January 15, 2018 by sandyaxelrod 0 Comments (Edit)
About 10 years ago two chefs opened their first restaurants in North Carolina and changed how people think about food.

Chef Vivian Howard and her family
Photo Credit: Website

Chef Ashley Christensen
Photo Credit: Website
The more Steve and I visit North Carolina the more we are falling in love with it despite our first very disappointing visit in 2004. It seems that everything is different now. North Carolinians think about the and and themselves differently. Now they have a much higher expectation of the food and a greater sense of responsibility.
On December 14, 2017 The News and Observer presented Chef Ashley Christensen and Chef Vivian Howard the 20th Annual Tar Heels of the Year Award for “their roles in reinventing North Carolina’s food and dining culture and shining a national spotlight on the state.” These two chefs have help change how we think about food and dining.
Both chefs have spent the last 10 years building restaurants and a dining community thus revitalizing their cities, writing cookbooks (I’m lucky to have both of their books!), championing causes and making food that help make North Carolina a better place to live.
The two chefs and business women have so much in common. They are both North Carolina natives who have left the area and then returned home to open their restaurants. Both have won many prestigious awards including the coveted James Beard Award. And both women are frequently mentioned in national publications about chefs and their restaurants.
Chef Vivian Howard’s award winning series “A Chef’s Life” on PBS has introduced Eastern North Carolina, its farmers and southern culinary traditions to millions of viewers, changing the way we think about the state.

Marinated Avocado and Watermelon Radish Salad
Photo Credit: Sandy Axelrod

Our Fabulous Entrées at Poole’s Diner
Photo Credit: Steve Axelrod

The Bar at Poole’s Diner
Photo Credit: Steve Axelrod

The Menu at Poole’s Diner
Photo Credit: Steve Axelrod
Chef Ashley Christensen opened (read about our dinner there here) Poole’s Diner in downtown Raleigh on a nowhere corner of South McDowell Street and it quickly took a giant leap to the forefront of America’s dining conversation. Poole’s Diner is an upscale diner style restaurant serving elevated comfort food. The perfect combo of fine dining in a casual atmosphere. This no reservations hot spot celebrates the soul of the American diner and the creative food has moved a regional cuisine to the forefront. Today Chef Christensen has four restaurants, an event space, a coffee shop and a cocktail bar and plans to open a pizzeria later this year.

Bowl of soup at Chef and the Farmer
Photo Credit: Website

Luscious plate of food at Chef and the Farmer
Photo Credit: Website

Private Dining Room at Chef and the Farmer
Photo Credit: Website

Private Dining at Chef and the Farmer
Photo Credit: Website
In 2006 Chef Vivian Howard, the youngest daughter of tobacco and hog farmers, opened Chef and the Farmer. Way back then no one was opening anything in Kinston! The area was reeling from the loss of textile, tobacco and DuPont money so opening a fine dining restaurant was taking a huge leap of faith. But it didn’t take long for it to change from a curiosity to the success that it has become. As an aside – Steve and I are looking forward to dinner there with Brian and Eve in April. That is if we can get a reservation which must be done 90 days out!
Now Chef Howard has another place called the Boiler Room and will be opening a pizzeria Benny’s Big Time very soon.
Now you see why we have been falling in love with North Carolina. It is people like Ashley Christensen and Vivian Howard who have helped change our minds.