Chef Chris Coleman is tall and maybe a smidge lanky with cleanly combed hair and an easygoing demeanor we liken to a Southern drawl personified: relaxed and deliberate. At the tender age of 30, this self-proclaimed "mama's boy" is a veteran of Charlotte's culinary scene. Coleman, who was born and raised here, cut his teeth at 14 as a busboy at the local fish camp. He began working at McNinch House, the uber-pricey dining destination of the Charlotte elite, while attending culinary school at CPCC. He stayed there for nine years, which, in his words, is kind of a lifetime for a chef.
Recently, Coleman accepted a new position with the Dunhill Hotel as its culinary director, where he will tackle everything food and beverage, including the goings-on at Harvest Moon Grille (235 N Tryon St.). We caught up with Coleman to get the spiel about his new gig, what makes him giddy and his thoughts on the state of Charlotte's culinary scene.
Creative Loafing: Harvest Moon Grille, for a time, was inextricably linked to Cassie Parsons, the former executive chef of the restaurant and her efforts at bringing local food to the restaurant plate. It's one of the most known farm-to-table restaurants in the city. How do you plan on putting your spin on Harvest Moon Grille?
Chris Coleman: I'd like to apply some of the lessons I learned at McNinch, meaning the attention and focus to the smallest of details. [At Harvest Moon Grille] we get the best ingredients than any restaurant in town, and we have a network of farmers that we rely on. I want to let the flavors of our ingredients shine through, because when you get a perfect tomato or a perfect turnip, you don't want to mess it up. At the same time, I want to elevate things at Harvest Moon, make it a little more fine dining.
I'm excited that 98 percent of what's on our menu comes from within 100 miles of Charlotte. I mean, that makes a chef giddy. When you know exactly who is raising your food, that's awesome.
How would you define your culinary style?
Modern Southern. We have such an awesome food history in the South, and I want to embrace [that] and also look ahead to what's current and around us. We have all these different cultures that are moving into the South now. It's taking those food traditions and combining them with ours, creating an elevated cuisine that is Southern and modern all at the same time.
What do you think about the state of Charlotte's food scene these days? What's good and what's lacking?
It's exciting. I'm Charlotte-born and -bred, so it's been huge growth over the last 10 years. I'd like to see the continued emergence of farm-to-fork. More and more people are buying into the local concept, and we just have some really awesome students coming out of our culinary programs. We also have some really brilliant chefs. I love what Jamie Lynch and Marc Jacksina are doing with MAP Management; Jonathan Fortes has really elevated Mimosa Grill. And then there are places that aren't even open to the public, like what Kris Reid is doing over at Southminster Retirement Community. It's fan-friggin'-tastic to see them put a garden on the premises and grow food there.
I think we're still lacking a little diversity. It's not that we don't have it — it's just not being integrated. There are pockets of ethnic spots. Sadly, everything on Tryon looks the same. I would love to see those smaller ethnic, regional spots popping up here. Another thing that is not lacking, but maybe too abundant, is the focus on meat and potatoes. It's sad that the majority of Charlotteans still want steak and potatoes when they go out.