For Southern Neighbor’s new monthly profile, “Notable Neighbor,” Staff Writer Kayla Drake sat down with Brandon Sharp, the chef at the Carolina Inn.
The next time you feel the urge to treat yourself to dishes that have been carefully prepared by a chef with a Michelin Star, look no further than Crossroads Chapel Hill.
Crossroads, the restaurant housed in the Carolina Inn, has taken multiple steps to revamp its atmosphere and menu in the past couple of years. But perhaps one of its most intriguing changes was the hiring of Chef Brandon Sharp in October 2016.
Sharp, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and native of North Carolina, has made the food industry his life since his high school years, when he first started working in restaurants.
After graduating from UNC, he continued his culinary career by working on Nantucket island for a season. From there, he went to the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York.
He then moved on to the French Laundry, located in Napa Valley, California. His experience there was crucial to his development as a chef.
“(That) is sort of my formative cooking experience,” Sharp said. “I spent two years there, spent two years in New Orleans, two years with (renowned chef) Gary Danko in San Francisco and then I became an executive chef at Solbar in Calistoga.”
It was at Solbar that Chef Sharp’s culinary skills earned a Michelin Star.
“Every country and every city has its own press and system for reviewing restaurants. There’s some restaurants that are excepted as excellent throughout the world no matter who’s doing the rating,” Sharp said.
“The Michelin guide is seen around the world as a universal standard. Achieving a one-star rating from them was an affirmation that we were among the best in the world, even though we were way out of San Francisco in a town of 5,100 people.”
A chef position at Carolina Inn is not made available often, Sharp said. He said the restaurant at the historic hotel has always been a place he has respected, admired and aspired to.
His interest in working there happened to be timed perfectly with the Carolina Inn’s desire to make Crossroads Chapel Hill more accessible to a wider demographic.
“His hiring coincides with the relaunching of the restaurant. We had been open approximately a year before Chef Sharp joined, and he is a part of the evolution of the food,” Carolina Inn General Manager Mark Sherburne said.
“We are rated Four Star, Four Diamond at this time, so we will definitely be considered upper scale, but at the same time by offering a healthier approach and being more inviting overall, it’s become kind of a place that hopefully locals will want to come into as well as our out-of-town guests.”
While Crossroads is undergoing a transformation of sorts — in the hope of releasing a completely refreshed menu in winter 2017 — the restaurant will continue to focus on using locally sourced ingredients from all corners of North Carolina, Sherburne said.
When choosing a new chef, Sherburne said Crossroads was looking in particular for someone who could incorporate all of those local ingredients — and with a distinct Southern touch to boot.
“We knew that we wanted to continue to have a Southern influence, and that’s a broad term, so we allowed our applicants to let their creativity shine through,” Sherburne said.
“We were looking for uncomplicated dishes, ones that still had their inspiration in the South but took elements of their history and their passion and upbringings, so it shows their roots.”
Sharp stood out from the pack in comparison to the other applicants in his ability to understand the direction Crossroads wants to go in, Sherburne said. He also came with an impressive training background and impeccable resume.
Sharp said he has already begun reimagining the menu to bring in influences from California, New Orleans and Spain.
“I have created dishes here that I think will fit our guests’ expectations, fit what I want to express as a culinarian, and add to the conversation of what’s being done in the restaurant scene here in Chapel Hill,” he said.
“I want to fit in the classic feel of the Carolina Inn, but also the contemporary feel of what Crossroads has become.”
Sherburne said above all he wants people who have not been to Crossroads to be surprised — in a good way — about how open and welcoming the restaurant is. He thinks Sharp can help the restaurant get there.
“Being the University’s living room is our tagline, so we want to be approachable for students, alumni, faculty, locals and visitors,” Sherburne said.
“Really it’s a melting pot for the whole area throughout Chapel Hill and North Carolina. The food and cuisine, coupled with the atmosphere, really makes it the place to be, and that’s what we want it to be.”