If you spend enough time around chefs, you realize there’s a reason many of them weren’t drawn to desk jobs. They tend to be people who crave action, constant movement and new challenges.
That can also make them hard to organize. But if you get them focused, chefs are formidable forces for change.
“They’re like herding chickens,” Kris Reid says. She ought to know: She’s the executive director of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, an organization that is pulling together chefs, farmers, food producers and educators so they can, in Reid’s words, “make stuff happen.”
“It takes a community to make stuff happen,” she says. “One person can’t make it happen.”
Already in the guild’s plans for 2016: A daylong event that will bring together chefs, farmers and food producers to encourage ideas on priorities in the local food world, and possibly an awards event for local food that Reid wants to call the Cheese Ball.
But it does take one person to organize all that, and that person is Reid, cited by many in the culinary world for her ability to juggle a lot of jobs.
As executive chef of Southminster Retirement Community, Reid got national attention when she changed its food service, putting in a community garden where residents could grow food to donate to Friendship Trays, and bringing local produce into the kitchen. A year ago, she moved to the meal service modPALEO as director of operations, in addition to running the guild.
“She’s the task master,” says Ben Philpott, executive chef of Block & Grinder and chairman of the guild’s board of directors. “She keeps us all on the same page. The guild wouldn’t exist without Kris.”
Nobody survives in restaurant kitchens without being a little tough. When she worked at Ratcliffe on the Green, chef Greg Balch nicknamed her “Mama Mirepoix,” for the mix of diced onion, carrot and celery that’s the foundation of stocks.
“I do mother, and it’s a stern mother,” Reid admits. “I expect results.” Her role with the guild is to be the foundation, harnessing everyone’s good intentions into results.
The guild started a couple of years ago, when Reid and Luca Annunziata, chef-owner of Passion8, were sharing kitchen staff. The pool of good kitchen workers is tight and no one has enough help. So Reid sometimes sent workers to help Annunziata.
Realizing there had to be a better way to share resources, Reid, Annunziata and local food activist Catherine Carter spread the word that they wanted to talk about organizing. A group of 30 food people came.
“Chefs and farmers don’t have a lot of face-to-face time,” says Reid.
They ended up creating the guild, with a three-pillar focus: Resource-sharing, including labor, equipment and ingredients; community education; and regional recognition for the Piedmont area food scene. Slow Food Charlotte got involved, and the Charlotte School of Law helped them get nonprofit status. The group started holding food events and raising money for scholarships.
The guild’s finest hour, though, came in October. When massive floods hit South Carolina, Annunziata called Reid that first day and said, “We gotta do something.” At first, she resisted – everyone was busy, it was too soon to know what was needed.
But she sent out the call through the guild: “I need three chefs and two vehicles.” The Charlotte food world exploded. Food donations poured in and within hours, Annunziata, Aaron Rivera of Tapas 51 and Greg Collier of The Yolk Cafe in Rock Hill were on the road to Columbia.
Reid stayed behind and organized, finding them a hotel room and kitchens they could use in two closed schools. For three and half days, guild volunteers cooked 1,700 meals for people with no power. When the chefs had to come back to run their restaurants, David Feimster of Fahrenheit went down with more food and kept it going.
“It was so much community,” says Reid. “It was a beautiful thing.”
Next up: On March 13, the guild will hold a food and beverage symposium at Johnson & Wales University, bringing together chefs, farmers and small-scale food producers for workshops on things like small-business advice. Culinary historian David Shields is the keynote speaker.
Reid hopes the symposium will bring more involvement from other areas of the culinary world. Currently, about 60 percent of the 170 members are chefs. She also wants to hear more about what the food community wants to do.
“This isn’t my vision,” she insists. “This is an opportunity to hear from more people, to hear what people here want Charlotte food to be.”
Time in Charlotte: Since 2006
Family: Husband Nathan Lafionatis, a consultant for social media projects; daughter, Lillianna Lafionatis, age 9
Background: Degrees in culinary arts and food service management from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte; former executive chef for Southminster. Currently director of operations for modPALEO of Charlotte and executive director of the Piedmont Culinary Guild.
Why she’ll make news: As the organizer of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, she’s guiding the conversation about food in Charlotte.
About the series
The Observer is highlighting Charlotteans who are poised to make news in 2016.
Want to know more?
Membership in the Piedmont Culinary Guild is $30 a year and is open to people in food service, food production and other related jobs (Kathleen Purvis is a member). Details: www.piedmontculinaryguild.com.