Catherine Rabb was a chef with a passion for making no fuss food that tasted good; a teacher who made learning fun, easy and interesting; a sommelier who had forgotten more about wine than most of us will ever know; and most importantly to me, a person I am proud to have called a friend.
Catherine lost a year long battle with cancer on Dec 8, 2021. Her sudden absence has hit hard. Today, as I write this we are thinking of her husband Don Rabb, their family and all of Catherine’s close friends, colleagues and students.
I haven’t seen Catherine in person since she started dealing with the disease, nearly a year or so ago. COVID and quarantine, don’t you know. But we’ve chatted back and forth by text and her take on all she was dealing with was much like her take on about everything I’ve ever talked with her about – always hopeful and upbeat. She will be missed.
Catherine’s Enthusiasm was Always Contagious
I’ve known Catherine and Don since 1984 when they first opened Fenwick’s, a restaurant in Charlotte NC that continues to be the same charming little neighborhood spot it started out to be all those years ago.
Fenwick’s is obviously closed for the next little bit while the family and staff mourn this tremendous loss.
Catherine loved her work, the restaurant and the Fenwick’s family of staff and customers, alike. Her enthusiasm for all she did and for the work and accomplishments of others was contagious.
She’s taught a good segment of Charlotte restaurant community during her time as an instructor at Johnson & Wales. While Catherine Rabb was never one to toot her own horn, she was a cheerleader for everyone around her. She was constantly promoting the work of friends, family and colleagues all along the way, yours truly included.
I’ve written about Fenwicks and talked about the restaurant on TV many times. And, Tom and I have eaten at Fenwick’s over the years more times than I can possibly count. This photo, another by Charlotte photographer Peter Taylor, is the view of the open kitchen. It is what you see when you sit at the end of the restaurant’s small 5-6 seat bar.
We always loved the happy surprise of finding Catherine at the grill as we nestled into bar seats for dinner. This shot is so typical of her when she was at the restaurant. At the grill moving at the speed of light. Working orders, cooking and plating every delicious bite for her family of happy Fenwick’s customers.
Catherine Rabb quietly shined at Appearances and Events
Catherine was an incredible teacher. She wrote about wine and food, talked about both on television and in seminars and helped to shape chefs of tomorrow. In 2019 the two of us had the opportunity to work together teaching ProStart bootcamp classes for high schoolers interested in a culinary career – I think we had as much fun as the students did.
While she sometimes shied away from being in the spotlight, opting instead to work behind the scenes, she often encouraged and made opportunities for others to step in front and center.
I loved working with her always; and was delighted that she thought of me when she was looking for a speaker at a conference she hosted on Women in the Hospitality Industry at Johnson & Wales in 2015.
I asked her to share her talent and discriminating palate on several occasions as a regional and mixology judge at annual NCRLA Chef Showdown events I coordinate, and she was always quick to say yes. She championed students and competing chefs, alike, to always bring their best to the table.
Raising a Glass in Remembrance
Each and every time Catherine and I would run into each other it was as if no time had passed. In fact, in the year or two before COVID, our paths often crossed in the television studios at WCNC where I would be appearing to do a restaurant or travel piece and she would be doing the cooking segment. Watch Catherine make Fenwick’s Banana Foster French Toast here.
Other times, I would be cooking and Catherine would be in the studio with her friend and colleague Sarah Malik talking about wine. You can watch a 2018 wine presentation these two did on Charlotte Today here. If you didn’t know Catherine or haven’t ever had the opportunity to be with her in the classroom, then you can experience her fun, easy going teaching style and food and wine loving personality here. She will be missed.
I remember well, how once in presenting a series of wines for the show, she talked for a while about fun sparkling options. Her suggestion to viewers was if you had something to celebrate, it was best done with bubbles.
As Tom and I remember and celebrate our sweet friend today, and in the weeks and months ahead, we will take her advice and raise a glass of something sparkling to say…
Cheers to you, Catherine Rabb.
Heidi, so sad to read this. My husband and I are Fenwick’s fans, too. What a lovely, heartfelt tribute you penned to your great friend and fellow food/wine aficionado. Cheers to you and Catherine.
Thanks for your sweet words, Mary.
Thank you for sharing Heidi. Catherine’s talents and passions are gifts given to this community. Fenwicks is still one of my favorite restaurants. I was able to take several of of her classes at Johnson and Whales: educational, entertaining, and engaging! DELICIOUS
Feed em in heaven Catherine, You were so kind to me……I Winthrop nutrition student transition from TGI Fridays worked with Don, Gidget, Billy we waited on the debonair man the old lady with the exquisite azaleas and Sunday brunch couldn’t be missed I learned so much from you Catherine thank you for all your kindness & forgiving me a chance And making me more better God bless
We are so sorry to hear about Catherine’s passing. We also have been Happy customers since they first opened Fenwick’s. Our prayers for Don and family. Heidi a beautiful article you have written.
She was one of my mentors during culinary school. I had the pleasure of working at Catherine’s on Providence and Fenwick’s as well as numerous catering events. I literally transitioned into baking from the savory side under Chef Rabb’s watchful eye and caring spirit. Throughout my time as a Culinary student at Central Piedmont Community College I learned a lot from Catherine. I have very fond memories of my hours spent learning the ins and outs of the hospitality industry with this wonderful woman. Chicken Frances’s on a busy Sunday night….baseball hat backwards…and a huge caring smile. The industry as a whole has lost a physical piece of itself. However I will always know that she instilled greatness in people around her and that her legacy will live on in this hospitality industry through others. Prayers and thoughts for Don and the boys. RIP Chef Catherine.
So beautifully written Geoff, thank you!
Prayers and thoughts for Catherine’s family and all her many friends at Fenwicks. She will be so missed.
Heidi, what an exceptional write up. You captured her essence. Paulette
I have very fond memories of Chef Catherine. Twenty some years ago she actually closed her restaurant for a group of talented young students to do a fundraising event.
One conversation with her, with her ever present humility, she said “I’m not a Chef” and after a persuasive discussion, she has proven what a value, as a Chef and Teacher she was to all of us. She never had to prove anything to me.
Thank you for helping me grow into whom I am.
I had the pleasure of teaching with Catherine, in the old days, at CPCC in the Hospitality Education Department. Her knowledge, vitality, & sense of humor was infectious. She was a blessing to students & faculty alike & will be dearly missed. Bob Boll
Heidi – Our CRU wine board lead, Katrina Hayes, shared your article. Thank you for sharing Catherine’s story so beautifully!
Catherine taught me in my WSET 3 wine studies. I absolutely loved learning from her and felt what you wrote really rang so true. She was adored by many and left an impact on our hearts, minds and palettes. I’m so very sorry for your loss.
Exemplary service, to all. Rare Air
My heart is breaking to learn about Chef Rabb. She was my professor at JWU as well as a mentor. She gave sage advice and encouragement. She literally saved my family with best advice I ever received.
I learn nore about wine and spirits from her than my entire life. She certified me in wine and spirits WSET. I was a big fan of fenwicks for many years but a bigger fan of Chef Rabb. Her family are in my thoughts and prayers. I will love you forever Catherine Rabb until we meet again. I hope the good Lord has an amazing bar in Heaven so you can mix up your best Jesus juice and serve it to each guest that walks through the pearly gates.
I am so sorry to hear this news. I have eaten at Fenwick’s many times. It is a Myers Park staple! I also took a wine pairing seminar with her several years ago at the Blowing Rock Food and Wine Festival. It was so informative and such a great class. She was so knowledgeable! She will be so missed.
I read with sadness your words about Catherine. I shared it on my blog and here’s the link if you’d like to see the comments https://www.facebook.com/groups/1651745208376630/?multi_permalinks=2970314356519702¬if_id=1639234208931048¬if_t=feedback_reaction_generic&ref=notif
Thanks for sharing the link Billy! I’m gathering all the comments to share with Don and the family
Thank you Heidi for this wonderfully written story of my sweet cousin Catherine. I love Catherine for so many reasons, after reading this article I am blown away on her talents. I bragged about Catherine to all my friends through the years. It was my time at Fenwicks in 1986 visiting her, her brothers and my aunt that I fell in love with the hospitality industry. I am thankful that I took the opportunity to spend a few days with her and Don this past May. She was the warmest person I know. She was everything you said and more. I cannot express how sad I am for Don and her family. She is LOVE! Everyone she smiled at or encouraged is blessed. Thank you again for writing this nice article.
Thank you Bill. It was my pleasure.
I am a Johnson & Wales University employee and Fenwick’s patron. This was a beautifully written article. Cheers to you Chef! You will certainly be missed.