Stories / Opinion, Impact

Queen City on the Rise

Why a group of Charlotte’s top chefs came together to discuss their impact and identity as a culinary community

William Dissen

July 08, 2019

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Charlotte Chef Summit participants photo Ashley Kosiak
The Charlotte Chef Summit participants at Elma C. Lomax Research Farm (photo: Ashley Kosiak)

In our ongoing op-ed series, we’re featuring voices from the culinary community in an effort to allow them to weigh in and express their personal positions on the food-system issues they’re most passionate about.  

Our latest piece comes from William Dissen, chef/owner of three popular North Carolina eateries: the Marketplace Restaurant, Haymaker Restaurant, and Billy D's Fried Chicken. Below, the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change alum shares the inspiration behind last month's James Beard Foundation Chef Summit in Charlotte, where of 25 area chefs sat down to discuss how best to shape their local food economy and culture.

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How do you define your community? The Queen City, a.k.a. Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. It’s also one of the most diverse cities in the Southeast, with the fastest growing Latinx community in the country. Although it has been defined for decades as a center for banking and corporate culture, in recent years there has also been a grass roots effort to tap into the heritage of the farming community that flanks the city in all directions.

Agriculture reigns supreme as North Carolina’s largest economic driver. In the Piedmont region there is no lack of farms, dairies, or artisan food producers. So, as our local culinary community has grown, it has been increasingly imperative to connect with the farmers and producers working to help build our palates and provide more options for our menus.

Chefs like Joe Kindred, Paul Verica, Ashley Boyd, Bruce Moffett, and Chris Coleman have been celebrating the local markets and the seasonal bounty for years. Other culinary leaders like Kris Reid of the Piedmont Culinary Guild have pushed to bring our city together to discuss topics around the culinary scene.

As an alumnus of the James Beard Foundation’s Chef’s Boot Camp For Policy and Change, I felt that we had a great opportunity to bring chefs and changemakers from our region together to discuss how to create a culinary identity for Charlotte and the surrounding area. The combined economic growth and influx of newcomers offers a chance to shape our community’s perspective on our food. We can make a shift to advocating for good food—delicious, nutritious food that is produced in a sustainable way—while still celebrating the creative guard of chefs, farmers, and makers who feed us.

Twenty-five of Charlotte’s most outspoken chefs met for a roundtable discussion at Haymaker Restaurant, where the conversation ranged from what it takes to make change through food, to how to harness our voices not just as individuals, but as a community. We talked about issues that were near and dear to us, such as the burgeoning cultural diversity of different neighborhoods, how to source better ingredients in our kitchens, and how to focus our charitable giving to make more of an impact.  

The day ended with a farm tour at the Elma C. Lomax Research Farm in Concord, North Carolina. In between, we snuck in a meal with some locally and seasonally inspired salads and some Billy D’s Fried Chicken sandwiches (after all, it wouldn’t be a chef summit without some good food of our own). After our tour and a little farm labor (a.k.a. team building), we had the privilege of dining together at Lomax, our meal prepared by a local high school culinary program.

Throughout the day we unearthed the deeper shared values within Charlotte’s culinary collective and created actionable tasks for creating growth, connection, and better community-driven initiatives in the city.  

So, how do we define the Queen City? As our home gains more and more national attention, we want to shape the conversation to reflect our core values. Our definition is based on the concept of #GoodFoodForGood, as showcased through our diverse population and the many cultures that break bread at our restaurants and bring their delicious heritages to the table. We hope to spread that message through the powerful voices shaping Charlotte not only as an impressive place to eat, but as a community that helps each other grow.

We all left feeling hopeful and empowered by the experience of being together, and knowing that going forward, our story is one of unity. We think you can taste the difference.

Learn more about the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change.

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William Dissen is the chef/owner of The Market Place Restaurant, Haymaker Restaurant, and Billy D's Fried Chicken in Asheville, North Carolina. When he’s not behind the stove in his kitchens, you can find him working to make change in his communities through good food. Find him on Instagram and Twitter.