In the back of Jim Noble’s beige Chevy Suburban, two of Charlotte’s best young chefs – both Noble employees – page lustily through a catalog of restaurant equipment. They have their eye on one item in particular, a wood/electric cooker that can do dozens of ribs in one batch. Up front, Noble asks if it can handle a whole hog. He has his mind on barbecue.
He is driving north on Interstate 85, toward the city where he grew up, High Point, but also toward the barbecue joints he grew up with. Most of them smoked their pork shoulders slowly over hickory wood back then, but a vast majority of them have switched to gas, which is more affordable and less messy and, to Jim Noble, distressing.
He will not name these places. “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” he says, and this is in part because he’s a kind man and in part because he knows his words carry heft in restaurant circles. Noble is one of North Carolina’s renowned chefs, one of the first to emphasize locally grown products in his dishes, which he describes as “a Southerner’s take on European cooking.”
He also is one of Charlotte’s busiest restaurateurs. This week, he will open his third in the city, a nonprofit uptown venture called King’s Kitchen. Later this year, he’ll launch an uptown version of the popular casual SouthPark restaurant Rooster’s, and he wants to move the franchise, Noble’s, to a new SouthPark or Myers Park location.