Gregory and Subrina Collier prepared menu samples for approx. 50 guests at the Farm to Fork dinner.

Why this story matters: Last year, the prestigious James Beard Foundation changed its policies after criticisms cited lack of race and gender diversity in its culinary honorees. This year’s awards committee now includes past winners like Soul Food Scholar Adrian Miller, allowing for more diverse nominees.

Chef Greg Collier. Photo credit: Peter Taylor Photography

When the James Beard Foundation released its highly anticipated Restaurant and Chef Awards nominee list on Wednesday, it included well-known local chef Greg Collier.

Collier, a first-time nominee, is up for best chef in the Southeast. He currently serves as executive chef at Loft & Cellar. He also owns Uptown Yolk at 7th Street Public Market with his wife, Subrina.

It was a congratulatory phone call from good friend Paul Verica that informed Collier of the news. Verica, owner of The Stanley in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood, is also an award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

“I was at a meeting discussing next steps for Uptown Yolk. Now, I’m prepping because I need to make sure that we have everything done like a normal day, but this feels surreal,” Collier said. “This doesn’t feel like a real thing.”

The James Beard Awards — commonly referred to as the “Oscars” of the food world — were established in 1990 to recognize culinary professionals in the U.S. However, its honorees typically didn’t reflect racial or gender diversity. Collier is the first black chef from Charlotte to earn a nod.

“This nomination means that a black business owner can hire a black chef to cook black food and be noticed for what we’re doing,” he said.

Related: Female chefs shine at Soul Food Sessions year-end dinner

Driven by themes of social responsibility, generational wealth and paying it forward, Collier views his nomination and potential win as a high honor.

“I’m still trying to fathom that out of all of the great chefs in the South, people I’ve looked at doing great work, I’m on the list,” he said. “If by some chance, for some reason, my ancestors are talking to someone and I win this, I don’t know if I could deal. This is the culmination of everything.”

Excited as he is, Collier sees his current recognition as an opportunity to continue work towards his overarching mission of helping the next generation.

“I wasn’t cooking for a James Beard Award. I was cooking for culture, heritage and the next group of chefs coming after me.”

Sabrina Clark is a NY native who enjoys the South, but still loves the perfect view of a city skyline. She’s a social worker and child advocate who finds her zen by enjoying all that Charlotte has to...