By Junious Smith III
An ode to the past gave representation to a local business in the present and future at Tuesday’s North Carolina General Assembly meeting.
Vivian Howard and Ben Knight — owners of Chef and the Farmer and stars of the PBS reality show “A Chef’s Life” — were honored with a resolution lauding the legacies of two late individuals who left national and worldwide legacies, cookbook author James Beard and philanthropist George Peabody.
The resolution was passed 116-0 and named the works of “A Chef’s Life,” which won a Peabody Award — the highest award in broadcast journalism — and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award in its first season.
The first episode for the second season will air Sunday, Oct. 5.
Ben Knight — Howard’s husband and general manager of the restaurant — said it was a huge honor to have the show recognized by the state.
“It means the world knowing we have the support of the leaders in the state,” Knight said. “It makes us want to present a better show and tell more stories.”
N.C. Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, said in order for a resolution to come to the House floor, it must honor those who passed first. Bell said he also remembered him and N.C. Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, being approached by Knight and Cynthia Hill — director of the show — about the concept of the program about two years ago.
“I was excited about the possibilities,” Bell said. “What really sparked the resolution was an event held at Chef and the Farmer where Speaker of the House Thom Tillis talked about raising the awareness of what the show has done for not only Eastern North Carolina, but the state. This is really just the culmination. I approached Rep. George Graham (D-Lenoir) and he said he wanted to be a part of it, which showcased the Lenoir County delegation really displaying support.
“This was just a way to show what local businesses can do for Lenoir County, agriculture and the region.”
Pate said the concept of A Chef’s Life was a great one, but there was an obstacle.
“Ben and Cynthia came to see Rep. Bell and myself, looking for funding for the series,” Pate said. “I thought it would be a great way to introduce the nation to Eastern North Carolina and I was really taken with what they told me, and showed me a video clip about what they wanted to do. The problem was we didn’t have money in the budget, but Rep. Bell and I were able to direct them toward people who could possibly help out like the Department of Commerce, Pork Council and Department of Agriculture, and they did. The program has really taken off.”
Several Lenoir County Commissioners came to the House Assembly meeting as well to show support. Chairman Craig Hill said the connection of local and state government was evident.
“(Commissioner) Eric Rouse and John Bell had been working on the resolution and it really showed the representation the local government had in the state,” Hill said. “When you have a local business making regional and state impact, you want to support their endeavors and look for ways to help them expand. Public leaders have to take pride in public businesses with community pride.”
Rouse said he and Bell were in talks for several months on the resolution and wanted to honor the owners of a business who helped spearhead the downtown revitalization of Kinston when it opened in 2006.
“Considering the impact Chef and the Farmer has had on Lenoir County, it’s always good to give them the recognition for their efforts,” Rouse said. “Their contribution, coupled with Stephen Hill’s efforts, have been integral to helping Lenoir County and Kinston grow and we want to thank them for that.”
Commissioner J. Mac Daughety said the show has sparked national interest in the area.
“A Chef’s Life has been a huge boon to Kinston, Lenoir County and Eastern North Carolina, promoting the community and spurring them to visit,” Daughety said.
Scarlett Howard, Vivian’s mother, said she has seen the clientele of the restaurant change because of the show.
Howard said shining light on what the area had to offer was the premise of A Chef’s Life.
“We felt like the show would be great for North Carolina and showed the agriculture community, our customs and the people in a positive manner,” Howard said. “It feels good to be recognized this way.”
N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the show displayed the importance of the practice as a whole.
“One of the major tasks we have in the agriculture department is to educate the people on how things are grown, the process and some of the problems that are faced,” Troxler said. “This show is wonderful exposure toward that and is a great thing for North Carolina.”
“There was a time where all you saw were members of the community, but nowadays, you can hardly recognize anyone because of how many come from out of town,” she said. “My husband and I have seen people from Texas, Minnesota and Washington coming to eat here. They would talk to us and ask to take pictures with them as well. The whole family is proud of what Vivian and Ben have done.”
Selena Lauterer, a consulting producer with A Chef’s Life, said she knew the show would be amazing, but had no idea of how popular the show would become.
“I’ve been in television production for almost 20 years and I had no idea it would take off like this,” Lauterer said. “You never know how any show will do until the stations respond and then if the viewers will connect, and they have in a major way.
“There is a lot of anticipation for the second season, with plenty of expectations, but we will meet them.”
Vivian Howard said the format for the second season will remain relatively unchanged.
“We’ll focus on an ingredient, translate it and talk about our life and work,” she said. “I did travel more, which will be reflected in the new season, but everything else is pretty much the same.
“I can say we won’t start this season off with a fire,” Howard said with a laugh.