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PBS show "A Chef's Life"

I was wondering if many PBS stations picked this up across the country, because it has a very Southern, local perspective. I think it is fantastic and hope others might agree.

If you haven't seen it on your local station, you can see it here: http://video.pbs.org/program/chefs-life/

Have any of you caught this one?

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  1. Have not seen it.. looks intriguing and well done. PBS write up here... http://www.pbs.org/food/shows/a-chefs...

    1. Our PBS station carries this show. [Which is amazing, because they are a 'second-tier' PBS member.]

      It's a great show. Howard and Knight have had some major problems with The Chef and The Farmer, but watching them work through and even grow is interesting. And the food looks great. I also like that they reach out to and feature their purveyors almost every week.

      I hope that this show continues. And my sweetie laughs at me almost every week because we vacation in Eastern NC, and I describe the current ep to him - but have we ever been to the restaurant? Nooooo. Maybe next year.

      1. I like the show. Momentarily had it confused with another. Liked the whole hog episode.

        1. It's a great show and a great restaurant if you ever get the chance to visit.

          1. It's on in the Boston area. I don't recall if it was on the Boston, RI, or NH PBS station(s) our cable gets - maybe it's on all of them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: NE_Wombat

              It's on WGBH (ch. 2) Boston, on Saturday afternoon.

              Today was the first time I've seen it. I take it their restaurant had fire damage at some point. The sauces Vivian was creating looked excellent, as did the rest of the food, but her husband seemed overwhelmed. Not to mention two very young children and building a house rather than buying one means juggling MANY plates, so to speak. Wonder if the marriage will last.

            2. It's on PBS in Los Angeles

              1. I just started watching this show, and I love it. I know it's television, but it seems a more low-key and honest than your average reality show. The food looks great.

                The problem she has with staffing makes me fantasize about moving to North Carolina and working my way up in her kitchen as a dishwasher all the way to sous, even though I've never been to culinary school or worked a day in a kitchen in my life. I figure that would be an amazing opportunity for someone who would show up 100% of the time and work hard.

                1. We just returned from the restaurant and it is a great spot for wonderful food as is their second restaurant, The Boiler Room, an oyster bar/burger place, across the street from Chef & the Farmer. Program airs now in NYC, LA and Boston, but NC TV here in Carolina balked at picking it up. Maybe because they did not produce it? Anyway, for us in NC, the DVD is the answer.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: terrismith

                    I'm in Charlotte and my friends and I all watch it on PBS.

                    1. re: southernitalian

                      Looks like it has ended. Yet, folks at the bar at Chef & the Farmer said it was a struggle with UNCTV, for "political reasons." What does that mean? They were so busy, we did not have time to pursue...

                      1. re: terrismith

                        I think that UNCTV was given the first option to produce it but turned it down. It was then offered to South Carolina ETV who jumped at the chance to produce the show. UNCTV has shown it but not really supported the show, choosing instead to promote Flavor NC.

                    2. re: terrismith

                      It's on UNC-TV at 9:30 PM on Thursdays, although the season may have ended on 12/5.

                    3. PBS posted a Holiday Q&A with Vivian Howard, the chef who is featured. I think it gives a good sense of the show, for those who haven't watched.


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: indyumd

                        I was rather tickled that she answered one of my questions for that Q&A.

                        1. re: indyumd

                          Thanks for posting that! I'll give the cheese ball a try. I got a chuckle out of the saltines, certainly not very 'chefy'.

                        2. I have a girl crush on Vivian. She seems very likeable in a realistic way. I love the show and I watch it in Montreal.

                          1. I watched the series on Boston PBS.
                            I loved everything about it. I wish PBS would put her all recipes from the show on their website.

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: Terrie H.

                                Thanks!! That's great.
                                I'll be looking for that ridiculously yummy drippy tomato sandwich that landed her and the sandwich on a magazine cover.

                            1. It's on one of New York City's PBS stations, so not limited to the south. I enjoyed it.

                              1. The more episodes I see, the more I like it - and the more I like the chef, Vivian Howard, and the less I like her husband Ben. Are we seeing a marriage headed for the rocks, or already on them? But this series shows me more about the way a restaurant is run and the way its chef thinks than any other show I've seen, and I can't wait for the next episode.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: John Francis

                                  I THINK the final one has already run - here, anyway. It takes place in early January, including the staff holiday party which is held outdoors at their finally-finished home.

                                  From the very first episode, it's clear to me that the honeymoon is long over. I do have some empathy for Ben, a Northerner whose ego has to be somewhat emasculated by moving back into the bosom of his wife's large family. Even the new house is on the Howard family homestead, and it's bluntly stated that the Howards bankrolled the restaurant(s). He has dreams of being an artist that might or might not pan out if he had the chance to pursue them, but instead he is spending all his non-father time on the restaurants. Granted, he could have refused to leave NYC, and should have known what he was in for. Neither he nor Vivian seem to know their own limits. If I were a wagering woman, I'd bet my first-born child that by the time theirs are in kindergarten, their marriage will be in divorce court.

                                2. I thought it was pretty good, but DH says it depresses him. I think the only episode he saw was the one when the restaurant burned down.

                                  1. I really liked it. Its too bad that it won't be back.

                                    2 Replies
                                      1. re: jchulley

                                        I attended a talk by Vivian Howard earlier in the week and seem to recall she said a second season is in the works.

                                      2. Finally watched this on my local PBS create station. Didn't care for it. Vivian is unlikable and the whole show really seems to be talking down to the area and customers.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Firegoat

                                          In my area, A Chef's Life and the April Bloomfield season of The Mind of a Chef are both running currently. It's interesting to compare and contrast. As COOKS, both are very creative, and have a passion for unusual and quality ingredients, attempting to source as locally as possible, but as CHEFS, there's a distinct difference. April is a demanding but level-headed manager, and teaching her staff is not only an obligation but an interest.
                                          Vivian seems to manage mostly through scolding her employees. If she sees that they've omitted something, or done it incorrectly, she asks if they've done X, then without waiting for a response, she'll say something like, "I know you didn't because I can still see the Z." Her frustration is understandable, but treating workers like kindergartners does not make them more dedicated. How much of this difference is editing and how much is standard operating procedure is not for me to say.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            And yet it seems her workers stood by her, and her prickly husband, after the fire wiped out the restaurant. That seems pretty dedicated to me. Finally, the test of a manager's effectiveness is its effect, isn't it? And she's certainly not a tyrant in the restaurant's kitchen, just a determined perfectionist.

                                            The comparison with April Bloomfield, whom I haven't yet seen running the kitchen in either of her restaurants, doesn't take into account their very different situations. Bloomfield's restaurants are in Manhattan, a food metropolis with millions of potential customers and thousands of skilled and motivated kitchen and waitstaff workers to draw on, Hunter in a rural, thinly populated area with no history of fine dining restaurants or reservoir of potential workers. All they have in common is their profession and, of course, their gender.

                                            1. re: John Francis

                                              I don't know how Vivian tolerates her selfish, arrogant and narcissistic husband. His demeanor is clear with every episode: He is always chiding her about "how this or that makes him look bad" Another example was when they were about to open the restaurant after the fire and Vivian is concerned about overworking the employees. Ben's response was: (para) "I'll work them as hard as I want because they just had a 4 month vacation." That statement shows how much of a selfish bastard he is. It's like he's saying: "they were getting paid for doing nothing for 4 months and they got something over on me, so THEY owe me." He doens't take into consideration the lost tips and other perks they got from working. He's a big oaf who behaves like a 5 year old. I doubt their marriage will last.

                                          2. re: Firegoat

                                            I just saw my first episode (tomatoes) and enjoyed watching it.

                                            It's hard to tell how trained her staff is - so I cut her some slack on some of those things. It is hard if your staff isn't well trained already - you ask them to do things a certain way - they decide to do it differently or to cut corners to save some time - and then you're out all those ingredients because they didn't follow your directions. It can drive you crazy - and when you're starting out and the budgets are so tight you can't afford to put out bad food or waste those ingredients. It's a lot of pressure.

                                            I like how she (or the editors) let the purveyors that she visits tell their own stories. I'm sure she knows the answers to 90% of the questions she asks them but rather than explaining their business to them (like happens on so many other shows) she let's them speak for themselves. I like that aspect and feels like it gives them the respect they deserve.

                                          3. I watched a few episodes and absolutely hate it. Vivian is a witch who thinks she is better than the people around her. She made a comment how her father's friends won't go to her restaurant because there is no salad bar and his best friend can't get thousand island dressing. She then made a snarky comment how she would never serve a mayonnaise based dressing. I believe in the opening she said she never wanted to come back to her North Carolina town. I bet the towns people wish she hadn't either. Her food is not appetizing and who wants to pay money where the appetizer, main course etc is based on one food item. She and that narcissistic husband should have stayed in NY. I missed the episode with the fire. Did they ever find out what caused it?

                                            1. I liked the show but only caught two back-to-back episodes. (One was the aftermath of the fire.) I thought the chef was a little hard on her customers--making remarks about their uneducated palates. We do the same thing here on Chowhound, but it is nice and anonymous. The chef has a difficult job--convincing people to try foods that they have never had before and I think that it frustrates her at times.

                                              However, it is a small community and everyone seems to know her. The customers seem willing to give her a break and the staff obviously likes her.

                                              The challenge of plunking a restaurant with high-end food (but modest prices) in Carolina farm country is challenging and interesting. I hope that there will be more episodes.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: gfr1111

                                                "The challenge of plunking a restaurant with high-end food (but modest prices) in Carolina farm country is challenging and interesting. I hope that there will be more episodes."

                                                yeah - I'm going to have to watch again. There are a lot of negative comments about how the chef talks down about her customers - I didn't get that impression at all from the episode I watched.

                                                I think it is very challenging trying to do higher end food in remote areas. The people don't want and don't support the price points or the food.

                                                I'm currently spending 1/2 my time in a VERY remote area and people here want . . .essentially bar/comfort food. They don't want anything fancy - they talk poorly about restaurants that try to up the ante - and they are very reluctant to try anything different. That is factual. Of course there are a few individual exceptions - but if you're in a community of 7,000 people and 10% of those people are willing to do "fancy" - and only then maybe 2-3 times a year (because of preferences and price points) - that is a rough business model. I'm not sure why (from the one episode I've seen) that reality is seen as her being so negative . . . sometimes things are just how they are.

                                                1. re: thimes

                                                  In the intro to EVERY episode, she explains that she grew up in eastern NC and swore she'd never come back.
                                                  Even if she doesn't deride her customers' parochial palates in each show, the opener is a slap at the whole region. In the show where a group from Southern Foodways comes for a special lunch, in the preparatory pep talk to the staff, she says the group will be spending the afternoon in Hinston and "let's face it, lunch is going to be the highlight of the visit", or something very close if not verbatim. She often complains about how many people just want a ribeye steak, a potato, and sweet tea (and think $2 is too much for the tea).

                                                  A friend of mine commented that Vivian's ace in the hole is Southern charm. Just when she is on the verge of the viewer thinking she's being a total bitch, she puts on a smile and ingratiating folksiness, and wins over the people she's dealing with, plus the audience.

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    How does she compare with Sean Brock in Charleston?


                                                    All I know about him comes from the 6 episodes on season 2 of The Mind of a Chef.

                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                      I will definitely watch a few more episodes (I enjoyed the one) and listen for this more closely.

                                                      I do remember the intro that you're referencing - but honestly, I think most people who grew up in a small rural town and moved away to a big city say "I'm never coming back". So from my perspective that isn't a dig at all - but I can see why that would compound with other derogatory comments to create a different picture of that comment.

                                                      Just one more reason to "never say never", life has a way of twisting and turning. . . .

                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                        Is this a fresh intro for each episode, or a canned one?

                                                        Mark Dacascos doesn't do a backflip every ICA episode.

                                                    2. re: gfr1111

                                                      It's also worth keeping in mind that 'reality' show are heavily edited. Even when the original footage is unscripted, what we see has been selected with an eye toward drama. With a PBS show like this the editing might not be as heavy handed as on Bravo and A&E. But viewers tend to loose interest if there is too much of the everyday niceness that makes up most of our lives.

                                                    3. I wonder if Vivian's entries on this blog give a better picture


                                                      1. I am really enjoying the show. Nice blend of how to, reality TV without too much nonsense and a good bkgnd on the foods and techniques of a working restaurant.

                                                        I'm not too worried about Vivian's husband. She seems to be a great chef, she's pretty hot too <g>. The parents seem loaded and as other's have stated, the editing is probably such it's made to appear there's more conflict than there really is. I'd love to eat at her restaurant. I hope to see the rest of season 1 which I have set to tape and look foward to season 2.

                                                        1. I watch it in New Orleans and LOVE it. While I'm from the South, New Orleans foods very different than most other Southern cooking. Other than grits and fried chicken, we use more sauces, rouxs, seafood with lots more RICE than most Southerners.

                                                          1. This "chef" seems like the biggest asshole on two legs...what a terrible attitude...i'm supposed to care about her struggle to make it? No thanks, think i'll watch john besh instead