The menu is all picked out for April 16, when five Charlotte culinary stars cook a sold-out dinner at the legendary James Beard House in New York.
They’ve lined up extra kitchen space at the West Village restaurant Bell, Book & Candle. They’ve planned their extracurriculars, like Heritage chef Paul Verica’s reservation at the gut-suckingly expensive (but worth it) Eleven Madison Park. Punch Room mixologist Bob Peters has a list of bar visits that would melt an Uber app (The Dead Rabbit, Angel’s Share, Boilermaker).
There was just this last thing: Gather at Chris Coleman’s restaurant, The Asbury, this past Monday and make chicken biscuits.
At the Charleston Food & Wine Festival last month, Coleman and Blake Hartwick of Bonterra were interviewed by the food-focused nonprofit Heritage Radio Network when a crazy idea came up: On the night before the Beard House dinner, A Taste of Charlotte, how about if they hold a chicken-biscuit challenge with the NYC restaurant Root & Bone?
The chefs – Coleman, Hartwick, Verica and 300 East/Heritage pastry chef Ashley Bivens Boyd, along with Peters – decided to go for it. So April 15, from 4 to 7 p.m., they’ll take over happy hour at Root & Bone and throw down their best biscuit.
Everybody is taking a component: Coleman on biscuits, Hartwick on chicken, Verica on coleslaw and pickled vegetables, Boyd on jam, and a cocktail by Peters to wash it down. Tickets are $5 a biscuit with proceeds going to Heritage Radio. Bragging rights go to whoever sells the most.
First, though, they had to taste their options. Coleman turned out three kinds of biscuits (butter only; butter and shortening; butter, shortening and Benton’s bacon grease), some sprinkled with benne seeds and herbs.
Hartwick came up with two chicken-thigh variations, one marinated in cider and buttermilk, then rolled in crushed cornflakes and self-rising flour. The other marinated in sorghum and Kentuckyaki, a teriyaki aged in bourbon barrels, then dipped in egg wash with his own hot sauce.
Boyd came up with a strawberry spin on mostarda, the Italian sweet/hot condiment. Verica pickled pretty much everything at New Town Farms, plus a couple of coleslaws. And Peters got busy at the bar, putting together a cocktail he calls the Old Thymey, with lemon, thyme syrup, burnt orange peel and Basil Hayden bourbon.
Spreading it all out on a table in the empty restaurant, they picked and sorted: The biscuit with all three fats, definitely. The chicken with the darker, crunchier cornflake crust but the sorghum-Kentuckyaki marinade. Boyd’s mostarda, but amp up the mustard.
Finally, they relaxed for just a minute. A discussion of a chef fantasy got started: Let’s open a fast-food restaurant and serve sausage biscuits with grape jelly and mustard. Let’s put Bojangles’-style wax-paper diapers on the biscuits. Maybe Peters should wear a chicken-biscuit bra.
“I love you guys so much,” Peters joked over his empty plate of biscuit crumbs and mostarda smears.
OK, back to work: They clear their table, bus their plates, and scatter. Verica has a 9-column spreadsheet that covers his part of the Beard House menu. And yes, after the recent James Beard Award nominations missed Charlotte once again, there’s more than bragging rights on the line with this dinner. The foundation says 40 percent of the 80 seats were bought by people in Charlotte. (You can watch live on the Beard Kitchen Cam, starting at 6:15 p.m. April 16.)
In the kitchen, Boyd drops off her plate and mutters, “Where do I go next?”
To New York, chef. It’s that way.