This is part of a chef interview series. View all interviews here.
On a Thursday afternoon I met with Chef Miles Payne of littleSpoon on Selwyn Ave. Admittedly, I’ve never eaten here, but after our conversation it has skyrocketed to the top of my dining list! We talked about how cool the chef community in Charlotte is right now, how tomatoes are awesome, and beer makes for a happy chef. Oh and apparently he’s tight with Chef Clark Barlowe. No big deal.
What are your thoughts on social media playing such a huge role in the restaurant scene? Has it made a good or a bad impact?
It’s definitely been a good impact. It allows diners to really see behind the scenes of what chefs or farms are doing. It kind of brings it full circle. When they come and eat they can say I saw him on social media picking this vegetable and now I’m at this restaurant eating it. It kind of allows the diner get an inside look on things. Expose them to things they wouldn’t really get exposed to.
What is the first thing you do after a long day at the restaurant?
Open a beer. (laughs) Or two…
You got to wind down. It’s hard in the restaurant to leave mentally. You’re always thinking about… I should have done this or I forgot to do that. If you could leave mentally, then you’re in good shape. You just have to make sure you get everything done. That’s the hardest part for me, not thinking about it, like enjoying my evening, not thinking about tomorrow.
For you, what is the most challenging part of running a restaurant?
Keeping things consistent. It’s hard. I wish I could be here everyday of the week all the time. But unfortunately you have to have a break. So making sure things come out the way you want it when you’re not here or don’t see it. It’s all about consistency. Making sure the carrots are cut the same here then it is there. It’s still probably the most challenging thing, making sure that everything comes out right. Managing the staff. Getting people around you that you trust enough that when you’re not here they’re carrying out your dream. I’ve gotten lucky. I’ve never been so proud of a staff. I have three guys that work for me. All have been with me since the beginning. They have more integrity than I did when I was younger. I’m very proud of them.
Where do you see the Charlotte food scene going in the near future?
With the way that all the chefs have kind of fraternized, there’s no competition between anyone. It’s all, let’s grow together and bring everyone up as a community. At the rate it’s going, the food will be better since there is no competition. No ones trying to outdo anybody. They’re just trying to cook the best food that they can and gain the respect of everyone around them. I was fortunate enough to meet some really awesome people when I started at littleSpoon. They have been very influential, introduced me to that group. Everyone has your back. They just want to support everyone. It’s pretty inspiring. I think that’s the main thing that’s going to help Charlotte grow, is keeping that community together. Keep it growing. Everyone has their own twist on things. I don’t have to worry about competition with them. Everyone’s got their own style. I think that’s what everyone appreciates and grows on.
Besides Charlotte [of course!], what’s your favorite city to eat your way through?
Our owner took us to D.C. recently and that was pretty awesome. I had a blast there. I had never been there. It’s cool to see what other cities and metropolises are doing.
What is your prediction for the next “Big Ingredient” in the food world?
I don’t know. I hope tomatoes make a comeback. Tomatoes are awesome. Raw, cooked, any method of preparation is good. So yea, I hope it is tomatoes. It probably won’t be. (laughs)
Do you have any advice you would give an aspiring chef that you wish someone would have given you when you first began your culinary journey?
I don’t know… I kind of had to learn on the fly here. I had never been an executive sous chef or executive chef. I was brought on as a sous chef here. Then the executive chef quit and they were kind of like, “Here you go Miles”.
The advice I got when I started, which is like rules to live by, is see prices don’t see food. So I would give that advice to someone because as executive chef, it is your ass not someone else’s. You need to see money on a plate not food on a plate. Then you can start to realize what the business aspect is. It’s not my money. See price tags not food.
What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants?
Organization. I have a mild conniption. We have a small kitchen so there’s just stuff everywhere. So yeah, labels out, I’m a stickler for that. The walk in, we share with the bar, so we only get two thirds of a walk in instead of all of it. So organization is key. It’s the number one thing, I freak out.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you feel in completely overrated?
Um… I don’t know. I like what everyone’s doing in Charlotte, I don’t know if anyone is really overdoing anything. I hate truffles. So yeah, truffle oil. That works. [Totally agree, for the record.]
How do you juggle the work versus life balance?
Coors light. (laughs)
No, I don’t really. I love what I do so if I think about work when I’m not at work it’s okay because I enjoy it. I just try to make sure that I don’t get frustrated. If I stay calm at work and do my job and make sure everything’s done right, then when I leave it’s not a negative thought, it’s a positive thing. I don’t find it necessary to juggle it, I just do it.
What do you think about this “Celebrity Chef” phenomenon?
I think if someone saw a way to get paid and they took it, then I can’t knock them for it. They were obviously in the shits before it became celebrity status. People just got lucky and busted their ass and got what they wanted. More power to them, I can’t blame them for that.
What is your favorite dish currently on the littleSpoon menu?
Livermush. We used to source it from North Carolina. Then Clark Barlowe gave me his great grandmother’s recipe. So we cherish it and take a lot of pride in it and try not to ruin his great grandmother’s recipe. We’re flattered to have gotten that. We tweaked it a little bit to our needs. It’s definitely my favorite thing and watching someone else order it is my favorite thing.
What is your favorite restaurant in Charlotte (other than where they work)?
There are too many to name. I can’t tell you the last time I went out and had a bad meal. Anything from like Moosehead on Montford, to Heritage in Waxhaw, Clark at Heirloom. All the food is just so good because there is no competition. Everyone’s having fun and growing together. So the love in the food just carries over to the guest. So I can’t say that I have a favorite. I love everybody’s food. It’s awesome.
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