The overflow crowd that gathered at Chef & the Farmer in downtown Kinston, N.C., on Thursday night already appreciates the culinary magic that NC State alumna Vivian Howard has brought to town.
Now they hope that A Chef’s Life, the new PBS documentary series starring Howard, will spread the word to others.
“It’s a pretty incredible experience for the region,” said John Chaffee, president and CEO of North Carolina’s Eastern Region, an economic development agency for Eastern North Carolina. “We have an urban, very chic restaurant in a relatively small town.”
Chaffee and others came to Chef & the Farmer Thursday night to watch the series premiere. The 13-episode season is airing on Thursday nights in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia and on a variety of nights and times on PBS stations throughout the country.
The show, which has been in the works for about three years, was initially conceived by Howard as a way to showcase Southern food traditions that were in danger of being lost to time. The show does that, but it also follows Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, as they deal with the challenges of running an upscale restaurant serving fresh, seasonal food in an economically depressed area.
In the moments before the show aired last night, Howard told the crowd of local business and government leaders, friends and family that she hoped the show would help viewers across the country see that Southern towns are not filled with rednecks and “bumbling idiots.”
“I hope it’s something you feel proud of,” she said. “It presents our region the way that we see it.”
Stephen Hill, co-founder and CEO of Mother Earth Brewing and chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the series will bring more visitors to Kinston in search of a good meal and, yes, a cold beer.
“It puts us in a much better light,” he said. “This is like we really are, not what they think we are.”
The first episode was clearly a hit with the crowd that filled a large banquet room above the restaurant. They nodded knowingly when they saw someone they knew on screen and laughed when Howard playfully rebuffed Knight when he tried to kiss her at the restaurant. And they rose to applaud when the episode ended.
“This is a special moment for us, for our community,” Knight said. “We tried to put our best foot forward.”