Chefs Making Their Mark in Culinary Arts

By Jimese Orange

With social media hashtags such as #blackowned, #buyblack and #blackbusiness trending, it’s easier than ever for potential customers to find and support local businesses and recycle dollars within the community, especially during the holiday season. In the culinary arts and local food scene, chefs are connecting with and servicing customers in unconventional ways, beyond the usual restaurant venture. Food trucks, catering and meal delivery services are putting these three talented chefs on the map in Charlotte.

Chef Andarrio JohnsonChef Andarrio Johnson, a native of Hilton Head, brings Low Country flavors to new levels as a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and the owner of AMJ Catering. Johnson stays on the move in Charlotte with his popular food truck, Cuzzo’s Cuisine, which can be seen serving lines of hungry customers all over Charlotte. You can catch Johnson on WBTV cooking up Southern-influenced cuisine with a gourmet twist for the cameras.

Pride: What do you enjoy most about Charlotte’s foodie/culinary scene?

Johnson: I really enjoy the food truck scene. I have had some great food from food trucks. Food trucks have a variety of tasty cuisines and [food] cooked fresh to order, which is a big deal to me.

Pride: What’s the most unique or unusual dish you’ve ever created and what inspired it?

Johnson: The most unique dish that I created is the Southern soul roll. It’s a vegetarian roll which consists of red rice, black-eyed peas, and collard greens all rolled up into a pastry sheet, then deep-fried. Once cooked, it’s served with a Cajun dipping sauce. The Asians have their egg roll; now we have our soul rolls.

Pride: What’s your favorite ingredient and why?

Johnson: My favorite ingredient is cilantro. This herb supplies a significant amount of vitamin A, C and K.  It’s also good for calcium, dietary fiber, iron and magnesium.  Cilantro is very beneficial to the body.


Chef Michael BowlinChef Michael Bowlin has made a mark on the Charlotte food scene with his boutique catering business, MBG Catering, and as owner of Hot Box “Next Level Street Food” food truck. This Roanoke native serves his “next level street food” to loyal and new patrons who follow his truck all over the city. Bowling gives back to his alma mater, Johnson & Wales, in a meaningful way by nurturing the talents of young chefs and employing graduates in his catering and food truck business.


 Pride: What food trend are you having the most fun with lately?

Bowlin: Ramen, I think it’s a bit more than a trend and will be around a long time, but on the food truck we make our own pasta and change the broth and ingredients often.
Pride: What do you enjoy most about Charlotte’s foodie/culinary scene?

Bowlin: It’s growing, [with restaurants such as] Heirloom, Kindred, Tapas 5, Flipside, The Yolk, Earl’s, The Ashbury, Passion 8–all chef-driven and owned restaurants, all doing amazing food, and we are all friends working together to grow the food scene.

Pride: What opportunity do you think Charlotte has to improve upon culinary arts exposure in the city?

Bowlin: Minority chef and cooks…we have a shortage and it needs to change.


Chef Lisa G. Brooks, a native of Charlotte, has turned her childhood passion Chef Lisa Franklinfor cooking into an award-winning career in which her first love of Southern-style cooking is elevated with influences from Italian, Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. As the owner of Heart and Soul Chef Service, her unique food perspective infuses a breadth of services, from in-home personal chef to meal preparation and delivery “for the trendy, the health-conscious and just plain ol’ country folk!” says Brooks.


Pride: Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

Brooks: I come from a long line of cooking women. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all taught me a great deal. The ability to cook is a gift and talent that God gave me and ultimately, He is the one who nudged me in the direction of pursuing it as a career.

Pride: What is your favorite cooking gadget?

Brooks: My ginger grater is my favorite gadget. I can mince ginger in about 30 seconds.

Pride: What advice would you give young aspiring chefs?

Brooks: I had been cooking for 35 years of my life when I began culinary school. I knew a lot, but I still kept my mouth shut and learned from the chef instructors, and I learned a ton from each of them. No matter what you already know, you can always learn more.