Before leaving California, Jamarr Shular was on top of the world: he was a regaled chef at Apple's Cupertino campus, and he had a resume that would leave any foodie drooling. So why did the Le Cordon Bleu-educated chef decide to leave it all and take a gamble on the Queen City?
For Shular, it was all about chasing a dream: "Coming out of culinary school seven years ago, my goal was to have my own restaurant," he says. He got the opportunity to bring that goal to fruition when his cousin found an empty space sitting vacant on the corner of North Caldwell and 6th streets. For Shular, securing the "turn-key" location was the only motivation he needed to make the leap from Cupertino to the Carolinas.
A few months later, they opened the doors to NoCA Uptown (the name is a play on Shular's native Northern California, and the restaurant's location on North Caldwell); a west coast-inspired eatery with an open dining space and a unique menu to match. On Shular's list of favorites: fried cheddar grit tots, crawfish croquettes and gouda-stuffed chicken on a bed of shaved brussel sprouts. "I think the people miss a lot in the food culture here," Shular says, comparing Charlotte's food scene with the Bay Area. "That's why I'm here. I want to bring something different to the table."
Creative Loafing: You've described the food your grandmother cooked as "soul food." How do you define soul food?
Jamarr Shular: Me personally, I define soul food as the food that's being cooked when all the family is over. You might have an aunt helping do this, an uncle doing that, a family member coming from out of town bringing a dish. When it's interactive with the family and it's just that good food that we all grew up eating, that's how I define soul food. Being from a predominantly female family, I was always in the kitchen. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and when she was sick and couldn't cook she'd tell me to cook. That's how I really got involved with cooking in the kitchen. Just mom saying, "This is how you cook the rice, sauté the veggies, watch the meat, pull it out." Things of that sort. That's where the love of it came from.
You call NoCA's cuisine "French Southern fusion." What elements of your culinary background did you want to incorporate in the menu?
Coming from Apple, which is really diverse, I was able to cook a lot of different things. I've cooked for so many different types of people and been blessed to use the best ingredients, so I brought that diversity. When I wrote the menu, I was trying to be different. I looked at a lot of other restaurants in the area and put things on my menu that they didn't have. We did some research and said, "I wanna get away from the steak and potatoes and veggies and fish and rice." You come here and won't get a mashed potato, you'll get a parsnip puree. The menu will change seasonally, which is kind of a California thing... keep it seasonal, fresh produce, nothing frozen, everything is made from scratch.
What's the experience that you want people to have at NoCA?
We're going for a luxe, eclectic, California vibe. We're a restaurant and we're a lounge, so we want to start implementing the social dining experience. You come in with a friend or get sat with totally different people and network. My cousin and I feel like back home, everyone gets along. Nobody is tripping on age, gender, race; most people are cool and laid back. That's what we want to bring here — the California vibe. We definitely want it to be more of a social lounge experience. We want people to get out of their shell. We want you to come here, enjoy a meal, enjoy a beverage, and socialize. That's all we're going for, bring the community together, and what better place to do that than here.