When chef Vivian Howard announced the closure of her flagship Kinston, North Carolina, restaurant Chef & the Farmer in June of 2022, she promised that the restaurant would be back, but that it wouldn’t truly return to the fine-dining roots that helped propel her to regional and then national fame — the new Chef & the Farmer, whatever form it might take, would be different. It would be something that Howard operated on her own terms, something that made her excited to be in the kitchen again, a feeling that she had lost as she juggled the responsibilities of owning and opening multiple restaurants, writing books, starring in an Emmy-award winning television series, and raising her family.
Today Howard gave a glimpse into what that new Chef & the Farmer might look like, announcing the reopening of the restaurant in a video on her Instagram account. Beginning this month, Howard will open the kitchen for ticketed dinners on three weekends over the next two months, serving a seven-course tasting menu to 16 customers per seating.
In the video Howard speaks directly to her fans, addressing something that has been on her mind for years. “One of the things that I struggled with when Chef & the Farmer was open, but I was doing other things like writing books and making TV shows, was that so many of you traveled here to see me, and you never did,” she said, “That literally kept me up at night.”
“The other thing that bothered me was that I often felt we were not providing the experience that I wanted,” Howard continued.
In an interview with Eater Carolinas shortly after making the announcement, she dug a little deeper into what she hopes these dinners will be like and some of the other changes coming to Chef & the Farmer down the road.
“It’ll be an experience,” she said, “That’s what I’m looking for when I go out [to dine] now. It will be very warm and personal.”
To that end, Howard and her team have made some physical changes to the Chef & the Farmer interior. The kitchen pass is now a table where guests will dine in front of the wood-burning oven. The glass window into the kitchen has been removed, allowing Howard to both cook and interact with guests during the dinners. And she’s invited back some of the folks she says she has most enjoyed cooking with over the years, people like Casey Atwater and John May, faces that will be familiar to Chef & the Farmer devotees.
This is just one step on the road to Howard reimagining how Chef & the Farmer works, both for customers and for her staff. The actual restaurant will eventually reopen (date TBD) but with a much more casual menu and style of service. The chef’s dinners will continue, allowing Howard to provide a fine dining experience in a way that is manageable for her and her team (and she’ll be there, cooking for everyone). She is also working on transforming the upstairs event space into four guest rooms, adding the possibility of an overnight stay to customers’ experiences. And Viv’s Fridge, her popular vending machine meal service, will also continue.
“It will end up building a more holistic experience for the restaurant, as well as guests. We will never again have all our eggs in one basket,” she said.
As for the dinners, customers can expect menus to change each month, although the first menu will be a riff on Chef & the Farmer classics done in a style more in keeping with the way Howard cooks these days — think meat as a condiment rather than the main focus.
“This is every chef’s dream, to cook what they want, on their own terms, in their own house,” she said, “I hope that we have earned the right to do this.”
The first series of dinners will take place right after Thanksgiving, November 24 and 25, with Atwater joining her in the kitchen. The next set of dinners will be on December 1 and 2, with May as Howard’s partner for the evening. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.vivianhoward.com/thekitchenbaratchef.