In 2004, Ben Knight and Vivian Howard were living on Manhattan’s upper upper west side, also known as Harlem, and operating a small catering operation out of their apartment. While the couple loved New York, a visit down to Vivian’s parent’s farm in Eastern North Carolina intrigued Ben, an artist and Chicago native. He liked the landscape, the pace and the people. A few months later, Ben and Vivian made what they believed would be a temporary move to Pleasant Hill, North Carolina, a small community in the State’s least populated county. The plan was that from there the couple would choose a town in which to open a restaurant.
Wilmington, Asheville, Greenville and New Bern were all considered, but after visiting those areas, considering location and ultimately weighing the importance of being close to Vivian’s family, the couple chose downtown Kinston. A 100 year old mule stable to be exact. Located across from the Lenoir County farmer’s market and in the center of Kinston’s downtown, this building had a lot of character, a lot of space and most importantly (as stated by Vivian’s mother) a parking lot.
With the location chosen, Ben and Vivian set out to create a dining experience unlike any other in the area. The couple wanted to provide a modern atmosphere and experience while highlighting the rich and unique culture of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain. Opening in June 2006, with a 70 seat dining room and two private event spaces, Chef & the Farmer surprised locals with its rustic urban vibe and new southern cuisine. In fact, the most common comment of customers the first year at Chef & the Farmer was “I can’t believe I’m in Kinston!”
Since 2006 Ben and Vivian (he in the dining room and she in the kitchen) have continued to surprise and delight their customers. Working with a network of small farmers, Vivian creates a menu that changes some every week and highlights the region’s culinary traditions as well as its agricultural bounty. Everything from the bread to the ice cream is made in house and all summer long Chef & the Farmer’s kitchen staff puts up preserves, pickles and jellies to be enjoyed all year long.
Ben acts as general manager, builds and manages the restaurant’s award winning wine list, and opened the Wine Shop @ Chef & the Farmer in 2010 to complement the restaurant’s offerings.
Today, Chef & the Farmer is a leader in the revitalization of the community’s downtown bringing in locals as well as diners from all over the state. Combining polished yet warm service, a killer wine list and exceptional innovative food, Chef & the Farmer has earned the reputation of a destination restaurant worth the trip.