SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — It’s a quintessential part of planning beach vacations: meal time.
North Carolina PBS star, chef and restaurateur Vivian Howard is making it easier for those traveling to some areas in the Tar Heel State this summer. Howard has launched Viv’s Fridge, stocked with ready-to-eat meals, snacks and sides, available in Kinston at her flagship Chef and the Farmer restaurant and at Bald Head’s Noonie Doodle Sweets & Treats (6 Maritime Way). A third fridge will be launched in Emerald Isle soon, with more to follow, according to a press release.
The host and co-creator of PBS shows “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South” said in a video on her social media account she came up with the idea while visiting the remote island off the Cape Fear.
“I was floating in a pool on Bald Head, having a great vacation, but knew I had to get out of the pool and go inside and cook dinner, and eventually wash a whole bunch of dishes, in the name of dinner for my family,” she relayed.
She wished for an easier way, one that could provide “tasty things I like to cook in my own restaurant,” she described in the video, but also “no dishes, no worry, no real shopping at all.”
Viv’s Fridge is stocked with restaurant-quality food. Essentially, the appliances are “smart fridge extensions of Chef and the Farmer,” Howard described.
They’re filled with a variety of items and Southern favorites like spiced pecan pimento cheese, butterbean hummus with bread and butter squash pickles, and tomato pie.
Taco kits are offered, and more creative cuisine can also be purchased, such as BBQ blueberry chicken enchiladas, and beef short ribs in red curry watermelon and served with gingered cabbage and banana-leaf wrapped coconut rice grits (Howard called the latter her “personal favorite”).
Sweets are available, such as Chef and Farmer’s famed 10-layer chocolate cake, and prices range from $30 to $75.
The refrigerators are operational 24 hours, seven days a week. Purchasers swipe a credit card for items wanted, which unlocks the fridge after payment. Folks then grab and go their groceries and heat and eat at home.
The Chef and Farmer team prepare and cook all of the food and make deliveries to restock the refrigerators several times a week, according to Howard.
With her husband Ben Knight, the restaurateurs own and operate three other restaurants in the Carolinas, including Benny’s Big Time in Wilmington, and Lenoir and Handy and Hot in Charleston.
Howard also has written two cookbooks, won Peabody, Daytime Emmy, and James Beard Foundation awards for “A Chef’s Life.” She started a Handy and Hot online bakeshop in the spring of 2019, featuring mail-order specialty items and one-of-a-kind limited food stuff.
“These last few years made me take a hard look at my restaurant operations,” Howard said in a press release.
She closed her second Kinston, N.C., restaurant The Boiler Room in December 2020. Chef and the Farmer is undergoing renovations currently and will reopen by fall 2022.
“I realized my business would be more sustainable if we were less dependent upon the limited number of hours our restaurants are open,” she continued in the release. “As a cuisine-driven restaurant, I wanted to expand our reach without expanding our footprint.”
Howard’s goal is to add more locations for Viv’s Fridge with the idea to stock it with items from other notable North Carolina chefs as well.
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