Chances are, if you’ve dined at Charlotte’s top restaurants during the last decade you’ve indulged in at least a few of the fruits of Jamie Lynch’s labor. Since moving to Charlotte in 2002, the now 34-year-old chef has acted as sous chef at local foodie favorites like uptown’s Blue Restaurant & Bar and SouthPark’s Barrington’s Restaurant. But last year, Lynch stepped out of the shadows when he helped launch the swanky and sexy new 5Church.
“I’d been looking for my own thing for awhile,” says the New York native, whose pre-Charlotte resume included stints at famed spots like Café Bouloud, Le Cirque, and Aureole. “As soon as they pitched it, I was in.”
And if the constant crowds are any indication, his intuition was good. The 140-seat 5Church was an instant success. With three of its four owners having nightlife-focused backgrounds, the sleek locale caters partly to the club scene—there are multiple levels and a private bar upstairs—and partly to those seeking inventive fare. “My idea was the take familiar food and do it in a way that people haven’t seen before,” he says. “But this restaurant isn’t here to tell people how to eat or drink—we’re here to supply great food. “
Now, the guys behind it are poised for their next venture, a new restaurant that Lynch will also helm. But that’s certainly not all this talented chef has on his plate. When he moved to Charlotte after becoming disenchanted with a post-9/11 New York, Lynch was originally discouraged by the city’s culinary landscape. “There were good chefs and it was a good experience, but it was different,” says Lynch, pointing to chefs like Tim Groody and Gene Briggs. “The scene was kind of desolate.”
He set out to change that—aiding friends in opening new restaurants and familiarizing himself with local farms. Now, in addition to hosting wine tasting dinners and farm-to-table events, he’s jumped into the city’s fast-growing craft beer set. “I’m a big supporter of anything local,” he says, pointing to his current favorite 5Church menu item, the Coco Loco Duck Mole, braised in NoDa Brewing Company’s Coco Loco Porter.
Lynch may be especially partial to NoDa. His intimate Jan. 31 wedding to the brewery’s marketing guru, Courtney Valvo, will be held in their taproom. Valvo also happens to be his partner in what may be his most innovative venture yet, an underground supper club called the Cheshire Dinner Society.
The society, which celebrates its one-year anniversary in February, features invite-only dinners shrouded in mystery with guests being given details the day before the dinner. “I wanted it to feel like a mad tea party,” says Valvo, noting that the name was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. “There’s art and music and the dinners are usually lit with candles or lamps.”
The 25-person dinners have been held once a month at a variety of spaces around town including restaurants, art galleries, and even personal homes. But the overwhelming response has prompted Lynch, Valvo, and their third partner, Joel Tracey, to raise the stakes. Starting this month they’ll be doubling the number of events—and throwing in creative twists like a Chinese New Year celebration and a sushi dinner. “It’s felt like a social experiment,” says Lynch. “For me—Cheshire, 5Church—they’re all about changing expectations in this community.”
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