If a Creole-inspired, French-named restaurant in a small town in Western North Carolina needs something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue for a lasting union, Louisiana-born chef Jaime Hernandez is covering all his bases.
Pieces of painter’s tape — something blue — wink from every gleaming surface of Hernandez’s open-concept kitchen at Jaime’s Creole Brasserie, as the executive chef and owner engages in one of his favorite pastimes on a recent Friday morning — organizing.
His command center consists of three clipboards and, if that is not enough, his four sous chefs each pick up a clipboard of their own before they head to their stations near the barely-broken-in expresso maker. While he hunts for another Mason jar — painter’s tape waving from his index finger — Hernandez talks about cooking in full view. “I love the openness of it all. It’s organized chaos that I want,” he says. “I’m always organizing. I love it when everything flows.”
When it comes to new, Hernandez only has to point. There are yards and yards of unmarred cutting boards, a just-now seasoned pizza oven and a still speck-free dishwashing station. Out-of-the-crate new? Yes, yes and yes.
The borrowed piece is a round tabletop that served as a sign outside Hernandez’s last venture, Pork & Pie in Marshall, before it closed in June. Hernandez, who has been mentioned in the Best Chefs of America for the past two years, earned a loyal following among regional foodies during his tenure in Marshall. He hopes he can bring those accolades with him to Brevard.
Since mid-June, Hernandez has been overseeing the transformation of a long-vacant storefront across from the Transylvania County Courthouse. The result is a 6,000-square-foot, 155-seat restaurant, complete with an outdoor patio, full-service bar, private dining rooms and an eight-seat chef’s table that is really a counter.
The look of the new restaurant — created by Hernandez and co-owner Mike Domokur of Domokur Architects — is a sleek and sophisticated mix of scavenged, salvaged and artisan-interpreted building materials. There is plenty of old here. The teak hostess stand is made from 120-year-old stair posts from a mansion in Asheville, some of the flooring and exposed beams came from the nearby Aethelwold Hotel, and the concrete tops of the bar and the chef’s counter are the work of Brevard’s own concrete man about town, Harvest Leasure. As for the 12-foot communal tables at the center of the dining room, they take eating local one step further — to tree-to-table dining.
In a town of 7,500, where the locals call the grocery store “Mingles,” the tables perfectly illustrate the kind of connect-the-dots story only Brevard can tell. The greenish-hued slabs came from a yellow poplar that grew six stories tall on nearby Probart Street. The seedling was planted by a local boy of about 10 and his two brothers “on an afternoon when we had nothing better to do.” That little boy is now a “barely any wiser” 74-year-old gallery owner and Brevard institution named Tom Cabe.
That’s Brevard. Not weird like Asheville, but tightly knit with a story in every stitch.
“I phoned my brother after I heard about our tree,” Cabe says. “We’ll have a drink on it next time he is in town.” His other brother, Jerry Cabe, a well-known Brevard dentist, passed away in 2006.
And just to connect a couple more dots for sport: Cabe’s gallery, the Red Wolf Gallery, is five doors up from Jaime’s, and Hernandez himself finished the tables, bringing the finely grained surfaces to a high sheen.
“It’s how I get inspired,” Hernandez says. “I can be working on something like the tables or hiking, and I’ll think of something I’m going to try in the kitchen.”
Hernandez’s creations, which have been served up to early rave reviews since the restaurant’s opening Oct. 17, are bold in flavor and revel in the comfort-food traditions they represent. “His shrimp and grits is the best I have ever tasted,” says Doug Poad, a recent dinner patron at Jaime’s.
Hernandez says he doesn’t believe in pretentious dishes that awkwardly stretch the palate’s perception for awards and recognition. “I do things that people are used to, but I do them the right way,” he says.
His lunch and dinner menus will showcase local produce and meats and highlight the best of his native Louisiana. “Seafood will still come from down south,” Hernandez says of shrimp, mussels and clams that will shine in dishes ranging from lump crabmeat ravigote to New Orleans barbecue shrimp. “But I’m getting some fantastic lamb from right around here,” he says of his lamb merguez kebab, which pairs grass-fed lamb from Cherryfield Farms in nearby Rosman with candied-apple tzatziki.
Local purveyors will be listed on a blackboard. “That way people can look if they want to know. It’s important to me, but I don’t like looking at a menu all junked up with names and places,” Hernandez says. “I want people to be comfortable here and to have a great dining experience. I’m not in it for the prestige.”