An Italian concept in NoDa with a notable beverage program
October 16, 2023
These are the industry members making change in Charlotte
Announcing the 2023 Unpretentious Palate People of the Year Finalists!
This list features the names of those who have made Charlotte’s food scene more vibrant, more sustainable, and more delicious in the past year. The finalist selection is a collaborative effort between our staff and UP Members, who know the city’s food scene better than anyone.
Congratulations to all of the finalists!
Farmer(s) of the Year
Wisdom & Cherie Jzar, Deep Roots CPS Farm
Located in northwest Charlotte, Deep Roots CPS Farm covers only seven acres, but the Jzars get the most out of every square inch of their urban farm. They grow a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits — as well as raising goats, hens, and chickens, plus a beekeeping operation — to sell at local farmers markets. The farm is also an agritourism destination offering special farm visit events and other activities. In addition, they have become leaders in nurturing the area farming community organizing a farmers network, as well as farmer mentoring programs.
Hiram Ramirez, Urban Gourmet Farms
Since 2015, Urban Gourmet Farms has been the primary local mushroom source for many, if not most, Charlotte-area fine dining restaurants and local consumers at Charlotte farmers markets. Ramirez offers a wide range of mushroom varieties — from yellow oyster to shiitake to chestnut pioppino — giving local chefs and home cooks a vast fungal playground to explore. His farm in southwest Charlotte takes an organic and self-sustained approach to urban farming, with all of the mushrooms grown in a climate-controlled space without the use of pesticides or chemicals.
Joe & Amy Rohrer, Boy & Girl Farm
A perennial area farmers market favorite with scores of loyal customers, Waxhaw’s Boy & Girl Farm grows more than 60 types of fruits and vegetables, depending on the season. Harvesting year-round on 10 acres, Joe and Amy Rohrer are steadfast believers in sustainable practices and maintaining soil health, not using any herbicides or fungicides. Amy is a fourth-generation farmer with firm ties to the land. Joe caught the farming bug as a teenager and has been working in the dirt since. Both have become fixtures in the Charlotte restaurant scene through their dedicated chef customers.
Food Artisan of the Year
Cristina Rojas Agurcia, The Batch House
A self-taught baker from Honduras, Cristina Rojas Agurcia bakes almost an encyclopedia of cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, bars, and pies available on a rotating basis at her pastry shop on Berryhill Road. However, the main piece of her business is bulk and custom orders. Whether it’s a single oatmeal raisin cookie, a dozen dulce de leche brownies, or a three-layer caramel popcorn cake, The Batchmaker has made a name for herself in the Queen City.
Elinn Hesse, Cold Hearted Gelato
The former chef de cuisine of Counter-, Elinn Hesse is blazing new trails at her shop in Plaza Midwood. Her approach to developing unique flavors, such as Hazelnut & Miso Caramel and Cucumber & Perilla works to expand our perceptions of what to expect when enjoying her frozen delights. All of the dairy used at Cold-Hearted Gelato is locally sourced, as well as most of the fruits, flowers, and herbs she incorporates.
Raffaele Patrizi, Mano Bella Artisan Foods
Originally from Rome, Raffaele Patrizi, along with his American-born wife Madison, launched Mano Bella Artisan Foods in the early days of the pandemic and their business has continually expanded. Found at The Market at 7th Street as well as a number of local farmers markets, they craft a range of fresh pastas (including gluten-free options), as well as fresh mozzarella, take-and-bake dishes, baked goods, and other Italian specialty items. The 7th Street location also features a small trattoria where Uptown diners can enjoy a number of regional Italian dishes.
Food Truck of the Year
presented by Julie Everakes, Remax Executive Real Estate
Boujee Soul Food Truck
Originally from Bennettsville, South Carolina, Chef Lavonna Johnson Quick’s food offers all the comfort and deliciousness true soul food is known for — with some international twists. From the braised oxtail sliders to the chicken & red velvet waffles and the innovative collard green and lobster wontons, it’s no wonder this food truck has amassed a legion of loyal fans. Boujee Soul Food also operates a takeout business at City Kitch.
Cutting Board CLT
Offering a unique combination of Mexican and Korean cuisines, the chef Bonna Kem’s Cutting Board food truck has developed almost a cult-like following, especially for its innovative and tasty line of Korean corn dogs, a.k.a. “K-Dogs”. The truck’s beef (or chicken) birria ramen is also worth standing in line for.
Katsu Kart Sando Shop
Our 2022 UPPY award winner, UP subscribers were once again vociferous in nominating Katsu Kart this year. Chef Perry Saito’s selection of Japanese sandwiches (served on Japanese milk bread), noodle bowls, rice bowls, and other delicacies continue to break ground in the often predictable food truck scene.
Chef of the Year (non-traditional)
(catering, food stall, fast casual, etc.)
Awo Amenumey, Eh’vivi
As profiled at Unpretentious Palate, Awo Amenumey is bringing authentic Ghanaian cuisine to North Carolina. Through a series of pop-up dinners throughout the state, chef Amenumey has introduced southern U.S. diners to West African cuisine — with its bold, bright, and spicy flavors. With a welcomingly warm personality, Chef Awo makes her home country’s cuisine accessible to those who haven’t yet experienced it.
Shai Fargian, Yafo Kitchen
The 2022 UPPY winner continued to be a top nominee by UP members in 2023. The Israeli-born executive chef of Yafo Kitchen brings authenticity to the fast-casual restaurant’s menu, yet a more telling indication of his skills is the consistency you’ll find across the restaurant’s multiple locations. Through rotating specials and catered meals for Jewish holidays, Fargian offers Charlotteans Mediterranean flavors in a reliable, delicious way.
Qian Zhang, The Dumpling Lady
From her early days selling dumplings at farmers markets to her very successful food truck days to her current operations at Optimist Hall and in South End, people can’t get enough of Qian Zhang’s authentic Szechuan cuisine. Zhang continues to expand her offerings, including her original line of dumplings to noodle dishes such as Nei Jaing Beef (noodles with stew beef) to new offerings such as mapo tofu — and continues to be a destination for diners.
Local Food Advocate of the Year
Kenya Joseph, Charlotte Food Policy Council and Hearts and Hands Food Pantry
Quality food shouldn’t be solely for those who can afford it. Through her advocacy and work with the Charlotte Food Policy Council, Joseph — who also co-founded Hearts and Hands Food Pantry — has worked relentlessly to ensure everyone in the area has access to sustainable and healthy food — including finding the money to continue the double (sometimes triple) SNAP benefits for EBT recipients at local farmers markets when the initial sponsor pulled out.
Kristen Miranda, WBTV
There’s no local TV personality more beloved among chefs than WBTV’s Kristen Miranda, host of QC Life. In her role as lead anchor on the show, she has put countless chefs and mixologists — new and well-known — at ease during live cooking segments. This year, Miranda put together a cookbook featuring recipes from both local chefs and WBTV staff as a charity benefit. WBTV Family Recipes quickly sold out, raising more than $10,000 for nonprofit The Bulb and the Johnson & Wales Scholarship Fund.
Kris Reid, Piedmont Culinary Guild
Following the pandemic, chefs strapped for time and cash have struggled to find the time to dedicate to the Piedmont Culinary Guild’s mission of promoting local foodways. That hasn’t stopped Kris Reid from fighting for the nonprofit’s life, and through that, its mission. Through programs like PCG Tastemakers, which connects foodies with chefs, farmers, and artisans in a series of social yet educational events, PCG is slowly chipping away at the knowledge gap surrounding the threats to our local food chain. (Editor’s disclosure: Kristen Wile is a volunteer board member for Piedmont Culinary Guild.)
Sommelier/Wine Professional of the Year
Celine DeMaesschalck, Modern Hobbyist
Patrons at Assorted Table Wine & Shop at The Market at 7th Street relied on DeMaesschalck for her incredibly astute palate. From bargain-priced bottles to high-dollar “investment wines,” DeMaesschalck effortlessly and expertly aided Charlotte wine buyers in finding the right fit for their tastes and their wallets. Following her departure from day-to-day sales, DeMaesschalck will focus on her Etsy shop Modern Hobbyist, making wine studies beautiful through art.
Michael Myers, Counter-
With a cellar that includes rare finds and trophy bottles, Counter-‘s premiere pairings feature high-dollar wines that you likely won’t get to try anywhere else. When aided by impressive vintners and vintages, however, a wine pairing is bound to be impressive. It’s Myers’ pairings on the lower end of the budget that have earned him a spot on this list. With unique selections from a diverse group of winemakers, regions, and styles, Myers’ wine selections offer diners as much of an education as each course they are paired with.
Greg Zanitsch, The Fig Tree
This Elizabeth restaurant offers one of the city’s most diverse and refined wine lists thanks to co-owner Greg Zanitsch. His selections and expertise can be found in every listing in which the restaurant’s staff has been well-trained to assist diners with their selections. The carefully curated cellar is one of the reasons The Fig Tree has been a destination for discerning diners since 2005.
Mixologist of the Year
Stefan Huebner, Dot Dot Dot
One of the faces of Charlotte mixology, Stefan Huebner looks for ways to explore new levels of cocktail innovations while never leaving old school classics behind. With the Dot Dot Dot speakeasy on Park Road, he has created an homage to cocktails past and future while nurturing a talented staff to realize their full potential. After five years in business, his bar remains at the forefront of the cocktail scene here.
Brittany Kellum, Rare Roots Hospitality
The 2021 UPPY winner, Brittany Kellum continues to expand both her creativity and her responsibilities as she is now responsible for beverage programs throughout the Rare Roots Hospitality group. Known as “BK” to her friends and patrons, Kellum takes a whimsical approach to seriously well-developed cocktails. For all her creativity, Kellum never downplays the customers’ wishes and tastes.
Larry Suggs, Humbug
A long-time fixture in Charlotte’s bartending scene, Suggs and partner Andy Schools opened Humbug in Plaza Midwood in June 2023 and were immediately met with lines out the door. If you can be playful and serious at the same time, that’s Larry Suggs. His cocktails can range from kicked up dive bar shooters to science lab creations — all flavorful and approachable.
General Manager of the Year
presented by OpenTable
Phi Hoang, Puerta
Known by many from his time at The Crunkleton, Phi Hoang stepped into the role of general manager for Puerta when it opened earlier this year. When 1957 Hospitality — the restaurant group behind The Crunkleton — opens a new concept, it comes with a lot of buzz and high expectations. Hoang and his team have worked tirelessly to meet those expectations, creating a new concept that helps raise the standard of service in Charlotte.
Ellis Lindsay, Chapter 6
The general managers across Rare Roots Hospitality are among the top in the city, and Ellis Lindsay is no exception. Following seven years as general manager at modern steakhouse The Porter’s House in Waverly, Lindsay brings her unique style of casual yet admirable leadership to the Rare Roots’ latest concept, Chapter 6 in Lower South End. The result of that leadership is conversational yet attentive service each time you dine.
Tracy Webb, McNinch House
It’s been a time of transition at Charlotte fine dining staple The McNinch House following the passing of owner and founder Ellen Davis. The staff, led by front of house manager Tracy Webb, have held onto Davis’ legacy, continuing the restaurant’s operation even amid the unexpected. Even without their matriarch, thanks to Webb and her team, the restaurant’s reputation for impeccable service is as strong as ever.
Chef to Watch
presented by 86search
Kenny Do, Maneki
With his move from Bardo to Counter- following the former restaurant’s closure, chef Kenny Do has now lent his undeniable skill to two of the city’s top tasting menus. He’ll soon be leading the kitchen at Maneki, a food stall coming to Uptown serving robata-cooked skewers. There, he’ll have the opportunity to show the city how much flavor he can pack into unassuming fare — and show off what can be achieved during a 45-minute tasting menu.
Courtney Evans, Leah & Louise
Leah & Louise is named for two women, making it a fitting fact that it’s a female chef in the role of chef de cuisine there. As a young chef, Courtney Evans leads a James Beard-recognized kitchen with skill, continuing the restaurant’s reputation of serving excellent Southern fare based not in tradition, but personal history and memories.
Brandon Staton, Uptown Yolk
Before joining UPPY Award-winning chef Greg Collier’s BayHaven Restaurant Group, chef Brandon Staton held positions at several culinary powerhouses, including Haymaker and The Asbury. Now at Uptown Yolk, Staton continues to show his diverse skillset as he serves breakfast fare with as much flair and flavor as one would expect from a fine-dining spot.
Most Impactful Industry Member(s)
Jamie Brown & Jeff Tonidandel, Tonidandel-Brown Restaurant Group
When landmark restaurant Bonterra announced its closure in Dilworth, the couple behind restaurants such as Supperland and Haberdish did what they’ve become known for: stepping in to save the space. Rehabbing old buildings is a significant investment in time and money but most importantly, in Charlotte. Their efforts help counter our city’s tendency to jump into the new, instead reminding us of where we came from and how those roots can guide our future.
Jen Hidinger-Kendrick, Giving Kitchen
Though Atlanta-based, Jen Hidinger-Kendrick has brought Charlotte’s restaurant industry the much needed resource of knowing there’s someone you can turn to in times of need. The nonprofit she launched, Giving Kitchen, expanded into Charlotte this year, bringing with it need-based grants for foodservice workers who need help with expenses due to injury, illness, or other traumatic events. They’ve also hosted pop-up clinics for industry professionals who need affordable healthcare.
Salem Suber, The Market at 7th Street
As the city’s first food hall, 7th Street Public Market was ahead of its time. Yet in a city like Charlotte, there are always others hoping to catch up, and the Uptown market that’s home to concepts such as Orrman’s Cheese Shop, Jimmy Pearls, and more has faced tough competition as food halls have grown in popularity — and funding. Suber has worked tirelessly to put 7th Street Public Market back in the center of conversation.
Pastry Chef of the Year
Lex Druhan, 300 East
A staple in its own right, 300 East has become known as an incubator for the city’s top pastry talent. Lex Druhan is the latest to take on the role of pastry chef there, and in that role has learned and earned her place in conversations about the city’s best dessert makers. Druhan’s creations exhibit the restraint and technique imparted from 300 East operating partner Ashley Boyd, with a sense of personality that is all her own.
Faith Morley, Counter- / Biblio
If food were a love language, Faith Morley’s root vegetable tart from Counter-‘s terroir menu would embody it. From the tart’s stunning ombré visuals to the crust that crumbled delicately in your mouth, the dish showed a dedication to craft in flavor, storytelling, and sheer work hours. It’s that dedication that makes Morley among the best in town.
Ann Marie Stefaney, Restaurant Constance
There seems to be a trend of Ann Marie Stefaney leading the pastry program at seminal restaurants. Stefaney’s name first became a known one in the food scene during her time at Heirloom, where she helped Clark Barlowe launch his Carolina-only sourced tasting menu concept. She joined chef/owner Sam Diminich earlier this year at Restaurant Constance, a restaurant we expect will be similarly significant in Charlotte’s future culinary history.
Chef of the Year
presented by Motown Spice Provisions
Robin Anthony, Omakase Experience by Prime Fish and Prime Fish
What Charlotte is willing to pay for has long held chefs back from ambitious menus — but not Robin Anthony. The self-trained chef gained the trust of customers at his Ballantyne sushi restaurant, Prime Fish, by serving some of the city’s freshest, most flavorful sushi. When he launched a series of pop-ups serving traditional Japanese chef’s choice tasting menus, guests clamored for seats, and tickets sold out nearly immediately. Those same customers are now trusting Anthony to lead them through one of the city’s most expensive dining experiences.
Sam Diminich, Restaurant Constance
If you’ve ever wondered what Charlotte’s signature cuisine is, you’ll find the best example of it at Sam Diminich’s Restaurant Constance. While Diminich’s menu borrows flavors from around the globe, his meticulous sourcing of local ingredients clearly grounds each dish in the Carolinas. Combined with nearly flawless technique and plate composition, Diminich has shown that using ingredients from home is the best way for Charlotte to set itself apart from other food cities.
Sam Hart, Counter-
Another year, another step closer to Charlotte earning its first James Beard Award, with Sam Hart of Counter- becoming the second local chef to make it to the Finalist round. Yet instead of viewing the honor as an indication of their success as a chef, Hart has used the opportunity as an expanded platform to advocate for change. That change touches a wide spectrum of the restaurant industry, from a living wage for all to preventing soil depletion and never putting customers above the wellbeing of staff.
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