Charlotte NC Chefs head to James Beard House in NYC

james-beard-dinnersCharlotte, North Carolina chefs continue to take the James Beard house in NYC by storm and 2017 kicks off with several big dinners featuring Queen City-based culinary talent. Last night it was my pleasure to be a guest at a practice run of a collaboration dinner between 2 of Charlotte’s finest, Chefs Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 on Elizabeth Avenue and Chef Sylvain Rivet of Renaissance Patisserie on South Blvd.

While I love seeing and tasting what chefs do in their restaurants on a regular basis, it is always nice to take advantage and attend special dinners like this to see what happens when chefs think outside the box. I particularly enjoy collaborative dinners  – there are lots on the calendar in Charlotte. I suggest you take advantage and make reservations as you see them pop up!  It is always a fun and unique experience every time.  No matter the chefs involved, their culinary talents challenge each other and play off of one another to truly bring it to the table.

 

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From left, The Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert; The Baker, chef Sylvain Rivet; and The Chef, chef Luca Annunziata

The Charlotte chef and the pastry chef were joined in the kitchen last evening as they will be next week in NYC by Baltimore based Master Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert of the Four Seasons Hotel.

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Chef Philippe Haddad

Rounding out the culinary team in New York will also be Atlanta-based chef Philippe Haddad of the Cape Dutch Restaurant in Atlanta. Haddad was unable to attend the dinner in Charlotte last night, but his contributions will only add to the excitement in New York. Also lending a helping hand at the New York event ,the Carolina’s own chef Joe Bonaparte of the Myrtle Beach Culinary Arts Institute.

 So, a butcher, a baker, and a chef  (or two) walk into the Beard House kitchen—but as was experienced by a supportive and happy crowd last night, this dinner is no joke.  In New York, these culinary compatriots will demonstrate the exceptional art of whole-animal butchery in a collaborative French–Italian feast celebrating their combined heritages and crafts.

The  trial run, if you will, evening in Charlotte started with a round of passed hors d’oeuvres – creamy chicken liver pate profiteroles with berry coulis, savory beef short ribs, skewered a la plancha, spherical chicken croquettes in bamboo boats and crispy dirty rice arancini with tomato jam.

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And for me, a “HoneyBunny” and orange/vodka/honey infused craft cocktail from the Passion 8 bar.

An assortment of fresh baked rolls hit as soon as we  were seated – nothing better to me than a course of delicious bread and butter and I was glad it arrived first with time to enjoy.

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Dinner  officially started with a beautiful plate of dinner co-sponsor Springer Mountain Farms Chicken in a duo of savory bites: a tender and delicious chicken porchetta with fennel salad, extra virgin olive oil powder, and  a drizzle of vincotto; paired with a melt-in-your-mouth braised chicken scarpariello topped with shishito peppers and  house-made pork sausage – things were off to a fabulous start….

 

img_8386Next course, a charcuterie platter of sorts – duck three ways or in French, Canard Trois Facons.  On the plate, a “Yes, please I believe I will”  foie gras torchon with onion jam;  a scrumptious duck confit with apple–frisée salad; and sliced duck prosciutto with a small round of made-in-house burrata and a crisp toasted slice of fresh baked pan de mie.

 

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With such a wonderful Italian chef on the team it stood to reason there would be a pasta course. This night the small plate of tiny but tender gnocchetti verdi  ( small green gnocchi) were tossed into a tomato-y rich lamb ragù. The crunch of fried Rappahannock oysters, added texture and a thin slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano served as the perfect slightly salty finish.

 

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All of this led to the beef course where the French butcher showed his chops. So tender and perfectly grilled grass fed beef tournedos, cut from the tenderloin of beef served atop a celery root puree, garnished with  with brussels sprout leaves, and finished with a grilled half of Charlotte’s own Urban Gourmet Farms king trumpet mushrooms, and au jus – perfect!

And then there was dessert – two courses of dessert, in fact, and a take home box as well – gotta love having a French pastry chef on the team!

img_8396For me the blood orange crème brûlée echoed the cocktail I had enjoyed at the start of the evening. It was sweet but not too sweet and creamy enough to provide the perfect finish after the course of rich savory beef. The surprise here was the accompanying tuille – made  with crispy almonds and believe it or not, bacon fat..,

 

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img_8406Then, for the table (and as this photo shows, the chefs to share) a  secondary dessert course of  three types of wonderful petits fours:  miniature chocolate brownie bomb; popcorn macaroons; and petit Grand Marnier–vanilla puffs – Yes!  And as a take-home for  the-day-after-dinner breakfast ( or to eat in the car on the drive back home) a chocolate truffle and two sweet bite-sized cakes. what a fabulous finish!

 

And then this happened….Big News from Passion 8

jessicaandlucaTalk last night after dinner was not just about the Beard House ,but of some big changes to come to Passion 8 as well. In February, look for the husband and wife team of Luca and Jessica Annunziata to take their passion for all things Italian to a whole new level. Passion 8 will be changing names and styles and while Jessica and Luca will remain at the helm and the Elizabeth Avenue location will remain the same, the new restaurant name and concept will be LUCA, Modern Italian Kitchen. This talented couple will still offer a menu that is locally inspired with a focus on Farm-to-fork product, but recipes and menu features will all hail from Chef Luca’s Italian heritage.  I am proud to say I was the first food writer to ever write about Passion 8, when the restaurant was located on HWY 51 in Ft Mill and I’ve kept you up to date on everything this talented couple has done since – stay tuned… I can’t wait to tell you about it all as the new menu is revealed and name changes occurs, so that you can make your reservations at LUCA soon and, in the process, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Want to go to the Beard House or at least see it for yourself?

img_8414The  dinner last night, billed as practice round, gave the guests an opportunity to give feed back, so that the team of chefs can tweak as needed before the big dance in New York.  Its no small production – Luca will load up all the local product and drive to Baltimore two days before the dinner. He and Marc will prep in Baltimore the day before then drive to New York for a day of cooking in the infamous Beard House kitchen the day of the dinner. Thanks to the magic of digital technology, you can follow each of the chefs involved on their individual social media streams and the night of the dinner, Friday January 27, you can stream the action from the kitchen live via the James Beard Kitchen Cam – check it out on the Beard House website 

If you’ve a mind to go, see, taste and enjoy it all in person, tickets for the Butcher, Baker & Chef dinner in NYC are still available – make your reservations here.  

charles-grill-678x1024Mark your calendars as more Charlotte-based chefs participate in upcoming Beard House dinners as well.  Chef Charles Semail of Chef Charles Catering in Charlotte will also cook at the James Beard House the end of this week, in fact,  at a separate dinner with a team of five other chefs. Chef Charles dinner will focus on The Art of Charcuterie. The dinner in New York is on Jan 20. If you can’t get to NYC for the dinner Chef Charles is participating in, then head to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market on Saturday to buy and for a taste what Chef Charles Catering does so well.

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Then, save the date in February as Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta (and Top Chef fame) present a “Take Me To Church” dinner on Feb 5, 2017.  

 

 

heidi head shot 1 -Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

If this post about some of our fabulous Charlotte-based chefs inspired you – I want to know where you are eating and what you are cooking. Remember  Charlotte, Queen’s Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week  kicks off on Friday Jan 20 – where are you going to eat?

Post  your photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram   Food is always so much better when you share it with friends!

Consider me your go-to-gal for info on chefs, restaurants, recipes, cooking tips, trends and food-centric travel.

I invite you to join me in all my culinary adventures, by signing up to follow this blog. You’ll get my recipes, reviews and articles as soon as they  post, directly to your in-box.

Almost here, Stay Tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts on Monday January 22, 2017 – can’t  wait!

Summertime & Charlotte Restaurant Week Makes the Eating Easy

imgresIts Time, Charlotte.

Starting Friday July 22 and running for 10 solid days through to July 31,  its the Summer 2016 Edition of Charlotte Restaurant Week, affectionately, officially and appropriately known as Queen’s Feast. This is the Charlotte area restaurant promotional phenomenon brought to you by Charlotteans Bruce and Jill Hensley of Hensley Fontana Public Relations that, over the past 8 years, has captured the attention and appetites of thousands of diners across the metropolitan Charlotte area. Pull out your calendars, call your friends and start making reservations.

Charlotte Restaurant Week has grown into a multi-county promotion in which numerous upscale restaurants will offer a prix fixe, three-course dinner at a cost of only $30  or $35 per person (not including tax and gratuity).

This summer there are 130 plus restaurants participating across eight counties in the Charlotte metro area from Mecklenburg, Gaston, Lincoln, Catawba, Iredell, Cabarrus to Union, and York, so you know there is a participating restaurant near you!

CRW%20Summer%20header%202015This special 10-day long pricing, substantially less than what a typical three-course meal would cost at any of the restaurants involved, doesn’t mean “dumbed down” food or less-than-fabulous service.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The premise here is to give potentially new patrons, who might not otherwise  step in the door of a more high-end establishments or have always wanted to try a new place that just opened, a chance to try out the eats and the experience at an easy-on-the-pocket book price tag. At the same time the promotion adds value to the dining out experience for restaurant regulars. Truth is, the restaurant week promotion helps the dining establishments, too, bringing in a broader cliental base at a time of the year that is generally slow for the restaurant industry at large.

imgresPlus this season there are some added bonuses. If you are a AAA member, or thinking of becoming one, now is the time to do so. Just take a look at this: During the summer 2016 Queen’s Feast, select restaurants are offering AAA members an exclusive bonus. While dining in the restaurant during Queen’s Feast, just present your current AAA membership card for the opportunity to purchase a $50 gift certificate from the restaurant for only $25!

AAA members must present a valid membership card while dining in the restaurant during Queen’s Feast (July 22-31, 2016) during dinner hours to take advantage of this offer. The gift certificate will not be redeemable during Queen’s Feast. Other restrictions may apply. With this writing here is a short list of the restaurants participating in the Charlotte Restaurant Week-AAA promotion: BAKUBella Fresco Italian Mediterranean KitchenBonterra Dining & Wine RoomBrazz Carvery and Brazilian SteakhouseThe Cajun QueenCampania CafeCopper Modern Indian CuisinePassion8,  Primo Tuscan GrilleROCKSALT and Vivace

So that’s 12 of the participating Queen’s Feast restaurants, just over 100 more to go including new comers to the event such as Five and Dine and The Pumphouse  both just over the SC border;  Aix en Provence in Eastover; Kid Cashew in Dilworth and the new location of Global in Pineville – all, in this food writer’s opinion, worthy of your consideration as are long time Queen’s Feast participants such as Gallery Restaurant at The Ballantyne Hotel; Bistro La Bon in Plaza Midwood;  Heirloom in Charlotte’s  Coulwood neighborhood; and Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte.  

The twice annual Charlotte Restaurant Week has become an event patrons plan for, gathering groups of friends, making reservations well in advance to get in at all their favorite spots. With the ten-day stretch of the event, and this round with over 130 restaurants participating, there is a lot of eating to be done!

And there is no guesswork involved. Everything you need to make your Charlotte Restaurant Week: Queens Feast plans in up on the Charlotte Restaurant Week website – here are just a few tips for making it all the easier.   Once you get to the Queens Feast Website you’ll find the restaurants listed first by region or county and then in alphabetical order, take a look through the list and then…

  • Click on individual restaurant names for location, menu, and reservation information.
  • The Prix fixe price is $30 or $35 per person; all menu items are per person unless otherwise indicated.
  • Know that the Queens Feast Charlotte Restaurant Week menus are available for DINNER ONLY.
  • Be Flexible. Most of the participating chefs plan menus based around lots of local product. With the popularity of Charlotte Restaurant Week, know that menus are subject to change without notice based on product availability, but even if there is change, chefs will still offer their very best to give you the  regal experience you are anticipating.
  • If you happen to have coupons for any particular participating restaurants, know that these may not be accepted during Charlotte Restaurant Week after all you are already getting a phenomenal deal on your Queen’s Feast dining out experience.  Please check with the restaurant and/or refer to coupon restrictions for redemption policies or better yet, just save them for another time and enjoy the Queens Feast experience for what and all it is.
  • And finally, and most importantly, if you are unable to keep your reservation for any reason, PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE AND CANCEL as soon as possible to give other diners and the restaurant the opportunity to fill those seats!

 

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIf you still have questions, simply call your favorite restaurant and just ask. #TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

Still time to Indulge in Charlotte Restaurant Week – The 2014 Winter Queens Feast runs Jan 17-26

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgWith the last weekend of the winter 2014 Queens Feast Charlotte Restaurant Week upon us, I wanted to share two fabulous dinners my husband Tom and I enjoyed during the two week winter run of this semi annual culinary event.

What? You’ve never partaken in Restaurant Week before? What are you waiting for? You have until January 26 to enjoy the perks – make your reservations today!

Its super simple and at 3 for $30 pricing (3 courses for $30, exclusive of alcohol, tax and gratuity) its a great way to try out a new place or revisit on old favorite…

Here is how it works –

Charlotte Restaurant Week - the winter 2014 Queens Feast

Charlotte Restaurant Week – the winter 2014 Queens Feast

There are over 100 participating restaurants on the Queens Feast web site, so lots of offerings to choose from – search for restaurants by neighborhood or name.
Then, click on each restaurant’s name to view the exact location of each dining establishment, contact/reservation information and the restaurant’s  special Charlotte Restaurant Week menu. To make it all the easier, the link to the site is at the end of this post.

Be sure to make advance dinner reservations and then all you have to do is show up. Its really just that easy.  No passes, tickets, or restaurant coupons are  required.

Most restaurants go all out to share what they do on a regular basis for an exceptional 3 for $30 pricetag. Some restaurants also offer their regular menus should not everyone in your party want to partake in the Restaurant week offerings and this year I have noticed that many places are offering several additions or enhancements to their individual Queen Feast menus at an additional charge.

Heidi Tom and SwitchbackWith so many Charlotte area restaurants participating, the choice of where to dine is a tough one. Over the past two weeks, my husband, Tom Billotto and I took time out to eat at two outstanding Charlotte restaurants participating in the promotion: Passion 8 Bistro and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

Our first dinner was the first Sunday of the Queens Feast run. Passion 8 Bistro is one of our favorite places in town, but they are not usually open on Sunday or Monday nights. For restaurant week, however, the schedule changes and the place is open for business as usual on what are regularly the chefs nights off. I called to make reservations and was delighted to find they had a table for two open.

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

We enjoyed an incredible Restaurant Week meal  – chefs Luca Annunziata, Matt Matthew Krenz and Evan Micek and staff outdid themselves!  So much food on the 3 for $30 menu – portions are big, so some of our dinner made its way into to-go containers and we very much enjoyed the rest for lunch the next day!

While I ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, Tom opted to ordered from the short list of nightly specials. It was wonderful to have so many choices.
Food, wine, service and atmosphere are always wonderful at this small 48 seat bistro supporting over 40 farms and serving a market menu every evening.  A pictorial of our first 2014 Restaurant Week meal follows.
Passion 8 Bistro's escargot

Passion 8 Bistro’s escargot

Passion  8 was serving the Restaurant Week menu as well as an abbreviated regular menu – so we decided to mix it up a bit – I ordered a la restaurant week and Tom went for the nightly specials – a marvelous mix as we shared each plate.
I kicked it off with the escargot in a fabulous chimichurri butter and ancho cream sauce on the evening specials menu. When I was a little girl escargot was the first “fancy” food I ever ordered in a restaurant – tongs, shells, tiny forks, garlic butter and all. These escargot at Passion 8 were. oh so. different than that and oh so. much better than what I remembered – no shells, no special equipment; but it brought back wonderful memories. It’s been so long since I have had escargot -LOVED them done this way!
Passion 8 Cheese plate

Passion 8 Cheese plate

Tom started with the Passion 8 cheese plate – my photo here really doesn’t do it justice – a beautiful oversized platter of four cheeses with a delicious local jam and crispy flatbread crackers.
pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

Next, the first of three courses from my offical Charlotte Restaurant Week meal at Passion 8  – a warm and creamy apple and parsnip soup topped with a BBQ beet salad and a slice of crispy pigs ear. Okay, I’ll bite… the beets obviously weren’t the challenge here –  I am a beet lover and the salad with Tega Hill farm micro greens was a nice foil to the creamy soup . But the pigs ear…well, honestly could have done without the pig’s ear – but in the spirit of paying homage to the whole animal when you use local product, I got it – I tasted it and it was a nice touch!

Passion 8's infamous Calamari Cubano

Passion 8’s infamous Calamari Cubano

Tom’s second plate was the infamous Passion 8 calamari – this is a dish Chef/owner Luca Annunizata has had on the Passion 8 menu for years – his original plan was to change the recipe around every month or so and make it some sort of calamari special; but regular customers – the Billotto’s included – won’t let him take this lime, jalapeno and honey glazed fried calamari off the menu – with good reason:its incredible! A must try the next time you go to experience dinner at Passion 8.

NC trout with black garlic sauce

NC trout with black garlic sauce

Entrees came next – for me the Restaurant Week  – NC trout with smoked NC trout roe and a side of silken tofu and black garlic sauce – really tasty and the first time I have ever had Black Garlic – thank you to Passion 8 chef Matthew Krenz for all of the information about this warm, rich and earthy ingredient. Now I am anxious to get some and try it out in recipes for myself.

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Tom ordered the scallops from the non restaurant week menu – outstanding and of melt -in-your-mouth proportions ( there is also a scallop starter on the Charlotte Restaurant Week menu at Passion 8.) Toms plate was done with a parsnip puree and Brussels sprouts with  cherry and almonds and a Bourbon and Thyme demi  – oh my!

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

And for dessert on the Passion 8 Bistro Charlotte Restaurant Week menu – a bowl of chocolate ganache studded with Grand Marnier scented meringue, devil’s food cake and  a roasted pear – nuff said!

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

Tom Billotto’s favorite Charlotte Restaurant Week dessert at Passion 8 Bistro was the rich and wonderful sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche – a perfect ending to the evening.

Bonterra logoOur next 2014 winter Queens Feast restaurant week meal this week was at another of our favorite restaurants – Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located in Charlotte’s historic SouthEnd. Bonterra is a special restaurant for Tom and me, as it is where we met at a friend’s wedding in 2003, but despite our emotional attachment to the place, the food is always excellent and the wine list of offerings by the glass and by the bottle, always spectacular…and the service is some of the best around. Thanks to owner John “JD” Duncan and staff for doing such a wonderful job!

Bonterra's Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra’s Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra doesn’t offer the restaurants’ regular menu during all the restaurant week hubbub; however there are some “enhancements” to the 3 for $30 menu you can make if you would like a different seafood or steak option or would like to add Bonterra’s signature fried lobster tail, a crab cake or shrimp or scallops to any entrée. Enhancements or no,   Chef Bill Schutz outdid himself on the menu … simple but decidedly delicious.

NFL logoRight after Restaurant Week ends, Chef Bill will be representing Charlotte, cooking at an exclusive NFL cocktail party in NYC. As this pre Superbowl extravaganza,  each city with an NFL team will have a chef cooking and a representative of their team in attendance.  I know Bill will represent us well – can’t wait to hear what he’ll be cooking – more later!
For now its back to our 2014 Bonterra restaurant week meal…
Bonterra's crispy calamari

Bonterra’s crispy calamari

To start,  Tom was still in calamari mode and so he ordered the crispy calamari  with creole seasoning, tomato aioli and fresh herbs – excellent.

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

I opted for a simple but rich and flavorful plate of the most tender grilled shrimp over a bed of Anson Mill grits.  I asked for the Andouille cream sauce on the side and I found  it was the perfect way to enjoy all the intricate flavors of each component of this tasty dish.

saintsbury pinot noir
One of the wonderful things about dining at Bonterra is the wine list    – from the start, the bar at Bonterra has been set up with an exclusive system for storing and preserving the wines at the restaurant, leading to the largest by the glass wine program in the country with more than 200 options at any one time. Whenever you dine at Bonterra you can wine as well – by the glass or by the bottle. This night Tom and I enjoyed one of our favorite California Pinot Noirs- Saintsbury 2010 Carneros – oh so good!
Bonterra' s roasted free range chicken breast

Bonterra’ s roasted free range chicken breast

My entrée for this Charlotte Restaurant Week dinner at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room was the roasted free range chicken breast served with toasted farro, leaf spinach, red wine shallots and a fresh thyme sauce;

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

while Tom, very much enjoyed the  pasta offering –  an excellent choice tossed with asparagus, fire roasted mushrooms, basil and Parmigiano.

The evening ended with two delicious desserts – a NY style cheesecake for Tom and a molten  chocolate cake for this food writer – delish!
For more information about all of the restaurants participating in Charlotte’s 2014 Queens Feast Restaurant Week visit: http://www.charlotterestaurantweek.com/articles/charlotte-restaurant-week-info-472876/how-do-i-take-part-in-11212684/#ixzz2rEVhBNAB
For more information on Passion 8 Bistro in Ft Mill – visit www.passion8bistro.com 

Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

For more information on Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte’s SouthEnd neighborhood, visit  www.bonterradining.com

Bonterra on Urbanspoon