PBS’s “A Chef’s Life,” directed by UNC graduate Cynthia Hill, won a Peabody Award at the beginning of this month.
The show tells the story of a cooking couple and their high-end, farm-to-fork restaurant in Kinston.
Hill said she and Vivian Howard , head cook at Chef & the Farmer and star of the show, worked together to incorporate elements of both a reality show and a cooking show.
The show portrays the culture of Eastern North Carolina through locally grown food and relationships. As a reality show, “A Chef’s Life” follows Howard and her husband Ben Knight as they raise twins and run a restaurant together. On each show, Howard shares how to make a unique recipe come alive.
Although this dynamic is unusual, Hill said the Peabody reminded her and the show’s whole team that what they are doing is important and is working.
“It’s nice when the reality of it is even better than the idea is,” Hill said.
And the reality of “A Chef’s Life” is that it has done more than win awards.
Malinda Lowery , director of UNC’s Southern Oral History Program and co-producer of the show, said “A Chef’s Life” is working to break stereotypes about the South.
She said she hopes viewers learn the rural South is not the backward-looking region that some imagine it to be.
“I hope the show demonstrates how rural southerners are engaged with all of the things that are going to move our country forward economically, socially and culturally,” Lowery said.
Lowery also uses her research skills to try to better the Kinston area.
“How do we promote economic development using home-grown assets the community already has?” she said.
Lowery said in such an economically deprived area, Howard has generated jobs for the farmers and producers that she buys ingredients from.
Jan Parson , director of events and programs for the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce, said the show has drawn people from across the nation to Kinston, including visitors to the restaurant, the local farmer’s market and farms that provide Howard with food.
“We are now, for tourism, working on a culinary tour that will take you out to all the sites where the show’s been filmed,” Parson said.
Parson is also from Kinston and said she has seen the town remold itself after the demise of its main two industries: tobacco and textiles.
“I think the way our downtown is coming alive again is kind of a twist on what you expect in just a typical southern downtown,” she said.
She said food and the arts have had a lot to do with that.
“I don’t think we fit any mold. I think we are a unique community that is finding a kind of Renaissance for Kinston in a different way.”