Distillery’s new ‘concept’ fuels culinary creativity with flavorful pop-ups | Port City Daily

Distillery’s new ‘concept’ fuels culinary creativity with flavorful pop-ups | Port City Daily

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. It serves as a pop-up facility for 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 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.

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, research and development project manager of Concept Kitchen Co. Ryan Spencer said roughly a dozen applications have come in for consideration.

“Primarily, we’re looking at several international cuisines — Caribbean food, as well as French cuisine, Peruvian food,” Spencer said. “So we’re really jumping from continent to continent, region to region.” 

The space, located at 1815 Castle St., is outfitted like a professional kitchen: sinks, prep stations, hand sinks, fryers, griddles, ovens, grill, 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, along with their kitchen help 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.”

The chefs pay a fee to book the kitchen and utilize the equipment, bring in their own crew to run it for the day, and keep all the proceeds from sales.

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 to open at 3 p.m. The kitchen will remain open until 8 p.m. or whenever the food is sold.

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

She will offer 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, bechamel, topped with a fried egg), lemon and powdered-sugar crepe and coconut-rum macarons. Prices will range between $7 and $16, with the menu served from 3 p.m. until the food runs out.

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.”

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. He is preparing a menu that 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.”

He already features a vegan fried rice dish at The Green House, as well as a lion’s mane-soaked 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. 

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 includes 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 dishes. 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 tiger’s milk process. “And then I will take the fish scraps and fry them to make fish chicharrones for a nice crunch on top.”

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. He posted for a year at FIG — 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 running the 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. It’s always been a passion; he remembers making empanadas with his grandmother and selling them at a bakery as a child.

“Just super classic food, nothing over the top, nothing too overcomplicated but bring strong flavors to people that haven’t really tasted it yet,” he said.

Faulkner added that’s the benefit of hosting a pop-up at Concept Kitchen. 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.”

Faulkner added 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. People can apply online at End of Days staff vet the applicants. 

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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