Charlotte chefs break the mold as gourmet caterers
October 31, 2022
by Michelle Boudin
Across Charlotte, talented chefs who honed their craft in restaurants are now running fruitful catering companies, bringing their unique flair with food to special events and private affairs. From Southern comfort food to French and Mediterranean cuisine, they’re each cooking up something different this holiday season – and they’re much happier working outside the line.
An orchestra of flavors
CHEF TILLIE EVENTS, Tillie Kerna
Tillie Kerna, known to most as Chef Tillie, says she discovered the farm-to-table approach to cooking long before it was a trend, thanks to an adventurous childhood in the Pacific Northwest. “I gardened, cooked, baked, fished, hunted and foraged with my family. I was taught from childhood to value fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and it instilled in me the notion of appreciating the roots of my food.”
Kerna attended culinary school in France to master the fundamentals and spent time working in restaurants, but she quickly decided she wasn’t a fan of the lifestyle. She walked away from cooking for more than a decade. “I desperately missed the culinary arts, so when we moved back to Charlotte in 2005, I started my personal-chef business.”
Chef Tillie Events specializes in boutique catering, destination events, dinner parties with five to 20 courses, and cooking classes with a focus on Mediterranean and Japanese food — and sometimes a fusion of the two.
“With my multicourse dinner parties, my clients become guests in their own homes while hosting an experience that ignites all the senses. My clients trust me to dig deep into their cultural roots to create menus for their dinner parties and events.”
Kerna says crafting the menus is a never-ending learning process.
“Creating menus and testing recipes might be my favorite part of the process — the menus are like an orchestra and the plates are an expression of my art, where one ingredient plays off the other to create an experience like no other.”
HOLIDAY DISH: One thing that does stay the same is her take on the holiday classics. She always makes beef Wellington and a few other standards. “Over the holidays it is traditional to make my classic cioppino,” an Italian-American seafood stew with a tomato broth. “Being from the West Coast, this seafood stew was always a Christmas Eve tradition, with fresh-baked sourdough bread. Over the years it has evolved into the absolute perfect dish, and it’s always a showstopper.”
CLICK HERE to learn the recipe for Chef Tillie’s popular pistachio, cranberry & honey chèvre truffles.
From potlucks to dinner parties
CRAFTED PLATE, Charles Reid
Growing up in Fredericksburg, Va., Charles Reid’s first job was as a breakfast and banquet cook at a Holiday Inn Select. “I was extremely fortunate to have a chef that I worked under who made things from scratch and took the time to teach me things like how to make a stock properly and what to look for when creating a plate.”
Still, the owner of Crafted Plate thought he’d grow up to be a geologist until he realized, “Most geologists don’t get to hunt for gemstones all day, they go to work for the Department of Transportation.” He also realized the dinner table was the one place most people seemed happy most of the time. “My father was a pastor, and we attended church potlucks frequently. I got to see and taste variations of dishes like deviled eggs, meatballs, baked beans, macaroni and cheese etc., and compare them side by side.”
The Johnson & Wales University graduate says the church was the perfect training ground for the catering company he launched last year after shoulder surgery forced him to take a break and reflect on his career. Reid previously worked at Upstream and Clean Catch Fish Market, and he didn’t want to go back to the crazy pace of restaurant life.
“I started to put ideas down on paper and set up a business plan. In May of 2021, I ventured out on my own and started Crafted Plate.”
Crafted Plate caters small to medium dinner parties and social functions, where Reid puts his own spin on beloved Southern dishes.
“I would describe my food as eclectic, drawing on different inspirations and experiences from my life. I’ve been blessed to eat amazing down-home, Southern cooking made with real soul, and I have also dined at and worked in three-Michelin-star restaurants,” he says, referring to a three-month internship at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York.
This holiday season, the chef expects to make a lot of soups. “People love soups during cold-weather seasons, and I enjoy the process of making soup. Curried butternut squash soup, clam chowder, lentil and spinach soup, and the list goes on. The stock pot is an amazing canvas to work with.”
HOLIDAY DISH: “My favorite dish to cook for the holidays is oysters Rockefeller. It’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. My favorite dish to eat during the holidays is my mom’s banana cake. It’s a recipe that’s been in our family for generations, and my mom makes it perfectly.”
For a fall/winter version of beef bourguignon, Chef Patrick Garrivier slow-braises the meat in red wine for three hours.
The dish is served with potatoes mousseline, smoked bacon, mushrooms, baby carrots and crispy shallots. Photographs by Justin Driscoll.
PATRICK’S GOURMET, Patrick Garrivier
After more than four decades in restaurant kitchens from France to New York and Charlotte, Patrick Garrivier traded cooking on the line for catering — and he couldn’t be happier.
“Catering is a lot less stressful for me,” says Garrivier, a native of Lyon, France. “The overhead is less, and I can do my own schedule. It gives me a lot of freedom. With a restaurant, you have to be there almost 24 hours a day. Now I make my own hours and spend more time with my family, which never happened before in the restaurant business.”
Trained at a culinary school in Lyon, Garrivier ran the acclaimed Aix en Provence in Myers Park from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he helped open Lumiere and served as a consultant at Georges Brasserie after he moved from New York to Charlotte in 2013.
He started Patrick’s Gourmet in summer 2020 during the heart of the pandemic, focusing on traditional French food with some Mediterranean, northern Italian and Spanish influences.
“My background is French, my restaurant was French and the customer base was asking for French food. It’s very hard to find in Charlotte,” he says.
Garrivier typically caters small weddings and in-home private dinners and parties. Over the holidays, he expects to serve a lot of his signature dish, a traditional southern France entree: duck cassoulet with duck confit, lardons, baked white beans and garlic sausage.
While Garrivier creates custom menus for the holidays, his Thanksgiving dinner has a French twist. “We don’t serve the whole turkey on the bone. We take the carcass out and stuff it with a chestnut stuffing and foie gras, tie it back up and roast it, and then we slice it across like a roast.”
HOLIDAY DISH: For Christmas, Garrivier does a French iteration of the classic beef Wellington, with mousseline potatoes and house-made duck liver. “We cure it, macerate in milk and we use wine in it … Our customers love it because it’s a little different.”
Engineering a career
ROOTS CATERING, Craig Barbour
From a young age, Craig Barbour knew he was either going to be a mechanical engineer or a chef. He grew up helping rebuild engines at the machine shop his dad owned, but he was also tasked with making dinner most nights. “My dad would cut out recipes from the Sunday paper, and my mom would line up all the instructions because neither of them were home in time to start dinner.”
In college, he worked on cars with a racing team and waited tables at a seafood dive at a Best Western “to pay for beer and rent” when, one day, all the cooks walked off the job.
“Once I started cooking and got my hands dirty, I thought, this is fun — it’s like engineering something, but there’s much more instant gratification.” He moved to Charlotte to attend Johnson & Wales in 2007, but most of his formal training came from working at Carmel Country Club.
“I did a lot of learning there, doing super high-end platters and 100-person, kid-friendly buffets.”
From there, Barbour worked at Barrington’s under two of Charlotte’s most acclaimed chefs — owner Bruce Moffett and Jamie Lynch, now with the 5th Street Group. “I was lucky enough that when I was there, Bruce was still cooking on the line, and then Jamie Lynch was on the right side of me on the line. So for eight months I got to cook alongside two of the best chefs in Charlotte.”
Not long after that, Barbour started the Roots food truck and in 2017 launched Roots Catering. He now has a team of 20, and they average 250 events a year, mostly weddings.
Roots is all about using fresh ingredients in a simple but sophisticated way, Barbour says. “We do super simple, basic stuff that people love. We have a grilled veggie mix that people want at pretty much every event we do — grilled squash, zucchini, bell pepper, carrots and onion, [seasoned with] herbs, garlic and olive oil — people go crazy for it.”
Ditching the food truck was an easy decision, Barbour says. “It was a hard way of life, with extreme lows and extreme highs and very stressful. I was essentially a food-truck repair guy, and there was no cooking in it for me. Now our schedule is preplanned, we know the money we are getting rain or shine, and there are not really late nights like at a restaurant.”
HOLIDAY DISH: Barbour’s family looks forward to his sauerkraut every Thanksgiving. “I don’t know where that tradition started, but I remember my grandmother always made it with apples and a little bit of apple juice. You strain off all the liquid, simmer that and to me it’s like the same contrast you get when you’re using fresh cranberries on the turkey. There’s a sweet tang and a little bit of crunch — it’s the best on a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.” SP