(Music plays) Show me someone who says they don't like potatoes and I think you've shown me someone who's trying to be difficult.
(Theme Music plays- The Avett Brothers "Will You Return") I'm Vivian and I'm a chef.
My husband, Ben and I were working for some of the best chefs in New York City when my parents offered to help us open our own restaurant.
Of course, there was a catch.
We had to open this restaurant in Eastern North Carolina, where I grew up and said I would never return.
(Theme music plays) (Theme music plays) So this is my life.
Raising twins, living in the house I grew up in, and exploring the south, one ingredient at a time.
Previously on A Chef's Life.
We have finally hired a chef at the Boiler Room.
So, this is Eric.
He's our new chef at the Boiler Room and we are super excited to have him.
I'm going to meet my new editor this morning.
When you're focused on your book, how much of your head is back in the kitchen?
My life in the past year has taken me out of the daily workings of the restaurant.
I'm not pretending to be a chef who wants to be in that kitchen for the rest of my life, expediting every single night.
It's just not what I want.
(Music plays) You know we've been talking about the turnip chapter of the book.
I thought that I would make a turnip salad like potato salad but it was a massive fail.
It's really just the ends of the turnip, but it just looks kind of gross.
You know, not all my ideas are great.
I know I've talked about this book for a long time but I am in full blown book mode right now.
I have taken over my mother-in-law's apartment and made it my test kitchen slash office.
This is where I work pretty much every day.
Even Justise and John come over from Chef and the Farmer to have meetings with me here.
We actually call this place VHQ and that stands for Vivian Howard Headquarters.
So, my plan is on Tuesday to replace the boiled peanut risotto with like a smoked and crispy new potato dish with a poached quail egg.
So, we'll probably take the quail egg off the tartare because I don't think it really makes a big difference unless y'all want to keep it on there.
I think it kind of adds to the presentation.
It definitely adds to the presentation.
Well, I can think of something else then.
I don't have to put the egg in it.
We'll think of the new potatoes as the ingredients we're gonna introduce next week.
And the Avett Brothers are coming on Tuesday.
They'll be here at 5:30.
Alright, let me know if y'all need me.
I feel guilty having John and Justise work and me not but I keep telling myself you know, I did that times three for ten years and it's okay that I'm not in the trenches every single night anymore.
I don't want to be.
But, I do feel bad.
(Music plays) (Crowd cheers) One of the best things about VHQ is that it is downtown and it's in the center of everything that happens in Kinston and right now we have this huge barbecue festival and it's right outside my door.
Will you judge the potato salad competition with me?
Yes I will.
Obviously the barbecue festival is all about barbecue, but a few years ago I suggested we do a sides competition.
There's lots of people participating in this competition and I know two groups of them.
One is my sister Leraine.
She owns a deli in town.
She's a great cook.
And she'll probably win.
It's cream cheese potato salad with basil, green onions, celery.
It's very fresh.
The other are my friends Becky and Jamie.
Jamie used to be the bartender at Chef and the Farmer.
Turn the dang thing upside down and put it in.
I quit dude.
Nobody eat this.
(Laughter) This is number two.
So, this year I'm judging the sides competition along with my mom and Ms. Lillie.
I don't like this one.
It's got eggs in it.
Which one was your favorite?
That one right there.
I'd say that's the most traditional.
That's the way I would have did it back in the day, in the old days.
I don't know about y'all but if there were like 30 entries I don't know if I'd be able to do this.
I mean, come on, it's potato salad.
Is it good?
Is it bad?
Is it yellow or green?
I mean, we're judging it on visual appeal?
It ain't pretty.
I'm just gonna say one thing.
I need my mama's potato salad here.
That's what I'm talkin' about.
Our hometown girl, Ms.
Chef Vivian Howard will be giving you the winner's name.
The people's choice award goes to Rebecca Jones.
And then, first place, and I promise we tasted all these blind, goes to Leraine Tolston.
(Music plays) Are you going to wait on the Avett Brothers tonight?
I suppose so.
Do you know who the Avett Brothers are?
I do know who they are.
I'm not a thousand years old.
I didn't know if your generation knew.
I know you're excited.
I was drinking wine by then.
I'm about to burst at the seams right now, but I'm gonna be cool though.
I'm gonna play it real cool.
I know you are.
(Laughter) The Avett Brothers are a band from North Carolina and I'm having a hard time assigning their music to a particular genre so I've looked it up and it says: the Avett Brothers combine bluegrass, country, punk, pop, folk, rock 'n' roll, indie rock, honky tonk, and ragtime.
So basically everything is what they do.
To produce a novel sound described by the San Francisco Chronicle as the heavy sadness...
I can't go into all that.
The Avett Brothers are cool and they're from North Carolina and they do the opening song to our show.
So, they're basically like my best friends.
I've never met them.
(Laughter) After the barbecue festival I was just thinking so hard about how I could possibly modernize all that potato salad and I'm working on a new dish.
Kind of like a take on the whole barbecue scenario so we have the pork with the pork chop and I'm gonna do like a smoked potato salad and a charred cabbage slaw, theoretically.
I have not put this all together.
It's all up here right now.
I'm gonna cut these in cubes and blanch them.
Just cook them until they're barely tender and then we're gonna smoke them.
Then at service we'll pick them up and fry them and toss them in this kind of eastern Carolina barbecue sauce.
Kind of eastern Carolina.
I think people love potatoes so much because they're a vehicle for other flavors.
You know, the baseline flavor of a potato does not get in the way so if you fry a potato in hot fat it's going to come out tasting like crispy hot fat with salt on it and that tastes good and I like potatoes too.
Now, I'm shocking the potatoes.
I've cooked them until they're just tender and shocking them stops the cooking process right away because we don't want them falling all apart in the fryer.
When you're blanching something like potatoes or anything green you want to make sure you're putting a small amount of the ingredient relative to the amount of water.
So, if I put all these potatoes in this amount of water it would take this water a while to come back up to a boil and that's not what I want.
I want it to come to a boil quickly so that the potatoes cook evenly.
So, I'm just going to put about half of these and in about 30 seconds it should all be boiling again.
You know, there are people who don't know that a french fry comes from a potato and that a potato comes out of the ground.
It's a root attached to a green leafy plant and I do not want my children to be some of those people so we're gonna go to Warren's farm and we're going to pull some potatoes out of the dirt.
Lillie, come here and fix my hair before we start filming.
You better comb your hair.
Put a ponytail in there.
I ain't got a comb.
Y'all ready to dig some taters?
Let's go see where potatoes come from.
(Music plays) Look.
Who wants to pull up the first potato?
Isn't that amazing?
I see some big potatoes.
I got the biggest one.
Look Flo and Theo.
These are the ones your Mama likes.
These are the best one guys.
The really tiny ones.
Want to do another one?
You know where this whole plant comes from?
I don't know.
From this seed.
And you know what that seed is?
Half of a potato.
Isn't that cool?
That's a red potato.
So, what is it that makes a new potato a new potato?
Well, any potato right out of the ground is a new potato.
Because you could take this same potato and sit it up there on the sill for two weeks and it will turn all...
The skin will be hard to come off.
Yeah, the skin will be harder to come off.
It's just being fresh out of the ground, I think.
But when we say new potato we're talking about the... Little tiny.
The little baby ones, yeah.
Do you think there is flavor difference between a big one straight out of the ground and a little one straight out of the ground?
I would say...the littles ones to me just taste buttery.
I think they're creamier.
And they're a little touch sweeter.
I think so.
I'm glad y'all agree with me on that.
(Music plays) So, this is when you get a blossom and that tells you that there's little potatoes.
They're making potatoes.
Surefire way is the crack in the ground.
See the ground?
It's cracking open because of the potatoes are swelling under the ground.
Like a little earthquake.
And you put them in the ground after they have an eye?
Well, this one has an eye right here but you can't... they haven't started to pop up yet.
Your eye is right there.
So, that's where they'll be and so when this potato gets old it will shoot out eyes and a sprout.
You put the eye down?
Face it up.
Face the eye up.
Assuming you pull all your potatoes up and you don't sell them all right now...
What happens to them?
Put them in storage.
What does that mean?
Lay them out.
Sometimes spread them out.
The old timey way was take them in the woods and cover them with pine straw.
So, what is the best way to eat a new potato in your opinion, Lillie?
I will get my potato.
Put it in a pot.
Put some onions in there.
Fresh sausage and just let them cook down.
When they get done you can put an onion and potato.
Do you cook the potatoes until they are falling apart or?
No, uh un.
You're making mush.
(Laughter) I'm just asking!
Alright, I got my handful.
I think we better have potatoes for supper tonight.
What do y'all think?
(Music plays) I just had a conversation with Kendra.
So, I need to talk to you and Ben about it.
Is she leaving?
She's not leaving but she can't work the line anymore.
She's not quitting but she doesn't want to work the line anymore.
She feels like she needs to be at home at night with her kids.
Then she wants to work during the day.
Everybody wants to freaking work during the day.
I want to work during the day.
And at night.
And at night.
It's just like at what point is this going to be...
I don't know.
Let's just go taste this food.
It's not your problem.
You're not working on the line.
I think that's so unfair of you to say that.
When you can support... Because I feel, I mean I feel responsible and only because there's enough staff am I able to not work on the line.
I mean, I worked on the line for a long freaking time and at the end of the day if everybody else is gone I'll have to be there again.
So the other thing I'm gonna recommend is not to freak out because both John and Justise I'm sure are already freaking out.
I comforted them.
I comforted Justise.
Really all I changed about this from the last pick up is a much harder sear on the potatoes.
They look great.
That's about it.
We've been working on our nightly specials with Eric and this is a take on Frogmore stew, which is typically shrimp and sausage and corn and potatoes all boiled together.
We all agree that what's good about that is just the way you eat it and those ingredients aren't really cooked properly so we've taken everything apart and steamed the corn and tossed it in a ramp butter.
We steamed the shrimp and tossed it in our Old Bay, blanched the potatoes and then seared them hard.
It's got this charred lemon squeezed all over the top.
I don't know.
I'm excited about it.
I think people are gonna like it and go crazy when they see this.
I think people are gonna freak out on this.
Yeah no problem.
(birds chirping) (Music plays) Ever since I started talking about the sides competition Warren said I should get his mom and Miss Mildred to make their famous potato salad for me.
It's made with an ingredient I've never even heard of called Durkees.
Well, Warren's mom recently passed away so Miss Mildred and Miss Lillie will be showing me how to make that potato salad.
Warren told me about an ingredient that is really essential to your potato salad.
Can I see it?
I've never seen this before.
She done just like me.
(Laughter) It's a little tart.
That's the face Lillie was making when we were tasting all those wacky potato salads.
It didn't taste right.
I just couldn't do it.
So, what have we got going on here?
Peeled them and diced them.
Okay, is there any salt in here?
Just a little bit.
Okay, and then you've got some eggs.
We put Durkees, salad cubes, and mayonnaise.
Can I peel these for you?
You sure can.
So Mildred, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in this area.
Then I traveled right much and there was just something that drew me back here so I came back here.
You worked with Warren's mother for many years.
Miss Annette, I worked with her probably about 16 years.
Everybody always talked about how she was a great cook.
And we made preserves together.
And y'all did this together I assume?
Yeah we did.
We did a lot of stuff.
We tried out recipes and some were good.
Some weren't good.
It was a lot of fun.
You've had a tough summer I know.
I've had a really tough summer.
I am tearing these eggs up.
I hope you don't need all the whites No, I don't.
(Laughter) (Music plays) We gonna put pickles in.
So that's sweet pickle relish?
Then we'll put one teaspoon of Durkees in.
Then we'll put mayonnaise.
So, three and a half big spoonfuls.
And then we'll just put the onions in.
We won't use all of them but we'll use the biggest of them.
Now our eggs.
Look at that.
You and Lillie.
I can't do anything without a cutting board.
Okay, so we're just gonna mix this.
Put some pepper and that's it.
You tell me when.
It's going to be a lot.
You always stir from the bottom.
You don't want to overstir it because it could just be totally mushy.
Can I taste it?
By all means.
I like all the crunchy parts.
I do too.
And you can tell that gives it a little edge.
It gives it a little kick.
Yeah you passed.
(Laughter) Well thank you Miss Lillie.
Thank you very much.
Oh you're welcome.
See how nice she was to me Lillie?
Yeah I do.
(Laughter) She jealous.
Timmy, what are you using this lard fryer for?
Well, tonight you're going to be using it for these smoked new potatoes.
I want it to be like earth shatteringly crisp.
It's going to take about five minutes in there.
Five minutes is a long time.
Are you gonna spank him if he pulls them up too fast?
That's what I do.
I would typically get all worked up and nervous about having a celebrity come.
I've never had a celebrity come here that I've known of but the morale around here is pretty low these days so to have the Avett Brothers coming is something that people have been looking forward to.
Okay so this is like what you're looking for.
There's a lot of food on that plate.
That is a lot of food.
We have a new pork chop dish tonight.
The idea behind it is kind of all the flavors you would have with barbecue.
So, we have new potatoes that have been smoked and fried.
They're sitting on top of a celery seed mayo.
Then we have charred sharp head cabbage that has been tossed in a pickle brine.
So, that kind of represents slaw and I hope it works.
Okay guys, if you haven't heard already I'm telling you now the Avett Brothers are coming in tonight and believe me I understand.
I'm very excited.
I'm holding it all in.
It's all I can do.
I need everybody to have self control.
We just need to act like we got some sense.
(Music plays) Calm down.
Take a deep breath in.
Let it out.
Hi, how are you?
Good to see you.
Nice to meet you.
Good to see you Ben.
It's nice to meet you.
Did y'all come straight from New York?
More or less.
We drove through the night and made our way over.
Terrific to be here.
I bet you're hungry.
Let's go ahead and get you seated.
I just got a big kick out of that.
How are you?
I just gonna hug you.
Good to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for having us.
Nice to meet you.
Thank y'all for coming.
We're gonna send some things out for y'all in the beginning.
Y'all enjoy yourselves.
This is the barrel fish crudo right here.
It's got a little bit of radish chip on top.
A little charred collard and lime for some acidity.
Now, that's what I like to see at Chef and the Farmer.
Are eight of these for the 8 top?
May I have like two knobs of butter?
You know I'm feeling a little weird because I'm not here everyday.
I don't work at Chef and the Farmer everyday anymore.
I'm generally at VHQ writing my book or trying to be a mom and I feel kind of like a fish out of water and like I don't belong.
And where am I going to put my cutting board because somebody else is working there.
It's a very strange feeling.
I made a mockery out of that.
This is our pork belly skewers with our blueberry barbecue sauce.
OS- Oh yeah.
What do you think Joe?
Ahh that's good.
You alright Beth?
Oh yeah, I'm good.
I got over it.
No, not over it.
(Laughter) I'm far from over it.
Scott Avett is very sparkly.
I guess he kind of is.
(Laughter) So, I'm gonna go on record and say I'm very embarrassed about how I acted when Scott Avett came to the restaurant.
Boy, Scott is sparkly.
OS- I told you!
Sorry I'm laughing like a schoolgirl.
(Laughter) I hope Scott Avett never sees this episode.
(Laughter) Because I'm really very cool.
What's a double cut pork chop?
A big pork chop.
A pork chop and a catfish.
We're gonna bring the Avett Brothers.
You ready for them?
Yes I am ready.
You have nine pork chops hanging.
Everyone is kind of walking on eggshells right now.
Because of me?
Because of me?
People tend to clam up a little bit.
(Music plays) That looks nice.
Life is good right now.
Life is excellent right now.
They're having a good time.
So, do y'all know there's some rock stars at the table behind us?
I saw a bus out there.
That's their tour bus.
Have you got your bus ordered?
(Laughter) (Music plays) I'm just trolling instagram when I should be out there helping, but I actually think I'm hindering the productivity of the line.
You know, a lot's changed over the last three years.
I used to work at the restaurant every day.
Prep all day, work service every night, and go home and hope that I would have the opportunity to do something else.
And now I get to do something else and I spend a lot of time worrying about the fact that I don't do what I used to do.
I for so long identified myself as a working chef.
A person who went to work every morning, prepping and preparing, working on the line and I don't do that anymore and I feel uncomfortable with it.
I don't want to be a phony.
I don't want my cooks to see me as a phony.
I don't want to be the person who just shows up with her entourage and her cameras, but all of that is part of what's happening and I literally have nightmares at night about it and I'm trying to figure out what it is I am now and feel comfortable with that.
To what degree does what I do everyday define who I am?
I don't know.
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