Growing up in Massachusetts and Florida, Jamie Lynch, the executive chef and a partner at Charlotte restaurant 5Church (he has two other spots in Atlanta and Charleston) first found a love of the industry while working as a dishwasher in a dive bar in a small fishing town. He eventually went to culinary school, worked his way up the ranks and worked with respected chefs like Andrew Carmellini, Michael Mina and Charlie Palmer.
He ultimately landed in Charlotte and opened the well-regarded 5Church, where he has been named best chef of Charlotte in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Those accolades earned him a spot in season 14 of Top Chef, in which half the competing chefs returned from earlier seasons.
So you’re on season 14 of Top Chef. What was it like to get that news?
I was super surprised and pretty excited. I didn’t expect to make it through all the rigmarole to get on the show.
I know you can’t talk specifics, but how was it being on the show?
It’s a pretty intense experience, for sure. Definitely unlike anything I’ve done before.
Does this make you want to do more reality TV?
I would say, that, no. I’m a chef. It makes me want to cook harder and faster and smarter.
Kind of like the $6 million man of cooking?
[Laughs] Exactly. For me, it’s not about TV. It’s about cooking and cooking with the best and learning from that and utilizing that moving forward.
Were you able to truly keep the secret from everyone?
Of course, I’m super sneaky. Of course, your family knows and there are people who help you with the process of getting on the show, like doing interviews, who are aware. For the most part, people are a little shocked.
What returning chef are you most concerned about competing against, if anyone?
I don’t even know. I think the moment I realized the other half had been on the show before—that was a pretty intimidating moment.
How’d you get through that?
I put my head down and started cooking. They’ve been through it before, and that’s an advantage, but you never know what they’re going to throw at you.
One of Lynch’s post-work go-tos is light beer. (image: bhofack2)
You worked under some pretty impressive chefs like Andrew Carmellini and Charlie Palmer. Is there anyone you’d like to cook with that you haven’t yet?
That’s a good question. I wish I had cooked with Charlie Trotter. Rene Redzepi from Noma for sure. And Alex Atala. I’d love to cook with him. I just think he’s super inspirational the way he approaches food and why he does what he does that inspires me to cook.
How about anyone you’d want to have a drink with, famous or otherwise?
Ha! I’d love to sit down and have a drink with Tom Colicchio. I gotta tell ya, I have mad respect for Tom, and being in the competition, I’d love to pick his brain a little bit.
You’ve been named best chef in Charlotte a few times. How did you celebrate?
I don’t know, I think I was a little humbled. We had just set out on our first venture, working really hard trying to push the envelop in Charlotte. When the news came out, I was surprised. What we were doing was on the edge, and I didn’t expect mainstream support. I was stoked, but I didn’t expect it.
Jamie Lynch (image: George Lainis)
What do you like to drink when you get off work?
Typically, I do some kind of light beer, and I like red wine a lot. I’m a wino.
What’s your go-to red varietal?
Usually pinot. Being in the kitchen all day, we are constantly tasting, and by the end of your shift, your palate is rocked, so I go light and easy.
Do you have a favorite pinot region?
Not specifically. I usually tend to go with Monterey and other California pinots. But I’m not super picky; I’m not picking the bartenders brain.
Do you have a favorite cocktail at 5Church currently?
The Viper [with Patron Silver tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, cucumber water and cayenne pepper]. It’s our signature drink. I’m not a huge cocktail drinker. I like my booze straightforward. I don’t do a lot of mixing, but the Viper is a clean, nice tequila drink with a little cool cucumber and some spice. It’s nice.
Lynch’s preferred grape varietal after a long day in the kitchen is light and easy pinot noir. (image: chameleonseye)
What are some local spots you like to hit for drinks when you’re off work?
Connolly’s is kind of my joint. It’s a dark Irish pub. Sanctuary in NoDa is a neighborhood spot. I usually drink wine in my restaurant, and when I’m out at a bar, I’ll drink beer. It’s usually a High Life or a PBR—it’s a toss up. Every now and then, I’ll throw a shot of Jamo [Jameson] in there.
Have you found any cocktails that inspire your cooking?
I wouldn’t say there are cocktails, but there are spirits that inspire me. A good solid tequila will inspire a certain way of cooking, usually going down the spicy South American trajectory. I’m inspired by all kinds of things. It’s never a cocktail but maybe spirit, wine or beer from a region I’m not familiar with that’ll get me thinking and I’ll go from there.
Yeah, but I can’t tell you. [Laughs] You have to watch [Top Chef] and see.
What do you like to serve at a dinner party to kick things off?