Chris Coleman has been a part of the Charlotte food scene for almost as long as Charlotte has had a food scene. He started his career at McNinch House, then opened The Asbury, and is now performing culinary feats at Stoke, a brand new eatery located within the Charlotte Marriott.
Read on for a bit more from native North Carolinian Chris Coleman, on everything from his grandparent’s Mississippi farm to responsible cooking.
How did spending summers on a farm affect your perspective on food and cooking?
I grew up in a typical 80’s suburban home that was pretty disconnected from the food chain… Food came from the grocery store, duh! Spending time on my grandparents’ farm in Mississippi opened my eyes a bit more to the process. We ate PawPaw’s beef, we picked fruit, we ate eggs from a neighbor’s farm, we helped MawMaw process jams and can peas and beans for later use. It was cool but not in an overtly “locavore” way; that’s just the way they lived. I’ve tried to tap into that with how we respect our ingredients and in marketing what I do. I believe every responsible restaurant should be looking within its own community for resources, and maybe shout a little less about it.
What do you think your grandparents would think of your cooking? What would they think of your restaurant?
Unfortunately, my MawMaw passed a few years ago, so she never got to experience The Asbury or now Stoke. I did have the pleasure of serving them at McNinch House, though. I think they were very proud and maybe a little shocked at what we were doing with food. I’ll never forget serving them a pork chop that was cooked medium. They were just from an era where meat was cooked very well done. That being said, I think they’d be proud of what we’ve created here. I‘ve talked with my grandfather on a few occasions about cooking with local products and I know he’s appreciative of that.
Why did you gravitate toward the culinary industry? What do you most enjoy about cooking?
I’ve always been a hands-on guy. There’s no way I could sit in an office all day. I’m also an artsy guy. This profession allows me to create, to work with my hands, and to work on my feet (for good or bad). I also love to eat, so that’s a perk!
Your culinary style is often described as “modern Southern.” Did you immediately adopt this style or did you dabble in others before settling into your culinary voice?The best food is made by people that are expressive and representative of who they are, because you can taste the love, pride, care, and respect in the food. I could cook Thai, or Sicilian, or Baja Mexican, but that isn’t who I am. In short, I cook the food I know. That’s not to say chefs can’t cook outside their own life experiences, it just works best for me.
You were born in North Carolina and attended culinary school in Charlotte; why did you decide to stay here?Honestly, I stayed in Charlotte for my wife and her family. This is my home, I have roots here, and it’s a great place to live, so I’m not complaining. Professionally, this is a budding scene that I’m happy to be a part of. We don’t have a food culture yet, because we’re basically a brand new city with a transient population, so we’re able to create one. We have a lot of extremely talented chefs and a lot of passionate farmers who work together in a symbiotic way that I enjoy being a part of. Everyone is trying to build each other up and make our city great.