The chef who's been writing her life through food.

“I suppose I’ve been ‘fearless’ most of my life — though I might not put it that way; maybe naïve is the right word, particularly in my younger life. I was known in my late teens and early 20s for out-of-the-box behaviors. Some choices I made were kind of frightening, but at the same time I figured if trying something new wasn’t going to kill me, then why not? I could always change course.”

The First Leap

“I grew up in Kinston and went to NC State. During college, I did a summer internship in New York City at CBS. And I thought, this is for me: Journalism! New York! So I moved there (without a job waiting for me) after graduation. I have always been a determined individual; I just dive in. Well, I couldn’t find work in journalism, so I took a job as an account coordinator at Grey Advertising. Not that interesting, but I did enjoy being the coordinator of lunch (imagine that!). I had the restaurant menus of New York at my fingertips. But I needed to move on and so I quit after 18 months, without a job waiting for me.”

The Right Job At the Time

“I was walking around Greenwich Village and saw a Help Wanted sign in a bar window. So I found myself walking into Hogs and Heifers (yes, the real-life bar that inspired the movie Coyote Ugly). The owner shouted, if you want to work here, you gotta get up on the bar and dance! So I did. They cranked the music, I climbed up onto the bar and showed ‘em my best North Carolina moves. The guy said, ‘You’re hired. Come back at 5 for your first shift.’ I’ll admit, that was a pivotal moment. I walked around the Village thinking, I need work, but if I take this job, I can’t tell my parents about it. That gave me pause.”

“We definitely lived by the adage, Fake it ‘til you make it. We faked it HARD.”

Time to Leap Again

“A couple years later, Ben and I were feeling done with New York. You either love it and can’t picture living anywhere else, or you can’t wait to leave. We were the latter. It was another pivotal time, because we had some investors interested in helping us open a brick-and-mortar location for our fledgling soup business (which ‘til then we’d run out of our apartment). At the same time, we were thinking of North Carolina, and my parents offered to help us open up a space for a restaurant — in Kinston. That gave me serious pause. I had visions of moving back home and never being able to leave, and that terrified me. But on the other hand, I knew I could endure it (it wouldn’t kill me!), we could use the opportunity as a launch pad, save up some money and then see what would come next.”

“So we took a big leap. We opened Chef & The Farmer in 2008 — just as the Great Recession was looming. I saw friends in the restaurant business starting to suffer, losing business. Yet, we were packing the restaurant every night. It was a sign that we should keep doing what we were doing. Running the restaurant, we definitely lived by the adage, Fake it ‘til you make it. We faked it HARD. We were learning the business on the fly on our own dime. We just truly believed that if we made it, people would come.”

Reaping Rewards and Continuing to grow

“Though we were thriving, I was also not content. I continued to want to write about cooking through the lens of food as the story of a place and its people. This led to A Chef’s Life on TV, so I could tell the story that way. And I started work on my first book; I’ve been so pleased with the way it’s been received.”

“If it sounds like a busy life, it is. I feel pulled in multiple directions every day — by the needs of our restaurants, the next book, the next show, and of course my husband and family. We’ve got two 6-year-olds. If you ask me how I do all of it, my honest answer is, badly. Speaking just for myself, I can only fully ‘show up’ for two things in a day. Maybe you can relate.”

“My mom says, everyone has a stage in life when you’re so busy, you’re likely to be letting someone down. It doesn’t feel good. It’s just how it is — and, I know I’ve created this situation, because there’s a lot I want to do. At least I’m aware of my imperfections!”

“If you’re feeling the itch to try something big with your life, I hope you’ll get fearless about it. Take a leap and pursue it with all your heart. That’s the only way to make a dream come true.”

Vivian signing her books

Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South is Vivian’s first book and a multiple award winner. “This is an epic work of art.... It is stunning. It is so beautiful. And what I love best about this book is the storytelling. It's such a vivid work.”―Rachael Ray

Vivian's Restaurant

Vivian’s award-winning restaurant in Kinston, North Carolina

Vivian buying ingredients

Vivian tries to only use the freshest, local produce in season.

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