Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Distillery’s new ‘concept’ fuels culinary creativity with flavorful pop-ups

The commercial kitchen at End of Days is a new 40-foot shipping container outfitted with new equipment for chefs to try out their concepts. it’s appropriately called Concept Kitchen Co. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — A new venture has launched in the Cargo District with the goal to bring a unique experience to Wilmington diners.

READ MORE: Wilmington Brewing Company owners take over historic Front Street spot for new concept

Concept Kitchen Co. — a 40-foot shipping container that operates at End of Days Distillery — officially unveiled Nov. 5. The facility allows chefs to bring one-of-a-kind ideas to the public for a limited time only.

According to End of Days owner Shane Faulkner, the initiative began as a commissary kitchen for food trucks — a place where the mobile operations are required to create food before loading it onto a truck to serve the public. 

“We use food trucks all the time and sometimes they cancel,” Faulkner explained, “so I came up with this idea to fill in the gaps and at first thought it could be a commissary kitchen. Or we could create our own food out of it. But one thing led to another before I considered: ‘What if this could be something new?’”

Faulkner’s idea morphed into a space with a full commercial kitchen, for various revered chefs, locally and statewide, to put forth one-off menus they’ve always wanted to experiment with. It’s basically a pop-up restaurant located adjacent to distillery’s patio.

Concept Kitchen Co.’s first event took place at the beginning of November and was private, hosted in tandem with the End of Days’ release of its PX Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon and Rye. The ticketed event — EOD hosts roughly 10 annually for special releases and brunches, for example — featured chef Bobby Zimmerman of True Blue, who cooked a Mediterranean and Greek-inspired menu.

“It went really great,” Faulkner said, “and offered Bobby a chance to think outside the box.”

This weekend the second pop-up will take place, this time opening to the public. It will welcome owner and chef Jake Wood from Lawrence BBQ out of Durham, who will be set up Nov. 25 and 26. His menu, priced $5.50 to $22 (larger platters go up to $150), features smoked meats — brisket, pulled pork, turkey, ribs — as well as local oysters, sandwiches, sides and appetizers.

In its infant three weeks of opening, Concept Kitchen Co.’s research and development project manager Ryan Spencer said roughly a dozen applications have come in for consideration. Chefs can apply to secure a spot to host an event, pay a fee to book the kitchen, bring in their own crew to run it for the day, and keep all the proceeds from sales. The End of Days crew vet the applicants.

“Primarily, we’re looking at several international cuisines — Caribbean food, as well as French cuisine, Peruvian food,” Spencer said of what’s to come in the next few weeks. “So we’re really jumping from continent to continent, region to region.” 

The space, located at 1815 Castle St., is outfitted in the same way a professional, commercial kitchen is — with sinks, prep stations, fryers, griddles, ovens, a grill, and flat tops. Twenty feet of it is dedicated to a walk-in freezer and cooler. Chefs need to only bring pots, pans, knives, storage containers and food to bring the space alive.

“It is an amazing kitchen,” according to local chef Katharine Myhand, a contestant for the Own Your Own Restaurant competition in Burgaw and former chef at Dram Yard in downtown Wilmington. “It has everything you need.”

Myhand exited the restaurant industry during the Covid-19 pandemic to focus on caretaking. She returned briefly to help open Drift Cafe in Wrightsville Beach last year and made it to the top 24 in Own Your Own. 

“Having my own brick and mortar is a dream,” she said, one she’s considering in the Pender County area at some point. Myhand lives in Rocky Point and pitched an elevated American grill and bakery for OYO.

But she has a real love for French cuisine and secured the Dec. 2 slot at Concept to open from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. — or whenever the food is gone.

“It’s what I crave,” Myhand said. “I love the richness and the layering — red wine, butter, bacon fat — all the flavors.”

Her menu will consist of coq au vin — a chicken and red wine stew — French onion soup, steak frites with truffle aioli, a Croque Monsieur (French baguette stuffed with ham, gruyere, béchamel, topped with a fried egg), lemon and powdered-sugar crepe and coconut-rum macarons. Prices will range between $7 and $16.

Though she doesn’t yet have a name for her concept, in a couple of weeks she will file for an LLC for a new culinary idea that’s been brewing for a bit. Myhand wants to start a catering production business that’s a collaborative process. It brings together various local chefs and talent in one space to create experiences for diners. 

“And Concept Kitchen is a perfect place to test it,” she said. “What they’re doing at the End of Days kitchen is really special.”

Faulkner said that’s the benefit of hosting a pop-up at the distillery’s new outpost. Chefs can play the field a little to see if their ideas gain traction. 

“Maybe you’re thinking about a food truck, maybe you’re thinking about a restaurant, but haven’t worked out the details, this gives chefs the opportunity to try it out,” he said, “and see how the market reacts.”

Following Myhand’s stint will be chef Mauricio Huarcaya — who currently works at Wilmington’s fine-dining vegan restaurant The Green House. He has rented the space for Dec. 16. 

Huarcaya, who grew up in Peru the first 10 years of his life before moving to Wilmington, is focusing on his roots. His menu highlights flavors and ingredients indicative of South American cuisine.

“So Peruvian food, it’s Japanese-inspired,” Huarcaya said. “The immigrants came to Peru in the 1900s, so there’s a lot of fusion, Asian flavors.”

At The Green House, he already features a vegan fried rice dish inspired by home, as well as a lion’s mane mushroom stir fry. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned there is the science behind how vegetables really are their own profile, like their own star of the show,” he said of his time at the restaurant. 

At Concept Kitchen Co., his menu will highlight foods from the ocean to the mountains to the city. The goal is to showcase various regions of Peruvian tastes, techniques and ingredients, which include meat-forward dishes.

He’s calling the concept “Que Bacan” — Peruvian slang meaning “great, cool or awesome”; it will open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 16 and feature roughly six items. Included will be lomo saltado, a beef-based stir fry, simmered in ginger, scallions, tamari, vinegar and sugar. It is served with aji amarillo, a yellow pepper sauce popular in Peru.

There also will be a flounder ceviche with tiger’s milk, cancha (corn nuts), yuca chips, chili oil, cilantro, and sweet potato.

“You take the fish scraps, celery, lime, ginger, red onion, cilantro, and blend it up with a little bit of fish stock, to get this nice, just creamy juice to marinate the fish with,” he explained of the process. “And then I will take the fish scraps and fry them to make fish chicharrones for a nice crunch on top.”

Cooking has always been his passion; he remembers making empanadas with his grandmother and selling them at a bakery as a child. Huarcaya spent his teens in the Port City until relocating to Charlotte to attend the culinary program at Central Piedmont Community College. He worked his way through numerous restaurants thereafter, including the Asbury Hotel in uptown Charlotte before moving to Charleston, South Carolina. For a year, he posted up in the FIG kitchen — a James Beard Foundation winner — and a few years at The Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island. 

Huarcaya returned to Wilmington to be closer to family and began his position at The Green House a year ago. He will run his one-day pop-up with his brothers Renato Huarcaya and Marchello Benevides. Both have taken an interest in the culinary field, according to their big brother. 

“My end game is to eventually own a Peruvian restaurant,” Huarcaya said, speaking to the future. “Just super classic food, nothing over the top, nothing too overcomplicated but bring strong flavors to people that haven’t really tasted it yet.”

Faulkner was clear the Concept Kitchen Co. isn’t just for well-known chefs but for other culinarians looking to enter the field and give their ideas a whirl.

The pop-ups and food trucks will continue to rotate at the distillery; End of Days also has started utilizing the kitchen to sell charcuterie boards on site.

All upcoming events are listed here.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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