About once per summer, famed Kinston chef Vivian Howard breaks out in a tomato-induced rash. It’s the price paid for what she calls her favorite food of all time: a tomato sandwich on white bread with Duke’s Mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
While collecting awards for her debut cookbook, running two restaurants and building a third, Howard hasn’t been able to eat enough tomatoes, but says there’s still time in the season.
“It’s still July,” Howard said. “I’ve been so busy, I’m just now able to start gorging myself on tomatoes.”
Wednesday, Howard will continue her busy streak at the Raleigh Downtown Farmer’s Market on City Plaza at the end of Fayetteville Street. She will be there from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to talk about healthy eating, answer questions and offer tips on blurring the lines between tasty and healthy.
Think of it as a live version of her award-winning PBS show “A Chef’s Life,” which for four seasons, Howard has used to introduce viewers to the bounty of fruits, vegetables, meat and grains produced in North Carolina.
On Wednesday, she will be at the FNV tent, an initiative started by the Partnership for a Healthier America that stands for fruits and vegetables. FNV looks to build good eating habits into the millennial generation and is run in North Carolina by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one of the sponsors of her show.
“It’s a segment where we can make a big impact, where it will most dramatically impact the lives of people,” Howard said in a phone interview Tuesday. “If you think about it, millennials are the people getting ready to have children and put in place the eating habits of a new generation of people.”
There will also be a chance to win an autographed copy of Howard’s critically acclaimed cookbook, “Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South.”
Howard’s appearance coincides with a flurry of news about the fifth season of “A Chef’s Life.” Last week, it was announced that PBS will release the first episode on Oct. 3. UNC-TV will premiere it here on Oct. 5, keeping the show’s usual Thursday night slot.
Meanwhile, tickets for a local premiere party go on sale Friday for $50 through Carolina Theatre. A premiere party will be held weeks before the televised premiere: Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 p.m. at Carolina Theatre in Durham. The first episode of the new season will be shown, followed by a Q&A with Howard and director/producer Cynthia Hill of Durham-based Markay Media.
VIP tickets for $125 are on sale now, which include food, reserved seating and meeting “A Chef’s Life” team. It includes brunch at Piedmont restaurant in Durham. Chef John May worked for Howard at Chef and the Farmer and was featured on the show. He will prepare a menu that focuses on the featured ingredient from the Season 5 premiere.
To even mention “healthy eating” is to make an often insurmountable distinction: There’s the food that tastes the best and then there’s the food that keeps us alive. It gets thrown in with diets, with restrictions, with things cut and left out. In the minds of many, the sacrifice is flavor.
Howard says that doesn’t have to be the case.
“It’s not about cutting anything; there aren’t any bad foods,” Howard said. “It’s about eating and cooking with actual ingredients. It’s shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. Starting with a sweet potato or a tomato and eating it. Stay away from processed ingredients, that’s when you start eating stuff you’re not aware of.”
The obstacles to healthy eating aren’t as simple as picky tastes or stubbornness, Howard said, pointing to poverty in her hometown of Kinston, but saying the issue reaches beyond there and beyond the state of North Carolina.
“In my community, we have tremendous issues with obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” Howard said. “More than anything, it relates to poverty, but it’s not fair to classify it as a North Carolina thing. It’s more a poverty thing, an access thing.”
She pointed to sweet potatoes and cabbage as two products from North Carolina soil that are healthy, plentiful and simple to prepare. With cabbage, she recommends sauteing it in a pan with fresh ginger and sweet potatoes as a soup or roasted and served with rice.
“Unfortunately, people don’t think they have the time or skills to cook,” Howard said. “But it isn’t something that needs to take hours or advanced skills to be healthy and taste really good.”
“Deep Run Roots,” her debut book, is filled with these types of recipes and has won several awards, including Cookbook of the Year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and most recently the Southern Book Prize in the Cooking category. Nominees are named by Southern booksellers and customers and chosen by a jury of booksellers.
“A Chef’s Life,” which follows Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, as they run the Chef & the Farmer restaurant and the Boiler Room Oyster Bar in Kinston, won a Peabody Award in 2014 and a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in 2015. Howard also won Outstanding Television Personality in the annual James Beard Foundation awards in 2016 and was nominated this year for another Daytime Emmy Award, this time for Outstanding Host.
The upcoming fifth season of the show will follow Howard as she launches her book tour.
Howard and Hill are also working together on a new series that will focus on the cultural significance of food of various regions of the country.
Finally, she and Knight are working on opening a pizza restaurant, Benny’s Big Time, in Wilmington.
Brooke Cain contributed.
Drew Jackson: 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
Who will be the Cheese Champ?
The market will host Cheese Please!, the sixth annual celebration of cheese, with the highlight a grilled cheese cook-off between downtown Raleigh chefs. Each chef will make a version of the classic grilled cheese sandwich. The winner will be named the Cheese Champ. Participating chefs are from Jimmy V’s Osteria & Bar, Rye Southern Bar & Kitchen, Buku, Linus & Pepper’s and State of Beer. Marketgoers will be able to sample each of the chefs’ creations and vote for their favorite. The competition is 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., or as long as supplies last.
Also look for local cheese vendor Hillsborough Cheese Company. The Market runs every Wednesday through Oct. 11. Go to RaleighEatLocal.com.