Consider this lineup: Duane Nutter, the chef who changed the game for airport food with the opening of One Flew South at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. Keith Rhodes of Catch in Wilmington, a finalist for the James Beard Award and former "Top Chef" contestant. Todd Richards, the executive chef of Richards' Southern Fried in Atlanta. And Gregory Collier, executive chef of The Yolk in Rock Hill and one of the founding members of Charlotte's Soul Food Sessions.
Now consider this: The four of them are coming together for a dinner from 6-9 p.m. July 22 at Bonterra in Dilworth, in honor of Richards' new cookbook, "Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Dishes." The book is getting praise from the likes of John T. Edge and Sean Brock, and has been written about in Publishers Weekly and Garden & Gun.
Before Richards' Southern Fried in Atlanta's Krog Street Market — developed by the some of the same people behind Charlotte's Tompkins Hall project — Richards worked at a number of high-end restaurants, including The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, The Pig & The Pearl, and White Oak Kitchen. Nutter eventually left One Flew South and now is the chef of Southern National in Mobile. From his restaurant in Wilmington, Rhodes is considered one of the experts in Carolinas coastal seafood.
The dinner at Bonterra will be called "A Celebration of SOUL" and will include appetizers and a four-course meal served family style. Dessert will be made by Bonterra's pastry chef, TJay Jones. Tickets are $105 and will include signed copies of Richards' book.
For Collier, it's a career milestone to be in the kitchen with all three. When he first started in fine food, they were his heroes, he says.
"They laid the foundation for me. I was watching them."
They were more than just people he admired from a distance, he says. When he was getting ready to open The Yolk, his breakfast and lunch restaurant in Rock Hill, he wrote to Richards to ask for advice. A few days later, he got an four-page letter listing every detail Richards wanted him to know.
"It was crazy," he says now, laughing at how much advice Richards was willing to share — and how overwhelmed he was by the number of things he had to get right.
"Duane and One Flew South showed me I could do it, and it was in an airport. Keith on 'Top Chef.'" All three were the men he looked at to find black chefs who were commanding respect for their restaurants.
Soul Food Sessions, the pop-up dinner series Collier created along with chefs Michael Bowling, Jamie Barnes, Greg Williams and Jamie Suddoth, recently started what will become a three-city tour, "The Table Is Set," with sponsorship from Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Consolidated.
Tickets are on sale now through www.eventbrite.com.