While Vivian Howard just won a James Beard Award as host of the PBS show A Chef’s Life, in addition to filming the show, she also juggles her time between running at restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, and raising her five-year-old twins, Theo and Florence.
It’s challenging enough to be a female chef in a male-dominated industry. Add the responsibilities of parenting young children into the mix, and it’s a radically different ball game. When visiting Williams-Sonoma headquarters last year, she shared her sentiments about some of the labels that she’s been given. “I get lumped with [chefs like] April Bloomfield and Ashley Christensen. Some of our goals are the same, but some are not,” she said frankly. “I have children, and often the women I get lumped with do not.”
That teeny-tiny detail has impacted the way she runs her business in small ways. For instance, Mother’s Day has become a different affair in the restaurant ever since she’s become a mother herself. “We [Chef & the Farmer] are not generally open on Sunday, but before Ben and I had children, we opened the restaurant every Mother’s Day,” she says. “When we had children, I put a veto on that, because I don’t want to work on Mother’s Day.”
We asked the chef, restaurateur, TV host and soon-to-be cookbook author how she makes Mother’s Day special, kitchen essentials she’d recommend for moms and the five things she’d love to receive this May.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day?
Vivian Howard: Our Mother’s Day tradition [growing up] was to go out to lunch, because Mom was generally the one who cooks, and this was a day off for her. That’s not our tradition anymore, because in our town there’s nowhere to go out to lunch if it’s not our restaurant. In the past few years, I’ve been cooking for everyone, largely because I enjoy it, and it’s a way to continue to celebrate my mom.
Tell us five things you’d secretly love to receive.
VH: Oh, Lord! Five things I’d love to get for Mother’s Day…
- I would love…to get a facial.
- I would love…to get a beautiful, sunny, warm—but not hot!—day to work in my yard.
- I would love…to get a surprise trip with my husband somewhere. I’ve been hinting at that for years, but it’s never happened, but maybe if it’s printed somewhere it might! I like surprises.
- I would love to get something handmade, for my kids. One year, they gave me a water pitcher that I watered my plants with that they had painted, and it’s one of my most prized possessions.
- I would love to get some dining room chairs. We’ve been shopping for those for months, and I’m over it!
Let’s say you want to give something cooking-related for Mother’s Day. What are eight kitchen
essentials that you think any mom would love to receive?
- A rasp grater: I’m a citrus zest freak, so I keep my Microplane close by.
- A Le Creuset Dutch oven: If I were stranded on a desert island, this is the one piece of cookware I’d request, no question. In a pinch I could do everything from scramble eggs, bake a cake, sear some fish, even braise a seagull if necessary in its enameled cast iron belly.
- A Peugeot pepper mill: Pepper mills and the type you prefer are pretty personal. I’ve had the same Peugeot pepper mill for more than 10 years, so I guess you’d say it’s a window into my soul.
- A good metal fish spatula: Once I used one of these ergonomically correct spatulas to turn a piece of fish, I decided I’d just turn everything with it. Now it’s the only kind of spatula I reach for.
- A Y-shaped peeler: Once you use a Y-shaped peeler, you’ll throw all the other peelers in your kitchen away. I promise.
- Stainless steel mixing bowls: Appropriate-sized mixing bowls make multi-step recipes easier to execute. The rubber bottom on these helps them stay put when I’m whisking like a wild woman!
- A Boos cutting board: There are all kinds of cutting boards on the market today with divers* for drainage and pockets for hiding knives, but when it comes to a tool as essential as a cutting board, I go with a brand and a design I know and trust.
- A Le Creuset stainless steel sauté pan: I like Le Creuset’s stainless cookware because their handles are easier for me to wrap my hand around, and the whole line is a little lighter-weight than its competitors.