Twist on tradition


January 1, 2022

With a new culinary team and a community transformation underway, Gallery restaurant at The Ballantyne Hotel remains one of Charlotte’s premier dining destinations.

by Cathy Martin

For Charlotte native Charles Gardiner, cooking is a family affair. His dad, a former chef at The Park Hotel (now Charlotte Marriott SouthPark), and brother are both in the business, which is known for long hours and night and weekend work. 

“The story I hear, I was like 2-and-a-half, and [my father] was actually home for dinner one night — and I asked my mom who the strange man having dinner with us was,” Gardiner says. Not long after that, his dad transitioned to a culinary teaching job to achieve a better work-life balance. 

Still, tales like that never discouraged Gardiner from pursuing a career as a chef. He’s been hooked since his first job at Greensboro’s Starmount Forest Country Club when he was 16. 

Now, as earthmovers convert a golf course into a massive new public park just steps from The Ballantyne Hotel, Gardiner, 33, leads culinary operations at the 208-room property, including the flagship Gallery restaurant. He joined The Ballantyne in June, part of an all-new culinary team that also includes Pastry Chef Christine Clancy, Food & Beverage Director Alan Grant, and sommelier and Director of Outlets Andrew Brandwein.

The Gallery has long been considered a top dining experience in Charlotte. But, in typical Charlotte fashion, the upscale suburban spot is often overshadowed by the shiny-and-new restaurants in uptown, South End and SouthPark. A recent visit to sample the new fall and winter menu was a reminder why the Gallery should remain high on the list for an upscale dinner in a relaxed setting. 

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited The Ballantyne, you might not have noticed the multimillion-dollar renovation that was completed at the hotel in 2018. Gone is the dark wood and green-and-burgundy color scheme, replaced with a gray-and-white palette, a lighter, airier vibe, and contemporary furnishings. 

At the Gallery, one thing that hasn’t changed is an emphasis on top-notch service. In the kitchen, Gardiner takes more of a farm-to-table approach than is typically found in hotel restaurants. He sources ingredients from Freshlist, Tega Hills Farms, Urban Gourmet Farms and other local purveyors for the menu, described as “redefined Southern cuisine.”

“I like to take things that are really traditional and tweak and adjust a little bit,” Gardiner says. The seasonal menu boasts many recognizable ingredients, but don’t be fooled by the straightforward descriptions — the preparation behind the plates is far more complex than at first glance. 

Take for example, the Chicken and Black Truffle entrée. “It’s the most involved dish we have on the menu,” Chef Gardiner says. Joyce Farms chicken is brined overnight before adding two layers of house-made mousseline. The chicken is cooked sous vide, and the dish is finished with fresh-shaved truffles, truffle jus and an apple balsamic and served with a carrot puree, roasted trumpet mushrooms and cipollini onions for an earthy, balanced flavor.   

Executive Chef Charles Gardiner

A favorite dish of Chef Gardiner’s is the Olive Oil Confit Beets appetizer. Red and yellow beets are accompanied by macadamia cheese, white chocolate yuzu powder and a pomegranate vinaigrette in a dish that’s as pretty on the plate as it is flavorful. “It’s a lot of fun,” Gardiner says. “I love beets, and I love when someone orders it, and they’re like, ‘I normally don’t like beets, but I love that dish, too.’”

The Seared Diver Scallops entree is prime example of Gardiner adding his own spin to a familiar dish. Tender sea scallops are seared until golden and served with a Hendersonville apple curry puree, fava beans, pickled golden raisins and a yuzu dressing. “The curry, golden raisins, capers and radish is a classic flavor combination, but it’s not the normal Southern American type of dish,” Gardiner says. 

Other entrees include a Seared Duck Breast with celery root, toasted buckwheat, confit duck and walnut orange jus; Faroe Island Salmon with charred corn and risotto; and a Pastrami Spiced Short Rib with potato galette, haricots verts and red wine jus.

Gardiner didn’t always plan to be chef. He started out as a computer science major at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, though he continued working in kitchens while he was in school. “I saw a competition that the chef I worked for at the time was doing,” he says. “I withdrew the next day and moved to Asheville and started school up there the following semester at [Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College].”

He went on to work at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, followed by stints at Chevy Chase Club in Maryland and, recently, the Club at Longview in Waxhaw, where he was named executive chef at 27. Gardiner attributes his success in the business to the great mentors he’s worked with, including three master chefs.

“I feel like we’re a hidden gem,” Gardiner says of the restaurant tucked inside the Ballantyne, a member of Marriott’s Luxury Collection. That’s likely to change with the completion of Stream Park, which will bring park visitors right to the steps leading to the hotel lobby.  

It came as a bit of a surprise when Ballantyne owner Northwood Office announced in 2019 it was replacing its 18-hole golf course with an 8-acre community park. It’s part of a major redevelopment of the area, dubbed Ballantyne Reimagined, that will also add mixed-use buildings, apartments, a 2,000-seat amphitheater and more. 

“I think when you can see the vision though, it makes a lot of sense,” Gardiner says. “It will be really grand, and pretty special when it’s all done.”  SP

Cover photo: Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

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