Fried Collards, Guilford Mills Grits with pimento cheese.
Benny’s menu features the likes of wood-fired pizza, ravioli,
bucatini, risotto, and spiedini. But Howard’s North Carolina
roots show up here and there, in the Cacio E Pepe Hushpuppies
and Southern Fried Chicken Parm with hot honey.
“Some of our dishes here, there’s maybe a Southern influence
to them,” Diecchio says. “Our chicken parm is a good example
of that. It’s got chicken, it’s got parm, but it’s not what anybody
thinks of a chicken parm. Vivian’s always been into the whole
hot honey thing. That dish kind of shows that kind of balance,
our concept and her reputation.”
Chef & the Farmer is noted for using ingredients from local
farmers. Knight and Howard made the risky move from New
York to open a high-end restaurant in her rural North Carolina
home in large part because they hoped to revitalize downtown
Kinston and transition former tobacco farms to food farms.
Benny’s Big Time might be more European than Southern,
but the same farm-to-table emphasis carries over.
“Absolutely,” Howard says. “Jim sources quite a bit. All the
NE PLACE she won’t be when she makes it to Wilmington is in the kitchen, cooking that
“I don’t do everything,” she says. “I try to be completely transparent about that. When chefs
have multiple restaurants with different menus, you cannot expect that person is in the kitchen
all the time. For this place, I give all of the credit to Ben and Jim, and our management team
here. I inspire the spirit of the place, but that’s really all I’m able to do.”
Jim is executive chef Jim Diecchio, who has creative license
to create the menu — “I want to have a chef, not a kitchen
manager,” Howard says — but always with the approval of his
“It’s mine with their influence and guidance of what they
want,” he says. “They let me have free range. But you always
have that kind of pressure of living up to someone else’s
Howard made her reputation at Chef & the Farmer by craft-ing
creative dishes rooted in her Southern heritage — Flash
fish, herbs, pork, lots of the vegetables. When we serve poultry, that’s from a local farm.”
Benny and Big Time sample some of the food in front of them as the restaurant fills up.
Everything tastes good — a metaphor of sorts for their life.
They have three successful restaurants, and a bakery coming to Kinston. “A Chef’s Life” is end-ing
after five seasons, but a new show with the working title of “South By Somewhere” is in the
After the initial culture shock of making the “Green Acres” move from the big city to Vivian’s
small hometown, Knight is loving the country life.
“One of the first times I took the kids to nursery school on my own, I’m walking in with
them and I know all the kids, I know all the parents, I know the teachers,” he says. “That’s just
not something that happens in a large community. At that point, it became something I under-stood
and valued in a way I didn’t before.”
Vivian Howard’s PBS show “A Chef’s Life” frequently filmed at farms that supply food to Chef &
the Farmer, the restaurant she and Ben Knight opened in Kinston. Far left: Knight at his studio
in the couple’s home in Deep Run, N.C.