In many respects, Passion 8 should be considered one, if not the most anticipated and celebrated openings to hit Charlotte in 2014. The name itself suggests just how passion-ate Chef Luca Annunziata and his team are about the restaurant, his food, and now, the relocation from Fort Mill to Charlotte.
In anticipation of the Elizabeth Street opening on October 24th, we took a ride to Fort Mill to get a taste of what Charlotte is in for with Chef Luca’s culinary creations.
We pulled up to a small house that seemed somewhat out of place in a little area off Hwy 21. The décor was eclectic, quaint and comfortable, and a familiar tune of Nora Jones was playing softly over the speakers. We were promptly greeted and welcomed so graciously by the hostess as if we were family and had just arrived at grandma’s house for Sunday dinner—you know, if your grandmother was an accomplished chef with a world class resume.
I immediately noticed the AAA 4 Diamond plaque that graced the wall to the left of the entrance and my excitement grew a little. As soon as we sat down, we received citrus infused water and house made breads and butter.
Our server had a vast knowledge of not only the food, but the source–down to the names of the farmers and history of who the farmers were and what they stood for. We spent the evening indulging in the chef’s five course tasting menu. Chef Luca’s menu focuses on seasonal local ingredients accented with exotic flavors. The house-made charcuterie platter is something you definitely want to share with the table. I’m still dreaming of the duck/pistachio terrine and liver pate. And, I have to say that my heart sang a little when they presented the next course and it was the foie gras. The Hudson Valley foie gras was rich, buttery and delicate. Chef Luca’s interpretation was impressive, as he combine that with Benton’s bacon foam, apple slaw, pickled red pepper and apple jam. We could have stopped there and I would have been happy, but courses continued to grace our table and we happily obliged our palates. The presentation of the Rosemary Pete Farm Butternut Squash Soup was something that should be on the cover of Epicurean magazine. Each bite was delicious and unique. The scallops were fresh and delicate and the Creekstone Farm Culotte was perfect in every way.
Chef Luca’s interpretation of each dish was impressive to say the least and nothing was left to chance. The elements of each dish Luca constructs come together in a connected and comfortable way pleasing anyone who appreciates gastronomy.
After dinner, we sat down with self-proclaimed “Italian redneck” Chef Luca, and it was clear that the entire team from front of the house to back of the house shared the same vision and the same passion—and it’s something they are all passionate about.
CLTure: So, what is that vision—the passion—the philosophy?
Chef Luca: What we like to do is showcase our farmer, support the local people, cook some tasty food, make it look beautiful and have fun. This is something myself, my chef cuisine and sous chef…we share the same passion.”
CLTure: And how about your inspiration?
Chef Luca: Well my passion, starting from my family. My background is, I was born and raised in Italy. My grandmother…she was a butcher, my grandfather was a butcher, my aunt was a butcher, my cousin is a butcher. My brother is still a butcher and now has a butcher shop in Italy. So, we were always farming. We love cattle. My mother’s side are all vegetable farmers. We make sure we treat all the animals with love. So, the passion started from my family and traveling all over the world… Switzerland, Germany. France…that really inspired me a lot…picking a little bit from each country and coming up with my own blend and my own traits and twists and flavors. But the inspiration was my mother.
CLTure: What makes you proud about what you do?
Chef Luca: I’m always proud to serve good food. My theory and philosophy is that if you would not eat it..you don’t serve it. You have to be proud of what you serve. Sourcing local food for me—it’s my root. It’s my people. I wish I had more time to do farming but I don’t so I let farmers do their job and I take food from them and I take that to the next level. I am very proud to say I go to market every Saturday.
CLTure: What do you like to see on menus at other restaurants when you go out? What excites you?
Chef Luca: I like to see renovated cuisine. I like to see something I have never had before. Cuisine with trick or innovation. Like the thing we do with foie gras. It means people are Thinking out of the box.
CLTure: What do you like to do when you are not at Passion8?
Chef Luca: I am always doing something. Spending time with my son, Julian. He’s 9 months–try to spend time with him and make sure he knows he has a dad.(insert endearing smile here)
CLTure: Is the relocation going to be emotional for you?
Chef Luca: It’s going to be bittersweet. Because I know how much sweat I put in here and how much hard work I had to put in the beginning to make it here…and work to make people trust in me with my cooking. Now, I do foams and foie gras and that’s not how it was in the beginning. We had to teach and let people trust what I do. In the beginning it was a little hard. We really want to be unique and I think we are able to do that.
Chef Luca: It’s not just me. It’s my chefs. We all blend together. I am not the chef that says, ‘this is my kitchen…my way.’ We all learn from each other. I am not that way. It’s teamwork. We want to do right from day one. We only have one chance and we want to make the best of it. I think that what we want is to take that to the next level and it’s going to be lots of work. We are researching every day. We’re not stopping. We are doing modernist cuisine with an emphasis on local product. That’s what we are going to approach Charlotte with. Color, presentation, flavor…that’s everything for us. Anybody who comes through that door is important.
CLTure: What do you want our readers to know about the opening of Passion 8 in Charlotte?
Chef Luca: Come and see what everyone is talking about. We will show you that it’s for real. And if you love local food…that’s what we are all about. That’s my main focus. Quality, but as well the product we like to show. It’s everything for us.
I wish I could include the 52 minute voice recording of our conversation, but you will have to trust us on this. His sincerity, his graciousness, his creative and innovative cuisine, and, well of course his passion is beyond endearing and puts him in a class of his own. There doesn’t seem to be a pretentious bone in his body, but one couldn’t blame him if there was. His food definitely warrants it.
So, Chef Luca, we feel privileged and honored to have you move into our Elizabeth neighborhood. Charlotte is most certainly in for treat after treat with you.
And the one thing Chef Luca says that he is most excited about at the new location is the eight person Chef’s table that is located in the kitchen where you will be able to choose from an eight or twelve-course Chef’s tasting menu.
Five-Course Tasting Menu, September 25, 2014.
The much anticipated opening of Passion 8 in Charlotte will be on Oct. 24th 2014.
1523 Elizabeth Ave., Ste. 130 Charlotte, NC 28204.