivian to her breaking point but everyone pulls together for the big event and her parents join her on stage for an emotional and watershed moment for her.

EP.6: APPLES

Vivian returns from Mississippi to the fall harvest and travels to an heirloom apple tree collector, Creighton Lee Calhoun, the Johnny Appleseed of the Southern apple, who grows 800 varieties in the rolling hills of North Carolina’s Piedmont. Vivian tries her hand at drying apples and her neighbor schools her on a sweet Southern snack called Applejack. 

EP.7: THE FISH EPISODE, Y’ALL

Vivian presents a few of the many ways fish makes its appearance in Southern cooking, from dried mullet roe to a friendly fish stew competition with Warren Brothers’ buddies. Vivian gets schooled on the rules of a good Eastern NC fish stew: Make it a social event. Use whole hog bacon. Resist your urge to stir! And most importantly, start crackin’ eggs and don’t forget a side of white bread!

EP.8: OBVIOUSLY, IT'S PECAN

It’s November ya’ll and that means it’s busy at Chef & the Farmer. Vivian is feeling the stress of both work and home as she juggles running the restaurant after suspending her sous chef and preparing for her own Thanksgiving feast. She & Mrs. Scarlett head to Mrs. Scarlett’s family farm where they source their pecans & have a run in with Uncle Dwight’s wild boar.

EP.9: TURNIPS: THE ROOTS

Vivian is determined to showcase the sexiness of the turnip. Warren and Lilly show Vivian how to cook the tender, silky Hakurei turnip. Vivian features her winter rolls with pickled turnips at a charity dinner with James Beard award-winner Ashley Christiansen and other notable chefs from the region. She frets over whether her roll is sexy enough to stand up to the opulent surroundings, amidst such distinguished company. Despite her misgivings, the roll is a head turner and Vivian manages to make some new friends.

EP.10: TURNIPS: THE GREENS

Late winter brings “run-up” turnip greens, which Vivian sees as central to her approach to southern food, capturing both the spirit & the letter of what Chef & the Farmer is all about. Miss Scarlett helps out by procuring greens from a local produce stand, and discussing the how-to of buying & cooking good turnips to satisfy her "southern people". She quietly disapproves of Vivian’s cooking method, but both women eagerly sip the refined potlikker. That evening, Vivian downs a “cocktail for courage” as she awaits the arrival of Ben and Karen Barker, her culinary heroes. 

EP.11: CHICKEN LICKIN’

As Vivian waits for Spring’s vegetables to appear, she pauses to appreciate chicken’s endless capacity as an ingredient. The restaurant’s new best-seller is a whole chicken, pounded and stuffed with broccoli salad, a method that takes a free-range bird much further than it can ordinarily go. Meanwhile, her effort to deconstruct chicken salad, a Southern favorite, turns out better in theory.

EP.12: RAMP-ING UP TO SPRING

Vivian hunts for ramps—an Appalachian wild leek—with renowned bacon purveyor Alan Benton near his home in the Tennessee countryside. The restaurant world goes wild over ramps, after a winter of few fresh vegetables. Vivian’s “ramp dealer” brings her his freshest stash, foraged from the North Carolina mountains. Theo and Flo show off a piglet and a baby goat at the ag show.

EP.13: EGGS A DOZEN WAYS

Vivian finally makes good on a promise to cook for a friend’s supper club, and she seizes the moment to experiment with an egg dish that she hopes to wow New York City’s James Beard House crowd in a few weeks. She visits with her egg producer and learns the ins and outs of egg varieties, from chickens to ducks to guineas to partridges.

EP.14: EGGS TWO DOZEN WAYS

Ben and the kitchen team pack up the van and hit the road for New York. A month of planning and preparation peak as Vivian’s invitation to cook at the prestigious James Beard House becomes a reality. Back in New York, she reflects on the beginning of her journey as a professional chef. Warren Brothers, his wife Jane, and other friends for Kinston bring their particular brand of Eastern NC charm.

Season 3

EP.1: STOP, SQUASH AND ROLL

With squash season in full effect, trouble with the twins, staffing issues at the Boiler Room, and a new cookbook overloading her plate, Vivian seeks motherly advice from Mrs. Scarlett and her sister Johna over a Southern classic: squash and onions. Despite nerves, Vivian plays it cool on camera, as Ben and all of Kinston anticipate her appearance on The Today Show.

EP.2: PRETTY IN PEACH

Mrs. Scarlett teaches Vivian the secrets of Gramma Hill’s canned peaches and shares fond fried chicken memories from her own childhood. Vivian sweats through a Thanksgiving-in-July extravaganza photo shoot while a major mix-up at the restaurant leaves the restaurant team scrambling.

EP.3: GETTIN' FIGGY WITH IT

Vivian is under the gun to pen an entire book chapter on figs in three days. The stress inspires a fig and honey bourbon slushie tasting with Warren and a fig preserves session with Ms Rose. After much debate, Vivian and Ben make the tough decision to begin charging for bread at the restaurant.

EP.4: PICKLE PERFECT

Vivian visits her friend Nancy for a surprisingly comforting combination of homemade pickles, chicken salad, and chocolate cake. Ben and Vivian audition a new chef to offer Ben some relief and much-needed time to focus on his art.

EP.5: PRICKLY BUSINESS

Vivian’s mentor, Scott Barton stops by the restaurant to peruse the kitchen and share the African roots of okra. Thanks to Warren, Vivian learns that picking okra is a prickly business. She gets a crash course in the highs and lows of food styling during a photo session for her upcoming cookbook.

EP.6: IF YOU CAN'T BEET 'EM...

Matt from Crooked Fence Produce shows Vivian how to make “the best pickled beets she ever ate.” Vivian incorporates beets into an unconventional chocolate cake in honor of Ms. Mary’s 89th birthday party. There’s no telling how Ms. Lillie will respond.

EP.7: A CASSEROLE SAYS PLENTY

Vivian helps friend and cookbook author, Sheri Castle at a signing in Kinston, NC. To much to Ben’s delight, the Boiler Room welcomes a new manager. While Ben paints his way to sanity, Vivian visits with Ms. Daisy and prepares for a homecoming at her church where the warmth of fellowship produces an impressive spread of home-cooked casseroles.

EP.8: HONEY, I'M HOME

After a visit from “The Honey Man,” Vivian turns up the heat on a dish that features chicken livers drizzled with hot honey. While Ben preps for his art show in Durham, Vivian descends upon “the Bull City’s” restaurant row to sample sweet, honey-themed dishes.

EP.9: THEY CALL ‘EM ‘BAGAS

Lillie shows Vivian three different ways to bring out the bitter and the sweet in rutabagas. Vivian showers her team with thoughtful holiday gifts as they prepare a New Year’s menu that blends Italian and Eastern North Carolinian influences. A hectic New Year’s Eve at the restaurant ends in a toast and a smile, despite brewing tension.

EP.10: GONE CLAMMING - PART I

Vivian heads to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the South’s premiere gathering of world-class chefs and food folk. Her jam-packed schedule includes the prestigious “perfectly paired” dinner at Frank Lee’s High Cotton Restaurant. A clamming trip with lowcountry legend, “Clammer Dave” adds a bit adventure to her every day.

EP.11: GONE CLAMMING - PART II

Vivian’s plate runneth over as her tour of Charleston continues. A highlight is the high-energy and very popular Waffle House Smackdown. Frank Lee, “The Mayor of Charleston,” invites Vivian to his home and schools her on the proper way to open a clam and the secret to his aunt’s decadent clam hash.

EP.13: ONE POTATO, NEW POTATO

Vivian judges the Southern Sides competition at the annual BBQ Festival alongside Mrs. Scarlett and Ms. Lillie, who prove to be finicky judges. Vivian follows up with a take on the BBQ plate, featuring a crispy potato salad. When the Avett Brothers stop by the restaurant for dinner, the entire staff, including Vivian, serve up a side of girly giddiness.

EP.12: WHAT’S YOUR BEEF?

After some initial hiccups, Vivian’s whole cow program finds its groove.  Mrs. Scarlett shows her how to make a classic cubed steak, inciting an epic tantrum from Flo. Vivian nervously heads to New York to meet her new editor as work on her upcoming cookbook continues.

Season 4

EP.1: ONIONS AND AVETTS

Spring onions kick off the season in high gear as Vivian takes a break from penning her first cookbook to prepare a benefit dinner at a training ground for beginning farmers. Even though The Avett Brothers make an appearance, the underdog onion steals the show, playing both star and support.

EP.2: MY WATERMELON BABY

After being away from the restaurant all summer, Vivian returns to a staff of unfamiliar faces and works to build camaraderie with the newbies while accepting inevitable changes. She also employs an avid home cook to put recipes from her forthcoming book to the test.

EP.3: PEAS, PLEASE

As a visit from her editor accelerates book preparations, Vivian reckons with handing over the restaurant reins to John and Justise. A tutorial in “beatin’ peas” delivered by a 92 year-old expert is an entertaining and therapeutic history lesson.

EP.4: STAND BY YOUR CABBAGE

Vivian’s summer itinerary picks up with a 14-day photoshoot as she preps for a first-time trip to Feast Portland. Before heading out west, Sam Jones and Miss Lillie share old school cabbage recipes that influence the dish she prepares for festival goers. While on the road, Vivian trusts John and Justise to hold down the fort back home.

EP.5: CABBAGE'S LAST STAND

Vivian can’t resist the opportunity to romp around the city before firing up the BBQ cabbage at Feast Portland. The crisp Oregon air and thousands of patient festival patrons make hiccups with her cooking equipment easier to overcome.

EP. 6: RABBIT

At the Carolina Meat Conference, Vivian dubs rabbit “the meat of the future.” As a cherished staff member prepares to leave the restaurant, Vivian mourns his loss while anticipating the additional strain.

EP. 7: CATFISH

An intimate experience with farm-raised catfish enlightens Vivian’s perspective of the industry. A beloved staff member’s final day at the restaurant sparks fond memories. It’s the holidays and Vivian is crowned Grand Marshall of the Pink Hill Christmas Parade.

EP. 8: ALL SUNCHOKED UP

Flo and Theo’s pre-school class visit the restaurant for a meal where table manners are the focus, but exceptionally slow service makes everyone antsy, especially Ben. When her sunchoke recipe doesn’t make the grade, Vivian enlists guidance from an old friend.

EP. 9: HEAVENLY HOCKS

At a New York dinner party hosted in her honor, Vivian serves up a gift of NC seasoning meats – the pig tails, ham hocks, and fatback that give Carolina cuisine its quintessential kick. While in the Big Apple, a visit with her publisher reveals a hefty autumn itinerary.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: DECK THE HALLS, Y'ALL

Join Chef Vivian Howard for a taste of the holidays as she serves up the best of her Southern cooking heritage and the Chanukah traditions her husband Ben grew up with. From a simple corned ham to an upscale oyster dressing, from humble Hoppin’ John to an elegant red velvet cake, sample one of the most charming and delicious holiday celebrations of the season.

EP. 10: MAYO, THE MOTHER SAUCE

Vivian holds a mayo blind taste test and a surprise brand takes top prize. After a new chef takes the reins, her diminishing role at the restaurant becomes clearer. Vivian’s long-held vacation plans are stifled by a series of strange events.

A Chef's Life

S4: How to Pan Fry

Aired: 2016-08-15 12:00:00 1:02 Rating: NR

Pan frying exists between sautéing and deep frying. Get tips to do it correctly.