Amazing Soups from Chef Vivian Howard
She's a Souper Woman
In the fall of 2004, when Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, launched their subscription soup-delivery business, she never envisioned it would lead her back home. Raised in Kinston, NC, Vivian had escaped to New York City after college. She hungered for something more, bigger, and eventually found herself working in restaurant kitchens as she pursued her dream of becoming a food writer. Then she and Ben decided to start the soup-centric Viv’s Kitchen out of their Harlem apartment. “I made a beef chili with cheddar crackers that had kind of a cult following,” says Vivian. “Chicken and stars was also really popular, but what people seemed to get excited about was that the soups were different from week to week.”
Vivian and Ben were thrilled when a particularly enamored customer offered to invest in a brick-and-mortar shop for them. But Vivian’s family back home was not as excited to hear she was establishing more permanent roots in New York. So her brother-in-law at the time countered by offering to partner on a Kinston restaurant. After one more brutally cold NYC winter, the couple headed to North Carolina.
Flash-forward to today, and Vivian and Ben have twin 6-year-olds, Theo and Flo, and three—soon to be four—restaurants. The critically acclaimed Chef and the Farmer and the burgers-and-beers Boiler Room Oyster Bar put Kinston on the culinary map. Vivian and Ben will launch a new bakeshop, Handy & Hot, down the street this spring. They also run Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, NC. And, of course, Vivian has an award-winning PBS show, A Chef’s Life, and a new cookbook, Deep Run Roots, where she celebrates the cuisine of Eastern North Carolina, calling it “my Tuscany, my Szechuan, my Provence.”
The family lives on the same road that Vivian grew up on. But instead of craving an escape, Vivian has wholeheartedly embraced her area’s culinary traditions and farmers. Through all the changes, soup has remained a constant in her life. “Soup is my comfort food,” she says. “Usually on Sundays during the fall and winter, I make a huge batch and give some to my parents and bring a few quarts to the office to share.”
Once a month, Vivian and her restaurant group take over the local soup kitchen. It’s her way of giving back to the community that has inspired her and her cooking. “The process of making soup, the layering of flavors, the effort to make the soup special,” says Vivian, “all those things feel like I’m crafting a gift that’s going to nourish both bellies and souls.”