James Beard Foundation dinner lets Charlotte talent shine

By Alison Leininger

May 24, 2015

Writer. Teacher. TV personality, and according to Julia Child, “The Dean of American Cuisine.”

So the internet lauds James Beard, culinary author and celebrity, who continues to impact our national food scene long after his passing in 1985. As a child I knew him as the mustachioed man with the double chin on the cover of my mother’s most prized cookbooks, which included details of how to break down a rabbit and prepare venison, among other culinary insights. As an adult, I learned about the storied James Beard House in New York City, and the coveted James Beard Awards handed out each year to influential chefs whose restaurants become the latest “must eat” for jet-setting gourmands.


So what does any of that have to do with Charlotte? On Wednesday May 27th, James Beard is coming to town. Sort of. The James Beard Foundation, responsible for preserving the writer’s Manhattan brownstone as a gathering place for great chefs, has established a Celebrity Chef Tour with two goals. Primary is raising revenue for an active scholarship program that has awarded nearly $4 million to chefs and culinary students. The other goal for this series of dinners is to “bring the unique experience of dining at New York City’s historic James Beard House to cities around the country.”

Each stop on the national tour brings together top chefs of various regions from Oregon to Orlando. The Charlotte version will be hosted by Chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Restaurant, and welcomes Bryan Skelding from the historic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV, along with some of the Queen City’s own most lauded culinary stars. Each will present a passed hors d’œuvre and one of the six savory dinner courses.

Chef Blake Hartwick bonterradining.com

Our host, Blake Hartwick, has called Charlotte home since 1993, with breaks to gain experience in Spain and the internationally famous Greenbrier Resort. Rising to local prominence at the helm of the now defunct Ratcliffe on the Green, Hartwick has brought a fresh, authentic cuisine to meet the elegant dining room of Bonterra. Organizing this event was a natural extension of his participation in “Taste of Charlotte” dinner held at the James Beard House in New York. Bringing together so many colleagues, including the Executive Chef of Greenbrier Resort, demonstrates the strength of the relationships he’s built during his career.

Chef Paul Verica. Photo by Carter Short
Chef Paul Verica. Photo by Carter Short

Paul Verica of Waxhaw’s Heritage restaurant is known for his support of local farms, whose ingredients he celebrates with sophisticated techniques that allow their flavors to shine. A native of Philadelphia, he can be found most Saturday mornings making the rounds of several farmers markets, sporting his ubiquitous Eagles cap and a determined intensity. At Wednesday’s dinner, between his chicken-liver hors d’œuvre and his fresh salad course, Verica will incorporate products from at least five different area farms.

Chef Luca Annunziata photo by Daniel Coston

Crossing paths with Verica at several of those Saturday morning markets is Luca Annunziata of Passion8 restaurant. After seven years of building a reputation in his small Fort Mill bistro, the Italian native’s move last fall to Elizabeth Avenue brought loads of attention to the elegant space built around his flavorful and sophisticated fare. Aside from a loyal customer base, Annunziata has developed a broad network of small local suppliers for everything from microgreens to rabbit—both of which will appear in his dishes for the event.

Chef Jon Fortes

Jon Fortes came to Charlotte with plenty of high-level experience under his belt, following a career built on working at elegant restaurants from Rhode Island to the Napa Valley. After years spent making his name locally at Mimosa Grill, he recently stepped out on his own with wife Amy, opening the Flipside Café in Fort Mill and a brand-new sister restaurant in Rock Hill. The familiar names of his dishes mask expert precision and dedication, while allowing him to play with plenty of local ingredients. From bacon to pimento cheese, nearly every element of his two courses bears the name of its nearby producer.

Chef Bryan Skelding

The Greenbrier has welcomed distinguished guests to the Allegheny Mountains in White Sulphur Springs, WV since 1778 from 19th century corporate giants to multiple sitting presidents. Executive Chef Bryan Skelding oversees 14 dining venues at the 10,000-acre resort, from bars and cafés to elegant upscale restaurants and elegant banquet rooms. With stints in California and Hawai’i, Skelding has learned to please the most refined palates across the nation, now including the Queen City.

JayPierce copy
Chef Jay Pierce by Shawn Poynter

Jay Pierce is a recent transplant to Charlotte, opening the oyster and seafood paradise Rocksalt in Park Road Shopping Center just a few months ago. He brings with him a close relationship with the Rappahannock Oyster Company, two decades in kitchens across the country, and years of a deepening interest in exploring local foodways. Oh, and a newly published book, Shrimp, part of UNC Press’ Savor the South Series. No surprise, he’ll be including oysters in both his appetizer and first fish course of lightly cured wahoo .

It is a tribute to Charlotte’s maturing culinary landscape to present such a talented group of professionals creating remarkable food. Many believe we are overdue to celebrate the first James Beard Award winner in our vicinity. May this Wednesday’s dinner be a hint of future renown for the men and women working to elevate the palate of our entire city.

More details about about James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour on May 27th at Bonterra Dining.

America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard


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