After being shut out the previous two years, Kinston chef Vivian Howard finally took home a James Beard medal Tuesday night.
Howard, star of “A Chef’s Life” on PBS, won Outstanding Television Personality in the annual James Beard Foundation awards. She beat out Pati Jinich of “Pati’s Mexican Table” on PBS and Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel.
“I’m thrilled and validated by the fact that the James Beard Foundation has recognized our show in this major way,” Howard said Tuesday night at the awards’ ceremony in New York City.
Howard’s show celebrates Eastern North Carolina food traditions. The show also shares the struggles of Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, running a fine dining restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, and a casual eatery, Boiler Room Oyster Bar, in a rural town, as well as raising a family.
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The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the food world, honoring restaurants, chefs, restaurant designers, writers, journalists and cookbook authors. The foundation is named after James Beard, a television food personality and cookbook author who was an early champion of regional American cuisine. The awards are distributed at two events: a books, broadcast and journalism awards dinner in New York on Tuesday and the restaurant and chef awards on May 2 in Chicago.
This year, the show also was a finalist but failed to win the Television Show Shot On Location category. Instead, Phil Rosenthal, a writer, creator and producer on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” took home that honor for the PBS show, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having.”
Howard and the show have been finalists for James Beard awards the last two years. She was a finalist last year for the television personality award. The show has been a finalist three years in a row for Television Show Shot on Location and also previously was a finalist for a technical award.
Despite being previously shut out of the James Beard awards, “A Chef’s Life” won a Peabody award in 2014 and a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Lifestyle/Culinary/Travel Program in 2015. Howard is not surprised that the show has struggled in some contests and categories.
“It’s the story of this little place that nobody knows about,” Howard said Tuesday night. “It’s really different from the genre; we’re really a genre-bending show. The fact that we had some traction here is awesome.”
Also Tuesday night, Chapel Hill writer and artist Emily Wallace was a finalist for best humor piece in the journalism awards for a story she wrote for Gravy: “Ham to Ham Combat: The Tale of Two Smithfields.” Wallace lost to Maryse Chevriere of @Freshcutgardenhose on Instagram.
On May 2 in Chicago, Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen will find out if her restaurant, Death & Taxes, will win for Best New Restaurant. Christensen won Best Chef Southeast in 2014.
Only four North Carolina chefs have won James Beard awards while working in the state. Ben Barker of the former Magnolia Grill in Durham, and Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill and The Durham Hotel in Durham, won Best Chef Southeast in 2000 and 2011. Barker’s wife, Karen, won a national award, Outstanding Pastry Chef, in 2003. (The Barkers closed Magnolia Grill in 2012 but recently opened Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro with their son, Gabriel.)
Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith and restaurant owner Gene Hamer were honored in 2011 with an America’s Classic Award, which are given to iconic regional restaurants with timeless appeal.
See a complete list of winners at jamesbeard.org/blog/2016-book-broadcast-and-journalism-awards-complete-winner-recap.
Full disclosure: I serve as the chair of James Beard Foundation’s book awards subcommittee.