Eat & Drink

In the Kitchen with Charlotte's "Top Chef" Jamie Lynch

While Jamie Lynch’s cooking certainly does the talking for him, we wanted to hear more about the man behind the apron and his take on Charlotte’s culinary scene.

Chef Jamie Lynch hard at work on his latest culinary creation - photo by Nico Rittmeyer.

Jamie Lynch is the executive chef and a partner at Uptown hot spot 5Church. Lynch, who represents the Queen City on season 14 of “Top Chef” (which debuted on Dec. 1) is no stranger to the bright lights; he’s performed in some of New York City’s top kitchens. At 5Church, the New England Culinary Institute grad wows Queen City locals with innovative dishes like wasabi-crusted Yellowfin tuna and shitake mushroom and leek agnolotti.

While Lynch’s cooking certainly does the talking for him, we wanted to hear more about the man behind the apron and his take on Charlotte’s culinary scene. So we went straight to the source. Read on, #TeamJamie fans!

Tell us about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?
Jamie Lynch:
 My first job was as a dishwasher when I was 16. It was the first taste I got of that high-octane kitchen environment, and I was hooked. I went to the New England Culinary Institute and afterwards went to work for some amazing chefs who helped shape everything I do today: Michael Mina at Aqua and Le Cirque, Charlie Palmer at Aureole and Andrew Carmellini at Café Boulud. I left New York after 9/11 and came to Charlotte. That was where I met my current partners, and, in 2012, we opened 5Church Charlotte.

Describe what it was like on the set of “Top Chef.” Was the pressure to perform in the kitchen as intense as it appears on-screen?
I think they did a great job of capturing the stress and high-energy environment, but it was more intense than it came off—just because there’s a lot more to what you see. On air, you see the highlights of the challenges, but for us, it’s 30 minutes of running around under the bright lights with a clock that’s counting down. Physically, it’s exhausting because you’re running around, and mentally, it’s exhausting competing against the best in your field. I loved it, though.

What was your favorite part about representing Charlotte on the show?
Just being selected to represent Charlotte was a huge honor. The culinary scene in Charlotte has come a long way in the last 10 years and is being recognized as a food and beverage destination. We have so many talented chefs and restaurants here that are doing really exciting things. I hope I represented the city well.

If you only had 10 words, how would you define Charlotte?
It’s a diverse mix of people. Everyone is from somewhere else, and they make their way to this city and stew in Southern hospitality.

What’s your favorite dish at 5Church Charlotte?
The Charred Octopus. We slow poach it at a low temperature in red wine with aromatics, and we serve it with lime yogurt, confit tomatoes and finger limes. Finger limes are this funky fruit from Mexico that look like a fingerling potato. When you cut one open, you have little pearls that look like caviar, and when you bite into it, it’s this great snap of acidity and brightness in your mouth.

What’s your favorite unusual ingredient to cook with?
I really like to cook with offal, things like tripe, sweetbread, livers, hearts. Trippa a la parmigiana is a current favorite. I do it in an aromatic tomato sauce, drizzle some sherry vinegar and top it with a poached egg and buttery croutons.

What do you want visitors to know about Charlotte’s culinary scene?
It’s underrated. People sometimes limit the association of Charlotte’s culinary scene with your meat-and-three Southern comfort food, but there are some really innovative and exciting things happening here outside of that. The craft beer scene has also exploded, and it’s brought a crowd of knowledgeable and hobby drinkers into our restaurants. One of the coolest things that we’ve done is a long-term collaboration with Wooden Robot Brewery. Right now, we’re doing a sour amber ale that’s aged for months in oak and flavored with an Egyptian blend of spices and nuts called Dukkah. You can only get it at 5Church or Wooden Robot’s taproom.

What’s your favorite place to take family & friends when they visit Charlotte and why?
I love world flavors, and I love these small ethnic joints that are low-key and the owners are either in the back cooking or greeting people. PePeRo is a small café in the back of a Korean supermarket. I always get the kimchi pancakes, and they make everything in-house, from scratch, including the kimchi. Imagine a grandma in the back making all the great family recipes—I don’t know that it’s actually her, but that’s what it feels like, and I appreciate that authenticity. Some other favorites are Lang Van [Vietnamese], where they have killer Vietnamese food, and Maharani Indian Cuisine is another good one.

Describe your perfect day in the city. What would you do, see and experience?
I would start with grabbing brunch with friends at 5Church. I usually have the crab cake with a poached egg, runny yolk and our bloody mary. It’s my recipe, and we make everything in-house from scratch. Afterwards, hitting up a home game at Panthers stadium [Bank of America Stadium] with my son (because he’s the best) and knocking back a few cold brews. In the evening time, I love hanging out and catching up with people at the Evening Muse, listening to live music and drinking anything from Noda Brewing [Company].

What else would you like Charlotte to know about you?
I love what I do. I love where I’m at. I think Charlotte is amazing, and I feel incredibly grateful to be part of this city. I feel really proud that my partners and I started our first business in this city. I draw inspiration from everywhere I go and have met tons of amazing and diverse people. This is where I feel like my home is. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always look forward to coming back here.

So what’s up next for the culinary connoisseur? He’ll be appearing alongside Adam Hodgson of 5Church Charleston at the James Beard House on February 8. You can also catch Lynch on the screen (and occasionally in person) at 5Church’s weekly Top Chef viewing parties on Thursday nights. Cocktails are served at 9 p.m., with a live broadcast of show at 10 p.m. For more details, check out 5Church Charlotte’s Facebook page.