Chef Jim Noble, 60, lives up to his name. Over the years he’s built thriving restaurants and a reputation for being a talented chef who cares as much about his community as he does his ingredients. Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, with locations in SouthPark and Uptown, serves an elegant, simply prepared, a-la-carte menu. The King’s Kitchen, a nonprofit restaurant, funnels 100 percent of the proceeds from its elevated southern fare into free meals for the less fortunate and a job-training program for the homeless. But Noble’s community-building efforts extend beyond the restaurant industry. Noble and his wife, Karen, created Restoring Place Church, which meets at The King’s Kitchen, and last year, Noble announced the formation of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, which aims to help the city’s less fortunate, from meeting immediate physical needs to providing job-related rehabilitation and spiritual nurturing.
What do you think makes your restaurants so popular year after year?
I’m a chef first and a restaurateur second. I don’t like to do much that’s trendy; I stay true to what we do. Everywhere we cook, we’re cooking with wood. It’s a pain in the neck. But think about barbecue that’s cooked with gas and barbecue that’s cooked with wood.
Charlotte’s food scene has really exploded in the past five years. What do you think has been the biggest driver of the industry’s local success?
I think the introduction of Johnson & Wales University to Charlotte was huge. It’s been here for 10 years but it’s really starting to cause a rumble underground. And there’s a mindset shift: there’s a group of a lot of local chefs who really want to help each other, promote each other, to help our city.
What was it like to see The King’s Kitchen be named one of four restaurants nationwide to receive the 2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation?
Those kind of things, for me, personally, I couldn’t care less. I just want to see people get helped, and we have the ability to help people. Somebody brought hope to me and my wife one time when we were totally hopeless. It changed my life.
Do you have a favorite success story from The King’s Kitchen?
Our initial goal was to have people come through the program [and find jobs elsewhere]. The second year, a lady named Tara came on board. She had just come out of prison. She’s now one of our sous chefs. She’s in a leadership position. She’s going to be the liaison between the program and the ministry [at the new Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center], to help get people back on their feet. She’s doing a phenomenal job.
What is your go-to menu items at Rooster’s or The King’s Kitchen?
At King’s Kitchen, it’s Aunt Beaut’s fried chicken; my Aunt Beaut’s recipe. She would always fry chicken for us after church. It’s fried in a cast-iron skillet. Growing up for me, the best time of year was the holidays. Not for the gifts; it was because everybody brought food. I just always loved food.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Fly-fishing. Five years ago I started learning about it. Sometimes I just sit outside on benches in downtown Charlotte as well. I think it’s a very benevolent city.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?
The ocean. Or near some water—that may be the Catawba River. I live on McMullen Creek, in an old neighborhood here in SouthPark. I can sit out back and watch the creek go by. The ocean’s really what I love. And mountain streams.
So, where next for you?
Charleston. I’m going to do two more things for sure. Rooster’s in Charleston [opening later this year] and a barbecue place in Charlotte.
Chef Noble’s Charlotte Favorites
From Waxhaw to Davidson, here are the places you can catch Chef Noble sitting down to a meal—when he’s not at one of his own restaurants.
Kindred, Davidson. “I like what [Joe Kindred] is doing,” says Noble. One of Noble’s former protégés, Chef Kindred opened his own spot on Main Street in Davidson in February.
LittleSpoon. From Charlotte newcomer Alesha Sin Vanata, this Myers Park eatery has a frequently changing menu and an LA vibe.
Heirloom. Chef/owner Clark Barlowe opened this farm-to-fork restaurant in 2014 with a focus on North Carolina vegetables, fruit, seafood, meat and beverages.
Heritage Food & Drink, Waxhaw. “Chef Paul [Verica] does some interesting things,” Noble says of this Southern-inspired, farm-to-table restaurant.