Chef Vivian Howard’s failures mean more than all the awards

An acclaimed chef, best-selling author and multi-award-winning television host and producer, Vivian Howard seems to be doing it all. She started as part of the Wolfpack at North Carolina State University with an English degree, but she translated her storytelling skills to the kitchen. Her passion for food and storytelling is evident in her vulnerable and personal cookbooks, as well as her connection to the food she makes. 

What has Vivian learned as an entrepreneur?

I admire Vivian because she recognizes that her mistakes and failures have gotten her to where she is today. Realizing that you may not be at this same position in life without those missteps is essential, especially in noticing your self-growth. This idea ties back to what she learned as an entrepreneur because, when she first started, these failures seemed like the end all be all. However, as she developed her brand and herself, Vivian realized that she learned more about the losses than she did from the awards and success. 

She was also reflecting on how she would not be an entrepreneur or opened a restaurant in rural eastern North Carolina if she was not naive to a certain degree. In the episode, she mentioned that “You can’t anticipate the pain and the challenge and the uphill struggle too much because it might get in the way of you doing it.” On the other hand, though, Vivian believes you really have to know what you want to do to be an entrepreneur. Because of the lack of work/life balance, you have to be insanely passionate about the field you pursue to be a successful entrepreneur. Your work ends up becoming your life, so if you don’t thoroughly enjoy your work, your life will be miserable. 

How did she build her personal brand?

When asked how she built her brand, Vivian said, “Well, like everything that I’ve done, it’s kind of been by accident.”  She started with having a TV show where her audience could create concrete opinions about her personality and life because of the amount she shared. Going forward, she found that it was really just about being who she said she was and feeling comfortable with knowing what she stood for.

It is also about making sure you let your brand evolve with you as you professionally and personally develop. She was really proud of A Chef Life and Deep Run Roots, but towards the end, she realized the country girl persona she gave off in the shows was not her. She then used her cookbooks as a chance to reinvent herself so her audience could know the real her. The main takeaway is that we are constantly evolving as people, so our brand and persona have to do the same thing to back that up.   

Looking back, what would Vivian tell her younger 21-year-old self?

The first thing Vivian would tell her 21-year-old self is to “calm the hell down.” Having patience in this field while growing up is so important because every big opportunity will not come knocking on your door post-graduation. She would remind herself to take every professional opportunity she could get because, while your starting jobs might not be your dream job, there is always something to learn from every position in life. That is precisely what she did with cooking because she did not enter this field with a fantastic palette but rather a passion for storytelling that she translated into her cooking and culinary writing. 

While listening to this episode and really resonating with it, I was able to learn so many lessons for Vivian. As someone who is learning about entrepreneurship and sees a career in it, her advice was something that I really need to reflect on. In a juxtaposed world filled with endless opportunities and imposter syndrome it is important, no matter the career path, to “calm the hell down” when you’re in college and in your 20s. 


This article uses snippets from NC State’s Poole Podcast. For full episodes of the Poole Podcast, tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

About the Author
As a student journalist and current Tar Heel, Aashna is always chasing the next story. She strives to tell the story of those who often are left unheard. With a love for broadcast, storytelling, radio and writing, she hopes to find her true calling through various experiences.