When Food Network star chef Rocco Whalen announced that he was expanding his culinary empire from Cleveland to Charlotte, local food lovers rejoiced. Not only is the enthusiastic chef bringing his beloved recipes south, but he’ll be serving them up from the roof of the 22-story Skye Condominiums uptown.
The 4,000-square-foot Farenheit Restaurant features a pool, garden and 360-degree views of Charlotte. We caught up with the busy chef and owner to chat before the grand opening this month.
Q. So, why Charlotte?
A. Why not? No one is really from Charlotte, and it seemed like the perfect city to take a chance with. This is a great city with great opportunities. And it has opened its arms to me. But I don’t want to be the new guy in town. I just want to open a restaurant.
Q. OK. Anything in particular that drew you here, though?
A.Well, we’re planning on really injecting ourselves into Johnson & Wales. That’s a great resource. And there’s such good local food here. I want to get with Grateful Growers and do the snout-to-tail thing. I’m really in love with Cloister Honey. And I’m looking for a local roaster for our coffee. If I can know the farmers and use them, then it keeps the money in the Carolinas.
Q. What about local drinks?
A.We’ll have six rotating tap handles with local beers from places like Olde Mecklenburg, Birdsong and NoDa. We’re really promoting Charlotte. Plus, this city has really good beer. The jalapeño ale from Birdsong changed my life.
Q. Think you could use your clout to get some of this local fare in the national spotlight?
A. Great food goes a long way. If being a celebrity chef means getting the opportunity to bring in Food Network friends to do some dinners, then that’s great – we can have fun with that. And maybe we can have a “Top Chef: Charlotte.” I’m sick of Charleston getting all the credit.
Q. Any other plans for the city?
A. I’m going to do a food truck here. It will be an extension of what we can do. But we’re going to walk before we run. We’re going to get a finger on the pulse of the scene and decide how we can grow and how to challenge people’s palates. So far, everyone has been open.
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