By Cameron Lee
July 18, 2014
Nestled in a suburban strip mall in the Mountain Island lake area of Charlotte, North Carolina, a most unlikely place, is an unassuming restaurant whose cuisine has traveled the world. The menu draws its inspiration from places like Napa Valley, Bermuda and Spain, the ingredients are very close to home. When you ask a chef what his hobbies are and he say’s “Foraging” you know he’s serious about this philosophy of “Farm to Fork.”
We arrived for an early dinner at Heirloom and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Chef Clark Barlowe is well-respected in the North Carolina culinary scene and he’s serious about sourcing local products and ingredients. We thought it would only be appropriate to find out ourselves about his methods and taste the food that represents the fruits of so many farmers and local businesses in North Carolina.
The building is modest and the first thing you might notice is the aged metal shingles and siding utilized in the exterior design. When you walk in you instantly feel like you’re in a secret mountain cabin deep in the Appalachian mountains. We were greeted by an extremely gracious and knowledgable Maître D and seated after a quick walk through of the restaurant. All of the wood wall panels in the restaurant were noticeably aged and the decor all very low country southern and rustic. A restaurant called Heirloom should look and feel just like this.
After being seated and taking a quick gander at the menu chef Barlowe strolled out to welcome us. His persona much like Heirloom’s branding and design is humble, soft spoken but he has an aura of strong focus. After chatting with chef Barlowe periodically throughout our five-course meal we learned some interesting things about this bright young culinary visionary. Did we mention that he is only 27 years old?
Barlowe was born and raised in Lenoir, North Carolina and his influence from his family who are seventh generation North Carolinian’s is very evident. He got his start a small local eatery in Lenoir called Buds Pub and while in culinary school at Johnson & Whales he worked at Mama Ricotta’s under Frank Scibelli. When we asked Barlowe where he took his talents after culinary school we were shocked to find out that he worked under legendary Chef Thomas Keller (America’s best chef Time Magazine 2001, James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef 1997) of The French Laundry in Napa, California (Restaurant Magazine Best restaurant in the world 2003 – 2004 and Michelin 3 star restaurant) as well as El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, Spain (Restaurant Magazine 5 time “Best Restaurant in the World” winner and Michelin 3 star restaurant). When asked how he was able to work in two of the best restaurants in the world at such a young age, he told us that he simply wrote letters to the best chefs he could find. Chef Barlowe also competed in the popular Food Network television show Chopped in 2012.
We had the pleasure of tasting an excellent five-course meal prepared by chef and even chatted with him in the kitchen at the Chef’s table. His staff is extremely attentive and chef Barlowe has only one focus which is preparing every dish with the upmost precision and care.
Where did most of the aged wood and tin incorporated in the Heirloom restaurant design come from?
The tin and wood actually came from a 1908 dairy barn in Caldwell County that my Dad, Grandfather, and I took down this past summer.
So we know the food is all locally sourced at Heirloom and you guys are very serious about the Farm to Fork philosophy but what else in the restaurant is from North Carolina?
Almost everything in the restaurant comes from NC, the soap in the bathroom we source from the Charlotte Regional Market when available, the salt on the tables comes from NC shores, all the spirits, the beer, the wine, the music that plays every night is from NC artists. Everything that is available in NC is in Heirloom.
What was your experience like working under Chef Thomas Keller at the famous French Laundry?
Chef Keller is an amazing chef and I am fortunate to have worked at The French Laundry. I learned more about a philosophy towards food and a respect for ingredients more important than any technique during my time at the Laundry. Chef Keller instills that in all his cooks and I am fortunate to have learned it in my time there.
You also had a chance to work at 5 time Restaurant Magazine ‘Best Restaurant in the World” winner El Bulli in Spain. What were some of the most valuable lessons and techniques you learned at El Bulli?
At El Bulli I specialized in alginate sphereification. The “Faux Caviar” technique. El Bulli is more a laboratory than a kitchen, there I learned that failure happens and should be appreciated it is what you do after that and learn from it that is truly important.
How has your family and being raised in Lenoir, North Carolina influenced your cooking and your restaurant?
My family being from Lenoir is a tremendous influence on the restaurant. It gives me a sense of responsibility to the state that only comes from being raised here. I instill in all my cooks the importance of respect for our products and artisan producers because I respect the time that goes in to them and that comes from my life growing up in NC.
What are your favorite things to eat when you are not in the kitchen?
When I’m not in the kitchen I love to eat BLT’s and pickles but only dill pickles. Those are truly two of my favorite guilty pleasures.
How do you think the culinary scene in Charlotte has progressed in North Carolina over the last 5 years?
Charlotte has progressed as a culinary city because of the resurgence of great farmers in our city and surrounding counties. Without these farmers Charlotte chefs couldn’t be close to the level we are at. We are incredibly fortunate to have them and have them in the quantity and quality that we do. Without them in the numbers they currently are we couldn’t even have close to the culinary scene we do.
What are some of the things that Charlotte needs to make it a better culinary city?
To progress as a culinary city Charlotte’s dining public needs to expand their minds and palates and embrace the creative chefs that are beginning to come to the city. Without the publics embrace and support Charlotte will continue to be the mecca of chain restaurants of the South. A very sad truth.
What important advice would give to aspiring chefs?
My advice would be to work for free in the best restaurants you can find. Give yourself to the best chefs and allow them to train you without any other agenda other than to learn everything you can. Don’t go into the industry to be a celebrity, or own your own restaurant. If you work hard enough and have pure intentions these things will come in time, but only if you have a true love for what you do, otherwise it will be a truly difficult experience.
We were enjoying a heavy rotation of the Avett Brothers playing earlier. Do you listen to mostly North Carolina bands too? What are some your favorite bands or artists?
I do listen to mostly NC artists at the restaurant i.e. The Avett Brothers (one of my favorite bands), Eric Church who was raised in Caldwell County as well and James Taylor. Outside of NC I really enjoy Old Crow Medicine Show and Drive By Truckers, two of my personal favorites.
Why is the farm to fork movement so personally important to you?
It’s important to me because it truly embodies the respect for ingredients that has been instilled in me in my career, in no other food movement is this as prevalent. I truly love great ingredients an sourcing them hyper locally is the absolute best way to attain them.
What would you like people to know about Heirloom that they may not already know?
We have a bar menu every night with $6, $7, and $8 options inspired by my Southern heritage and my time in Spain’s tapa scene. We offer 3 Courses for $30 Tues, Wed, and Thur Nights with a Glass of Shelton Wine, We offer a 7 course tasting menu in addition to our a la carte menu every night for $65 and 5 Courses for $50 on the weekends.
Our 5 Course Menu Tasting
The texture of the shaved house cured Tesa is a little slippery. The micro salad and melon cooled the taste buds, delicate and refreshing. An ideal early summer appetizer. The vinaigrette created a pleasant balance.
So comforting and warm, the Tesa was cured and braised to perfection. Crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy on the inside. The anaconda chicken egg spilled perfectly over the pork and the cucumber countered very well. A fulfilling dish for anytime of the day. I would imagine this is how southern royalty would eat breakfast.
The pungent flavor of the liver still evident but combination of the velvety and luxurious mashed potatoes can make this dish bearable even if you are not a fan of liver. The duck was flawlessly cooked and dissolved effortlessly in your mouth. The flash grilled leaks were crisp and provided texture to an otherwise creamy dish.
There’ s nothing quite like eating thick hand crafted pasta noodles. Prepared al dente the pasta was a meal in itself. Nice flavor hints of tomato and spinach in the pasta scooping up fresh vegetables in each bite. The plate was so vibrant and colorful and each twist and turn of the fork was an adventure in North Carolina farm raised products. The Chicken Hearts were delightful and surprisingly a great combination with fresh pasta and vegetables.
Layers of varied textures incorporating every flavor of dessert that you love. A hybrid all of your favorites with a small portion of perfectly salted ice cream on the side. Every sensation and memory you may have in eating sweets comes out in this dish. Jelly like custard, with creamy smooth dark chocolate, on top of cake with an intricate wafer cut out in the shape of spoon to provide a subtle crunch. Each layer and crevice of this dish stood out individually and none of the flavors were muddled.
8470 Bellhaven Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28216