Where are you from originally and what brought you to the city?
I am originally from Nashville, Tennessee but have lived all over the country including Boston and Seattle. I moved to Charlotte to attend classes at Johnson & Wales University and have lived here ever since.
Where did you learn to cook and who were your major culinary inspirations?
I am still learning, but I started to learn to cook in Nashville. My father would cook the meals on the weekend and that was some of our earliest bonding time. But cooking and food surrounded all of my earliest memories so I feel like they (cooking and food) have always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories is walking with my grandfather through my parent’s small strawberry patch and cooking frog legs with my dad.
What are some of your favorite items on the menu?
To me that’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child. I couldn’t pick a favorite because I love elements of all the dishes. But, it has been particularly fun to create dishes with Chef Bruce Moffett where both our influences come through on a dish. I also love what we’re doing with family-style items like porchetta roasted in our wood-burning oven. We make it to serve six for an entire table to share to try to give diners that real Italian experience.
How did you create the menu?
Bruce and I have been working together closely to change the menu. A lot of the inspirations have come from either dishes Bruce grew up with as a child in New England (spaghetti and clams) or our interpretations of the classics like our rigatoni with meatballs or the ricotta gnudi.
Does the menu change seasonally?
Absolutely. The name Stagioni translates to “seasons” and the concept of the restaurant is rustic seasonal Italian. We work closely with local farmers and really try to let them dictate what goes into our dishes.
Why do you source ingredients locally and what farms do you work with?
To me, Italian food is about a respect for ingredients. Not only are we choosing the best ingredients, we are using local ingredients so that they will be as fresh as possible. I speak with farmers on a daily basis to see what they have that we can use. Whether it’s produce or meat, we want to make sure we respect the ingredients we use. Sometimes that means we have just three whole fish for the night but that is how we ensure diners get the most fresh and authentic dining experience.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary industry and ultimately become a chef?
I can’t attribute it to one specific thing, but I did spend a lot of time cooking with my dad when I was growing up. He was the cook of the house – we would make pancakes, fried chicken, cornbread, smoked salmon, frog legs. That was our bonding time. We spent a lot of weekends just cooking. I also liked watching shows about chefs. One of my favorites showed chefs in other countries…most of it was in subtitles because they were speaking French or Italian. I was just drawn to it. Then when I got my first job in a kitchen at 15, I fell in love with the intensity and chaos.
How long have you been in the culinary industry?
I wouldn’t say that I took this career seriously until I was in my mid-twenties. I would actually say that cooking saved my life. I was at a point in my life where I was dealing with the consequences of a lot of the bad decisions I had been making. When I reached that point, I turned my focus wholeheartedly to cooking and it gave me purpose and a goal. This business has been very good to me and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
As a chef, what has been your greatest personal achievement?
Working for such a well-respected chef and restaurant owner in this city, where the culinary industry is undergoing major change in the right direction is such an honor. The support of independent restaurants is growing, as is the partnerships between local farms and restaurants, and the chef community is really coming together. Bruce started a new campaign called Charlotte Cooks Too, asking local chefs and the Charlotte community to come together to get broader recognition for the restaurants and chefs. It’s starting to get traction and I think Charlotte is headed in the right direction, towards becoming a food destination. I’m just happy to be a part of it.
In your personal opinion what separates Stagioni from other fine local restaurants?
I think love for what we do, the quality of products we use and the attention-to-detail we have in both the front of the house and back of the house combined with the historic setting makes us stand out amongst the other Italian restaurants.
Do you think that your restaurant is helping to form the city’s palate?
A city’s palate is forever changing due to seasons and new chefs and new ideas among the restaurant community. Stagioni’s menu was created with every aspect of food in mind. Someone who has been to Italy or traveled the world will find things they love, as well as someone who isn’t familiar with a seasonally driven modern Italian menu. The Charlotte community is slowly embracing new types of cuisine and locally driven menus. I am proud to be among the numerous chefs who are helping change the Charlotte food scene…one hand-made agnolotti at a time.
For a bit more indo, visit www.stagioniclt.com.