When Deep Run roots leave home

Vivian Howard made a total of 45 stops on her book tour, serving dishes with local Deep Run flare from her food truck. Yet, Howard had to leave her own roots first to discover their value.

Jennifer Wood—
Between October and December Vivian Howard visited 45 bookstores

Vivian Howard made a total of 45 stops on her book tour, serving many of the book’s local dishes from her food truck. Yet, Howard had to leave her own roots first to discover their value.Wherever you go, locally foraged ingredients are reflected in recipes and dishes passed down through generations. Chef Vivian Howard prefaces her new (and first) book, “Deep Run Roots”, noting, “These dishes set the tables of our past, and today they connect us to a culture of resourceful cooks who prepared year-round to feed their families. Many of these recipes were considered too mundane to merit writing down. Now they risk being forgotten.”This past fall Howard, her team, and food truck traveled from major metropolitan areas to small college towns on the 45 stops of the “Deep Run Roots” book tour. From the food truck, dishes like Tom Thumb, shrimp stew with poached eggs, watermelon pickles wrapped in bacon, and Pepsi and peanut ice cream floats were served. On the final leg of the tour, a book signing at Lowes Foods in Bermuda Run, Howard said the trip was, “a story in itself.”Story is a word that resonates with Howard. The very first words of the book say, “This book is the story of my life so far, told through the ingredients that fill the plates and pantries of my home: Deep Run.”Howard describes Deep Run as a “dot,” not even a town nor community, simply a fire district where there are more pigs than people. While she was firmly rooted in Deep Run and the sandy soil of eastern N.C. Howard knew that to develop her own vision, she needed to branch out and build upon those strong foundations. And after years in New York City, working her way through advertising and then finding her way into kitchens, Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, returned to Deep Run to start their own restaurant, Chef & the Farmer. However, she notes the first few years were anything but simple.Locals didn’t understand what she described as “washed down” New York dishes, so she looked not only to the land, but to the people. Working first with displaced tobacco farmers, Howard eventually began learning the true art of what grows and how to cook it. “Season after season, they presented me with collards, rutabagas, and sweet potatoes. I was forced to develop savory recipes around fruit, treat meat like a condiment, and imagine new ways to use rice and cornmeal,” Howard says in “Deep Run Roots.”After two successful restaurants, a starring role on the PBS show “A Chef’s Life,” and her first book, Howard lovingly explains and prepares specific ingredients that not only reflect the area they come from, but the hands that plant them, for audiences beyond Deep Run. From fateful encounters with New York chefs, to being inspired to make the leap from aspiring food writer to chef and restaurant owner, Howard has returned to her roots in her own way, and her new cookbook leads us down all of those winding roads back home. Now from small “dots” of towns to big cities, readers and chefs have the opportunity taste a bit of eastern North Carolina.