Normally their work takes center stage in the form of Instagram stories and feature images. Instead, we set out to highlight the creative geniuses behind some Charlotte’s most beloved dishes and hotspots. Read on for our city’s must-know chefs right now and where to find them.
Chef Jonathan Shuler
Dilworth Tasting Room
It’s not every day that you find chefs whose boxing skills are just as sharp as their culinary talents. But that’s Chef Jonathan Shuler, who helms the kitchen at Dilworth Tasting Room. Since assuming the role of Executive Chef in June, Shuler has focused on crafting simple yet flavorful dishes people love to eat.
“My approach is to keep it simple and not over complicate food. I love putting my twist on traditional dishes keeping them exciting and flavorful,” Shuler says.
Shuler delivers fresh spins on tried-and-true favorites (think cheese and charcuteries boards, flatbreads and paninis) and new dishes, many of which that highlight the Croatian heritage of Dilworth Tasting Room’s owners. Newcomers to the menu include daily pasta dishes made in-house, a daily market fish and seasonal salads sourced from local famers.
Before joining the DTR team, Shuler served as Executive Chef at Rock Salt. He also worked at Raleigh’s Taste Restaurant and The Oak Scratch Kitchen Bourbon Bar, where he served as Sous Chef and Chef de Cuisine.
A cook since childhood, Chef Nicholas Tarnate has taken helm of the kitchen at Bar Marcel, SouthPark’s newest Italian spot with French and Spanish influences.
As a student, Tarnate’s passion for cooking shared the spotlight with his studies as a philosophy major at UNC Charlotte. Tarnate also taught martial arts during the day and cooked in restaurants at night.
Upon reading Chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook,” Tarnate turned all his attention to the culinary arts. In 2017 he even got to work as an apprentice at the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley. (He also did internships at Melisse in Santa Monica, California, and Bouchon Bistro, another Thomas Keller restaurant in Napa.)
Other experience includes work at Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth, Lumiere French Kitchen and his most recent position as Executive Chef at Aix en Provence. As opening chef, Tarnate earned Charlotte Magazine’s Best New Restaurant honor in 2016.
When asked about his plans for the menu at Bar Marcel:
“I’ll continue Bar Marcel’s focus on the roots of Italian cuisine, with attention paid to the Umbria, Emilia Romagna, Sicily and Piedmont regions,” Tarnate says. “I’ll also concentrate on French cuisine while introducing influences from Morocco, Tunisia and Spain.”
Fran’s Filling Station
Fran Scibelli, the owner and creative force behind Fran’s Filling Station, is on a mission: to serve food in a way that nurtures the spirit as well as the body. It’s that commitment to hospitality that’s turned the Dilworth eatery into a beloved Charlotte destination.
Scibelli has played an active role in the city’s culinary scene since 1994, when she opened her first restaurant, the Metropolitan Café. She also served as a consultant to Dean & Deluca in Napa Valley.
A “Fran’s Favorites” section on the menu combined with Scibelli’s passion for fresh ingredients, thoughtfully crafted food and hospitality continue to make guests feel right at home.
Chef Luigi Nastri
Sensi – Charlotte
Michelin Star Chef Luigi Nastri is a native of Italy’s Amalfi coast, and is now sharing his talents at South Charlotte’s Sensi.
After starting as Commis de Cuisine with Pellegrini Catering, Chef Luigi and a team of Chefs served lunch to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Termini Station inauguration.
In Shanghai, Chef Luigi furthered his career as a consultant for Griffith Laboratories Ltd., creating a line of proprietary products for a chain of Italian restaurants in Southeast Asia. In addition to travels across France and South America, Nastri taught his techniques to Master Chefs at the Professional Institute of Italian Chefs Academy in Fukuoka, Japan.
Chef Sam Diminich
After working his way up the ranks in family restaurants, Chef Sam Diminich earned a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America. He then gained experience at BLT Steak Charlotte before joining Upstream in 2003 as Sous Chef, followed by tenure as Executive Chef at Charlotte’s Arpa. Before joining Upstream in late 2017 as Chef de Cuisine, Diminich worked under Executive Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta at The Hampton’s Restaurant in Sumter.
Diminich delights guests at Upstream by infusing local ingredients and perfecting a balance of traditional and modern flavors.
Chef Dave Feimster and Chef Rocco Whalen
Together, chefs Dave Feimster and Chef Rocco Whalen make Fahrenheit a rooftop dining destination.
While his culinary knowledge spans cuisines, Feimster excels in Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi. So much so it’s earned him the nickname “Sushi Dave.”
Cleveland native Rocco Whalen spent five years cooking with Wolfgang Puck before returning to his hometown to open Fahrenheit Cleveland. 18 months later he opened Fahrenheit Charlotte. He likes getting guests’ input on dishes, which may include talking with guests in the dining room to find out what they liked about his food.
Chef Paul Verica
In a historic building dating back to 1937, two-time James Beard nominee Paul Verica works alongside his son Alex to bring an ever-evolving menu of whimsical dishes to life at The Stanley.
The Philadelphia native has made an impact on the Charlotte culinary scene, helping open The Duke Mansion, serving as Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director of The Historic Dunhill Hotel and opening his own restaurant in Waxhaw, Heritage Food & Drink.
Heritage’s closing in 2017 allowed Verica to focus on a new venture: The Stanley, which offers farm-to-table fare while incorporating modern techniques and trends.
Outside of the kitchen, Verica enjoys golfing, watching football and collaborating with fellow chefs on charity fundraisers.
Chef Alex Piatt
Aria Tuscan Grill
North Carolina native Alex Piatt, helms the kitchen at Aria Tuscan Grill as Executive Chef, his role since January 2018. Ahead of joining the team in 2015 as Chef de Cuisine. Piatt honed his cooking and kitchen management skills at McCormick & Schmick’s restaurants in Charlotte and Raleigh, rising to become Executive Chef of the Raleigh location.
Alex not only oversees the Aria kitchen and staff, but the restaurant’s catering service as well, which includes Founders Hall.
When not running the kitchen, Piatt can likely be found cheering on the Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers, or expanding his culinary skills.
Twenty Degrees Chocolates
Though a North Carolina native, it was while studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris that chocolatier Casey Hickey says chocolate wooed her and has held her passion ever since.
Following pastry school, Hickey earned a Professional Chocolatier certification from École Chocolat and worked in several San Francisco-area pastry kitchens, including Scharffen Berger chocolate’s Café Cacao.
Guests will find Hickey’s inspiration throughout her hand-crafted artisanal confections, whether it’s from movies and pop culture or her travels to Europe, Africa and the South Pacific. Twenty Degrees Chocolates will soon be available at a new location at Design Center in South End (1930 Camden Rd. Suite 135, next to The Candle Bar).
Chef Stephen Schmitt
WP Kitchen + Bar
A native Charlottean, WP Kitchen + Bar executive chef Stephen Schmitt started out at UNC Charlotte pursuing a computer science degree. But after working in an Uptown kitchen, he decided on a different path.
Schmitt attended the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, while gaining experience at the Caneel Bay resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as Charlotte’s Zink American Kitchen. Over the next seven years, Schmitt worked with the Harper’s Restaurant Group at a number of their locations over the next seven years as a sous chef and chef de cuisine.
In 2012, Schmitt joined the opening team for Wolfgang Puck’s first Pizza Bar, and in 2016 oversaw the restaurant’s transition from a pizza bar to a new concept, WP Kitchen + Bar in Phillips Place.
Chef Matthew Shepard
The McNinch House Restaurant
Chef Matthew Shepard not only enjoys the “magic” in cooking – discovering which flavors go well together and why others don’t – he also cares deeply about the experience.
“I’m passionate about cooking food that not only satisfies people’s hunger but that also satisfies on an emotional level too,” he says.
Chef Shepard is one of the 20 Chefs who has advanced to the Regionals for Chef of the Year at the 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown presented by Got to be NC. Enjoy his dishes at The McNinch House Restaurant, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Executive Chef Anthony Salvato
Corkbuzz – Charlotte
Growing up in an Italian family with roots in Georgia, Executive Chef Anthony Salvato knew the power of good food from an early age.
“Food was always what brought everyone together,” he says.
After attending Culinary School at Le Cordon Bleu in Florida, Salvato worked with Gaylord Hotels before branching off into chef consulting, working with hotel brands and stand-alone restaurants.
Today, you can find him crafting dishes at SouthPark’s Corkbuzz. While he’s not in the kitchen, you can find Salvato spending time with his wife and seven kids.
Chef Thomas Marlow
Mimosa Grill’s Thomas Marlow grew up on his father’s farm, learning first-hand the effort and dedication it takes to grow and produce fresh ingredients.
Today, he brings that respect for farmers, purveyors and producers into each plate he creates at one of Uptown’s most beloved restaurants. In addition to using the freshest ingredients available, Marlow adds his own Southern twist to each dish.
Chef Scott Wallen
In Fort Mill, seasoned chef Scott Wallen uses the knowledge built over his 21-year career to delight guests at the recently-opened Taco Molino.
Wallen’s past experience includes Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Chicago and four years as sous chef at Postrio Bar & Grill in Las Vegas. Wallen also helped launch the Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar concept, starting in Charlotte and expanding to Greensboro, California and Japan.
Back in Charlotte, Wallen served as chef de cuisine at Harper’s Restaurant Group and then executive chef at Upstream Seafood. He also served as Corporate Executive chef for the Burke Hospitality Group (formerly Harpers Restaurant Group), overseeing six restaurants including Upstream Seafood, Mimosa Grill and three Harper’s locations.
Executive Chef Whitney Thomas
Thomas, a North Carolina native, brings more than 13 years of experience to Uptown’s 5Church as Executive Chef. Her current menu offers something for everyone, including seared octopus, mint-crusted lamb loin and seared sea scallops. Don’t miss her newest signature contribution to the menu: the widely popular yellowfin tuna sushi tots made with crispy sushi rice, nori, unagi and sriracha mayo.
Chef James Stouffer
La Belle Helene
Stouffer was announced as Executive Chef in May, and previously worked under Michelin-trained Austrian, French and Italian chefs. In his personal time, his ventures include nurturing his own organic vineyard and staying involved in regional agriculture.
Chef William Dissen
At his restaurants across North Carolina, award-winning chef William Dissen crafts menus sourced by local farms, producers ad fishermen with a focus on sustainability. Dissen’s other restaurants include Asheville’s The Market Place and Billy D’s Fried Chicken in Asheboro.
Before becoming a well-known Charlotte name, Chef Joe Kindred launched his culinary career in Chicago after attending Johnson and Wales in Charleston. His time in Chicago included stints at multiple spots, including The Pump Room, where he met his wife Katy.
To be closer to family, the Kindreds returned to North Carolina. After serving at Rooster’s Uptown as Chef and lead culinary manager for Jim Noble’s four restaurants, the Kindreds started working on realizing their dream: opening a restaurant of their own. Their namesake restaurant, Kindred, opened in Davidson in 2015 followed by Hello, Sailor in Cornelius along the shores of Lake Norman.
Chef Michael G Bowling
Soul Food Sessions
From serving as his mother’s sous chef to cooking at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, Chef Michael Bowling has always felt at home in the kitchen. After working under experienced chefs and opening up his own restaurant in 2005, he co-founded Soul Food Sessions, a dinner series that showcases the talent and styles of black chefs. Bowling’s next venture takes him to Concord, where he will help open Hot Box Next Level Kitchen, a taproom kitchen at Southern Strain Brewing Company.
Chef Clarke Barlowe
Chef Clark Barlowe started his culinary career in Lenoir, North Carolina, but would go on to have stints in California, Spain, Washington D.C. and Providence, Rhode Island. His travels eventually led him back to the state, where he opened his own restaurant: Heirloom.
Inspired by his training and travels, Barlowe commits to keeping dishes local. So local, in fact, he often sources ingredients for Heirloom’s menu from North Carolina’s forests and fields. He also advocates for changing food culture in the U.S. as an active member of non-profit initiatives that address food policy issues.
With past experience at The Asbury, Stoke and as head chef at The McNinch House Restaurant, Chef Chris Coleman brings rich culinary skills and vision to The Goodyear House, a neighborhood bar and restaurant expected to open this fall in NoDa. There, he’ll focus on shared plates described as “modern comfort food sourced from local farmers.”