Kinston's Farm-to-Fork Restaurant: Chef and the Farmer

Owners Ben Knight and Vivian Howard say their farm-to-fork restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, in the Kinston downtown district has become a popular dining destination

On Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 12:55
Chef & the Farmer Restaurant in Kinston, NC

The owners of Chef & the Farmer restaurant in Kinston spent a whopping $120,000 on food purchased from local farmers in 2010.

Since opening more than five years ago, owners Ben Knight and Vivian Howard say their 66-seat restaurant in the Kinston downtown district has become a dining destination for a number of reasons. The married couple admits that one of the biggest factors is their farm-to-fork philosophy, buying as much food as possible from local farmers to keep money in Kinston-Lenoir County.

“We buy produce primarily from three farms in the area – Warren Brothers Farm, Putnam Family Farms and Scott Farm Organics – and our chicken and pork comes from Rainbow Meadow Farms in Snow Hill, and a lot of our beef comes from Nooherooka Natural in Snow Hill,” says Knight, who manages Chef & the Farmer while Howard serves as executive chef.

79 of 100 Dollars

Knight says the restaurant’s menu changes often depending on what is available from the local farms, which keeps the menu fresh in both quality and variety.

“We have actually become a tourist attraction, with approximately 80 percent of our evening diners traveling at least 30 miles to get to us,” he says. “People in Kinston have really spread the word during the five years we’ve been open. I think the residents here appreciate how we give back to the community by helping local farmers.”

Knight is also proud to point out a recent Seattle-based study stating that 79 of every 100 dollars spent at farm-to-fork restaurants remain in the community, compared to about 50 of every 100 dollars spent at conventional eateries.

“I’d also like to mention that we are a AAA Four Diamond restaurant, of which there are only about 12 such restaurants in all of North Carolina with that distinction,” he says.

Smoked Corn Relish

As for Vivian Howard, she got her culinary training in New York and cooked at several Manhattan fine restaurants, but she and Knight ultimately moved to Kinston in the mid-2000s because she is originally from the area.

“Our menu is vegetable heavy with a lot of flavor, and I would describe the type of food we prepare as being nouveau Southern,” she says. “One example of my entrees is a pan-roasted red grouper with fried green tomatoes, grilled eggplant puree and a smoked corn relish. Another dinner item is a ribeye steak with chimichurri marinade and grilled summer vegetables. The restaurant uses the local ingredients that are cooked in ways where I can utilize some of my training techniques.”

Even a Wine Store

Chef & the Farmer is a dinner-only restaurant, opening at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Knight says the couple strives to provide a modern atmosphere and experience while highlighting the rich culture of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain.

“Our whole operation is housed in a converted 100-year-old mule stable, so we describe the restaurant’s ambience as both rustic and modern,” he says. “The kitchen staff also puts up preserves, pickles and jellies, and we opened a wine store. Customers are pleasantly surprised when they visit us in downtown Kinston.”

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