The Crave Charlotte Food & Wine Festival is back for a third year — May 3rd – May 8th — highlighting local chefs, mixologists and brewers who will offer attendees 13 exciting culinary experiences.
The festival’s signature event — a Grand Culinary Celebration — will be held May 7th in Romare Bearden Park. It will feature 25 chefs, mixologists, wines from around the world and local brewers.
Shawn Cosner, the owner of 3rd Rock Events who is contracted by Envision Charlotte to produce the event, said his vision is to make the festival a “regional tourism event that will drive tourist revenue into the small businesses and restaurants of Charlotte.”
“Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina, both have these types of festivals,” he continued, “and Charlotte should too.”
Cosner said the 25 chefs of the Grand Culinary Celebration will represent “many different cultures, styles of restaurants and different Charlotte neighborhoods.”
Here are six Black chefs you will find at the Grand Culinary Celebration.
Entrepreneur, mother, chef and culinary teacher are just a few of the titles Chef Reyaña has held since graduating from Johnson & Wales University in 2007. The New Orleans native has been cooking since she was young, learning creole cuisine from her parents. Now her personal chef business allows her to “make the healthiest version of whatever my clients love to eat,” she said.
When Chef Reyaña is not prepping meals for clients or teaching cooking to students, she makes time for food festivals. “I manifested last year that I wanted to be in festivals,” she said, and she’s going all out for Crave.
“I’m making a crostini duo, so one side has whipped cream cheese with peach and tomato brushetta, and the other side is for my mushroom lovers; it’ll have sautéed mushrooms with caramelized onions topped with shaved brussel sprouts,” she said.
An Elizabeth City native and Johnson & Wales alum, Chef Olajuwon is the executive chef at Fine & Fettle, located in Canopy by Hilton Charlotte SouthPark. His kitchen experiences at multiple other hotels and his work as a personal chef prepared him to oversee the restaurant and have creative control of its menu.
Although seafood is Chef Olajuwon’s version of comfort food, he’s no stranger to cooking Southern dishes with a health focus. Festival goers can get a first-hand experience at “A Southern Summer,” a Crave event that Fine & Fettle will host, featuring a four-course tasting menu.
“We’ll use Southern flavors like okra, corn, watermelon, pork belly and smoked cocktails,” Chef Olajuwon said. This is similar to what ticket holders can expect from him at the Gran Culinary Celebration as well.
After teaching school for 16 years, Chef Tiore was ready for something new. That’s when she became a student at L’Academie de Cuisine, a French culinary school in Maryland. Since then she’s worked at a restaurant in France, the Four Seasons in Baltimore and Sur La Table in Huntersville as the culinary lead.
She moved to Charlotte three years ago and led cooking demonstrations at the University City Farmers Market last summer. That’s how she heard of Crave. “I just want to get more in tune with the food scene in Charlotte and be exposed to more places to get amazing food,” she said.
At home, Chef Tiore loves making fresh pasta or treating herself to beef bourguignon. At the festival, attendees can look forward to her mushroom tartlets and vichyssoise, a French soup typically served chilled. “I want to make things people may not necessarily have very often,” Chef Tiore said.
Amari’s experiences in gardening, farming and cooking took him from selling eggs at the University City Market to being a chef a Crave. The 5 year old’s many hobbies include playing with his chickens and llamas, cooking with his sister, Amara, and eating crab rangoon.
When asked if he’s nervous about the festival, Amari said: “I’m feeling good about it, I want to do it right now.”
Amari will be preparing deviled eggs — fried and regular. Amara, his sister, will join him with her carrot cake and donuts.
“My very first job in New York City was at McDonalds, making $5.15 an hour,” said Chef Torrece Gregoire, aka Chef T. Now after her classical training in French cuisine, working at the St. Regis Atlanta along with many other accolades, she is a full-time private chef, cooking teacher and restaurant consultant.
Although Chef T doesn’t live in Charlotte, she has participated in Crave before.
“I love grassroots things,” she said. “To be a part of something before everyone else means that you understand and you see the vision.”
She describes her cooking style as “modern Appalachian with French influence.”
At the festival, Chef T plans to take guests on a journey from Africa to Appalachia as they sample her fried chicken.
Many Charlotte foodies know Cuzzo’s Cuisine and the person behind the famous lobster mac & cheese – Chef Andarrio. After graduating from Johnson & Wales in 2000, Chef Andarrio worked at various hotels and restaurants before starting his own catering business. As it grew, he knew it was time to get back to his original dream of opening a food truck.
Fast forward 22 years and he has opened two food trucks and two Cuzzo’s Cuisine locations in Charlotte. “My personal specialty is shrimp and grits, but the lobster mac and cheese is what everyone loves,” he said.
Food lovers will get to try both at “Kickin it w/Chef Andarrio,” a Crave event on May 4th held at Cuzzo’s Cuisine.
At the Grand Culinary Celebration, attendees can sample Chef Andarrio’s lobster mac & cheese as well as his lemon pepper wings.