[Note: Follow this link-Noble BBQ&A-for an easier to read, .pdf version of the interview.]
Jim Noble is a real-deal Charlotte restaurateur with two establishments in the Queen City and three more in the works. Yet, in his heart of hearts, that heart beats for barbecue (It’s kind of a Russian doll thing). He’s Triad born and Triad bred, and he first experienced…Aw, shucks, let’s just let him tell it:
BBQ Jew: Where are you from and did you grow up on the divine swine?
Jim Noble: I am from High Point and grew up eating BBQ at least once a week or so with my Dad and family. My father was a furniture rep, traveling NC, and he was always on the lookout for great BBQ and local, homespun restaurants all over the state. In fact when we traveled together, he would take me to places he really enjoyed.
BBQJ: What’s your first barbecue memory?
JN: There were so many from an early age, I can’t recall my first, but Saturdays were the best Q days for us. Dad would normally get his mail together and go to the Post Office mid morning. Often I would go with him, then to the grocery store and end up at Kepley’s BBQ (The red pig on the sign signifies the first Q joint Kepley had, called The Red Pig.).
My dad’s favorite was Lexington and Gary’s in China Grove, but Kepley’s was only a mile or so from our home. Kepley’s was always good and I love those guys – we’ve been going in for 45+ years, but our favorite was Monk’s Q at Lexington #1 (in the west that is.) one of my favorite BBQ memories was going hunting with Bob Timberlake, Tom Ix and a crew from Lexington at the Wildcat Hunting club and eating the skins at Jimmy’s BBQ. They were absolutely awesome (overused but great word when used in its original meaning). He once approached me about buying Jimmy’s, but I wasn’t ready at the time.
BBQJ: As a gourmand and a chef, what do you appreciate most about barbecue?
JN: I appreciate the craft of cooking pork over live wood. All of our restaurants cook with wood and I wouldn’t think of cooking it any other way. If I had to cook without wood, I would go into the wine business or organic farming. The legend/lore/artisanal characteristics of cooking with wood is my most heartfelt passion. As one of my chefs and I say, “You can’t sous-vide that.”
BBQJ: Spelling preference: Barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q, Bar-B-Que, other?
JN: BBQ, because most of the time I am key stroking on a computer, and it’s quicker. Or Barbecue.
BBQJ: You’re in the midst of a bit of a barbecue research odyssey–traveling across the Carolinas tasting wood cooked ‘cue in preparation for starting your own ‘cue shack. Having already visited a bunch of purveyors, which have stood out?
JN: I am only about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way through my list, but so far I have enjoyed Skylight the best (what a trip) in the east. I enjoyed Stephenson’s was a close second. I need more time the east and I look forward to visiting: Grady’s, B’s, Ken’s, & Scott’s. In the west, Lexington was my favorite, I enjoyed Cook’s and, believe it or not, Little Richard’s.
BBQJ: Any ideas on location and opening date?
JN: I working on a lease in Charlotte, in the Elizabeth area which would be accessible to Plaza/Midwood area, SouthPark, Myers Park, downtown and Eastover. It’s a single story building and when I am finished it will look like it’s been there for 50 years – it was built in 1939-40. If the deal works out, sooner than later
BBQJ: Will ketchup be involved?
JN: I will have both an eastern and western styled sauce and will also have ketchup for the frites.
BBQJ: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
JN: I went to NCSU in 1973 enrolled in the pre-dental program. After my first Zoo practicum when I didn’t recognize anything under the microscope except maybe an amoeba, I decided to go into the furniture business. They had a Furniture Manufacturing & Management program at State and I felt if I had the background, I could go into design or on the road as a rep. However, during my senior year in school, spring 1977 we opened a college nightclub/bar for the frat/sorority group called Crazy Zack’s.
Three of us left in 1980 to open a place in Clemson called Bollwinkle’s. While in Clemson, I tried to open a NY-styled deli (Katz’s is my favorite) and I was beginning to develop a taste for French cuisine (see my blog post about my journey inspired by Julia). I was also developing a taste and love for wine. I had always enjoyed cooking from a young age. I visited Napa in the summer of 1982 and returned fully intending to open a restaurant in Santa Barbara area. Things didn’t work out for that so I returned to High Point in December of 1982 and started looking for a space. Restaurant J. Basul Noble opened on July 6, 1983.
BBQJ: What’s your role with the King’s Kitchen, a non-profit that helps feed those in need? And we assume that the name refers to King David, right?
JN: My wife and I are the founders of Restoration Word Ministries and The King’s Kitchen will be an outreach of RWM. We have been doing our best to feed the poor/homeless/needing for the last 8 years beginning on Thanksgiving Day and then working into a weekly outreach to two ministries in Charlotte. But our desire was to help the hungry/homeless/desperate daily.
My wife’s heart was for a not for profit restaurant that could do that. She saw a piece on Café Reconcile in New Orleans and the pieces came together in her heart. If you look at the (RWM) logo, you will see planet earth in front of the Star of David. We have a heart for the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
BBQJ: We hear you’re studying Hebrew? What gives—is this an attempt to become the officially sanctioned ‘cue slinger of BBQ Jew?
JN: I am an ordained minister as well and I am a student of the Tanach and the New Testament. I have a heart for the Jews (or really all the tribes) because our heart is with the covenants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I read The Rabbi from Burbank about a rabbi who had a desire to read the New Testament but could not really get it from the King James Version, etc. So he found one written or translated from a Hebrew perspective and it made more sense to him. Likewise, I don’t want King James’ interpretation of the Tanach and I feel most Christians learn about Judaism from other Christians/professors who really don’t know Hebrew, customs, or the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective. This is a short answer to a long question, but if I want to understand Jehovah’s perspective, it would come best from His “preferred” language. Therefore I must needs to understand Hebrew. I am only a little ways down a longer road.
I am not sure what an officially sanctioned Q slinger of BBQ would be, but I am one of your best fans.
Shalom and have a blessed Yom Kippur