Restaurant News & Reviews

Chef Vivian Howard looks ahead to new projects: a pizza restaurant and bakery

Vivian Howard is getting into the pizza game full time, and she’s about to expand her Kinston presence with a new bakery.

Pizzas have long been a staple at her Kinston restaurant Chef and the Farmer, but later this year, she and husband Ben Knight will open a pizzeria in downtown Wilmington.

The new spot will be called Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, a nod to the couple’s nicknames: Benny for Knight and “Big Time” for Howard, a name coined by her father, she said.

“We love Italian food and have a particular affinity for pizza,” Howard said in a phone interview before she came to the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market July 26 through her partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

“In the urge to cook Italian food, you’ll look at the menu at Chef and the Farmer and wonder ‘Is this an Italian restaurant?’ ” she said. “This is our opportunity to really dig into a cuisine we’re excited about and love to eat and cook.”

Howard, whose “A Chef’s Life Show” is returning this fall, also is planning a bakery in downtown Kinston called Handy and Hot Bakery that will produce breads to be shipped and prepared foods. She didn’t have a timeline for the bakery.

As for Benny’s Big Time, Howard hopes to have the restaurant open by November or early December to cut down on trips to the coast during the holidays.

“We have two young children, and December is a special time for us and the kids,” Howard said. “I don’t want to have to be going back and forth from Wilmington during that time.”

Expect wood-fired pizza, homemade pastas, big salads and smaller, sharable dishes.

“And ostentatious desserts,” she said.

In tapping Wilmington for a new venture, Howard says it’s a city on the rise, one with a growing food scene. But she also acknowledges a larger plan of one day wanting a beach house, though no moves are expected in the near future.

“This is a big step for us, and I don’t really know what it will mean for our family and for our restaurants,” Howard said. “The hope is that we’ll get some really good leadership and take turns dropping by and spending time there during service and prep.”

And while the Wilmington venture is her first outside Kinston, she dashed any likelihood of a restaurant in the Triangle or points west.

“We do not want to have a string of restaurants,” Howard said. “(The bakery) will keep us pretty busy, hopefully.”

And those breads can be shipped here.

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson

‘A Chef’s Life’ returns

Tickets are on sale for $50 a local premiere party at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, 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. They’re on sale at the Carolina Theatre or

PBS will release the first episode of Season 5 on Oct. 3. UNC-TV will premiere it here on Oct. 5.

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