Lisa Brooks is frequently questioned about her plans to operate a restaurant. Since leaving her 16-year position at a healthcare technology business in 2010 to launch her own private chef service, she's given the same response.
Brooks replies, "No." The hassle and maintenance are excessive. If the famous Charlotte chef established one, however, she'd call it Mattie's Front Porch and model the cuisine after her grandmother.
Despite the fact that Brooks still has no desire to own or run a restaurant, her business Heart & Soul Personal Chef Services recently signed a lease for a 2,200 square foot space. Brooks has previously leased Airbnbs for her pop-up dinners, creating a snug, private atmosphere. She can now exhibit Mattie's Front Porch without the commitment and headache of a regular brick-and-mortar because she has her own location.
It will essentially be a pop-up restaurant that will accept bookings once a month, she explains. Something is ideal because I've always wanted to host this in my own place.
Brooks began hosting the private, 24-person dinner series every month at SkyLounge on Third back on June 25; it will continue indefinitely. SkyLounge is on the tenth floor of Skye Condominiums at 222 South Caldwell Street. The June supper debuted Brooks' new location, which includes floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Charlotte.
Brooks' grandmother, the matriarch of her family who is affectionately referred to as mother, is honored in Mattie's Front Porch. Brooks cooked, cleaned, and cared for children in some of Charlotte's wealthiest white houses "for virtually any money."
"It was for pennies," she says. It doesn't escape me when I visit the same communities, like Ballantyne, dressed as a chef and cook a delicious meal that is still based on what I learnt from her. I'm reaping her food-sowing. Thinking about it makes me cry. I think she's stunned, amazed, and proud.
Brooks carries her grandmother's influence in whatever she does because she learned to cook at her grandmother's house, where Sunday dinners were a family tradition. However, Brooks makes her origins and goal more clear with the Mattie's Front Porch supper series.
"The meal is inspired by her and what she taught me, but elevated," says Brooks. Brooks will serve warm yeast rolls with roasted chicken skin honey butter at Old Things New in June.
Brooks will combine ingredients to create something that is both recognizable and unique rather than serving the dish in its traditional form. At Sunday Dinner in August, she'll serve a more traditional dish. Brooks will focus on Southern seafood in July; each event will be different.
She claims, "The spirit will always be there."
"I hope that the joy of sharing a meal with others is rediscovered."
Brooks kept the series to 24 guests and sat them at a long communal table to create an extended family atmosphere. Brooks' 10-person cooking staff is made up entirely of women of color, so she can step away from the kitchen to talk to guests about the food's inspirations and origins. Brooks says speaking with customers individually and discussing her "ancestral, matriarchal heritage" will enrich the dinner and foster intimacy and connection with her clientele.
"Knowing my relationship to a meal or dish enhances the taste," she says. "I think it changes the flavor," the speaker said.