Liz Grandchamp celebrates culinary camaraderie with a traditional Italian feast in Raleigh, in this meal crafted by many hands.
By Catherine Currin | Photography by Forrest Mason
Recipes by Liz Grandchamp | Holiday decorations courtesy Acquisition, Ltd.
If you’ve eaten out in downtown Raleigh long enough, chances are you know Liz Grandchamp — or at least recognize her signature grin and backwards cap. Grandchamp has worked in kitchens her entire life, from sandwich shops to fine dining establishments. Born and raised in Bethesda, Maryland, she moved to Raleigh in 2007 to attend North Carolina State University, followed by the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. Here in Raleigh, she’s worked front of house at Crawford & Son, Locals Oyster Bar, and Oakwood Pizza Box, and has consulted for Standard Beer + Food and others.
Sitting at Grandchamp’s table is always a treat — food and drink flowing, deep conversation with folks you’ve known forever or maybe just met. She fondly calls her chosen family her “land of misfit toys,” a gathering of former colleagues, vendors she’s built relationships with, and customers who turned into friends. “I want to be that person that brings so many eclectic groups together,” Grandchamp says. And with this many culinary pros in the mix, any dinner is as much about preparing together as it is about sitting down to eat, each person lending their talents, expertise, and traditions in a delectable jumble of festive dining that often goes well into the night.
One of Grandchamp’s family traditions is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s an Italian-American meal typically served on Christmas Eve that incorporates a variety of fish and other seafood. “It’s something my parents grew up doing in Rhode Island,” she says, but until recently, she’d never hosted it herself.
So she made a plan: Grandchamp would host 20 or so of her friends for her take on the family-style meal. Jenny and Mike Farmer — some of her customers turned friends — offered to host the feast in their recently renovated Oakwood home. “We met Liz at Crawford & Son, and bonded over our love for Napa,” says Jenny. “We began following her, and she has the coolest friends! We always enjoyed sharing food and conversation with them.” For this many guests, they needed both the dining room and living room, with two folding tables and a dozen loaner chairs added to their regular setup. Tablecloths and a long centerpiece of greenery — graciously loaned by the folks at Acquisitions, Ltd. — pieced them all together, and candlelight cozied the space right up.
For the menu, Grandchamp incorporated longtime family recipes, like steamed New England clams, and some on-the-fly improvisations, like a saffron fish stew over pastini. “I wanted to pick food that I like to eat, but also introduce new dishes and ingredients,” says Grandchamp. “Some of the dishes, like whole fish and octopus salad, are traditional to Seven Fishes, but some are just what I enjoy.”
The meal started around sunset, at a coffee table on the front porch loaded with a fish-centric charcuterie board, featuring cheese and salami from North Raleigh purveyor Bongiorno & Son. On the side, crusty Boulted Bread smeared with buffalo milk butter and a scoop of razor clams — each crusty, buttery bite offering a salty finish. Then the guests moved into the kitchen, where the island became a happy mess of slathering clams in butter with Grandchamp and her sous chefs bustling through the food prep.
Before everyone sat down, Grandchamp offered a quick toast, a thanks to her parents and friends for making the night happen. Then guests squeezed in elbow-to-elbow at the table, where there was just enough space to set down a radicchio salad topped with shaved bottarga, the fish stew, and two types of shellfish-infused pasta, each cooked al dente with a perfect blend of sauce and spices. Guests debated their favorites; most couldn’t choose.
For the main course, Grandchamp prepared whole snapper from Locals Seafood two ways — one salt-cured, cooked on a bed of lemons, and another baked with potatoes, olives, and salsa verde — served family-style around the boisterous table. Grandchamp’s take on fish melts in your mouth, especially topped with one of her decadent, homemade butters (infused with herbs, pesto, or bone marrow) on top. And along the side — for anyone who still had space — she served roasted fennel, cauliflower, and broccolini. The only breaks in conversation were sighs of contentment, or the quick pop of bottles as more wine was poured. For those who made it to dessert, well after midnight: rainbow cookies, sfogliatelle, and mini cannolis from Bongiorno & Son, with a homemade batch of limoncello and pizzelles, courtesy of friend Paul Tuorto.
Grandchamp’s parents, Patty Barrett and Gary Grandchamp, were there to assist, helping chop, assemble, and oversee the family recipes. And at every part of the meal, Granchamp’s “misfits’’ pitched in: Tuorto and Halsey Merritt, a wine representative — both longtime friends of Grandchamp’s — worked together to prepare a handmade linguine that was tossed with mussels. Liz Porcelli and Rachel Poe from The Raleigh Wine Shop ensured drinks were flowing all night, from dry French bubbles for toasting to a light Sicilian red that paired with the decadent pastas. “I had friends take off work to help me prepare for this,” says Grandchamp. “They all have their own jobs, lives, but are still there to help.”
This camaraderie — and the collaborations across restaurants, shops, and vendors that Grandchamp has found across the hospitality industry — are, she says, what make Raleigh so special. “I love that there is a bond between the hospitality community here,” she says. It’s with the help of these folks that she’s taken the leap from front-of-house to her own outfit, recently launching Grandchamp Hospitality, a full-service catering operation that’s approachable but full of flavor, as well as a spring and summer sandwich popup, The Shop: “We make food that is easy to enjoy and understand, even if you’ve never experienced it.”
For Grandchamp, food is more than a recipe: it’s a community built with people across the industry. “Raleigh is a tight-knit community where we have each other’s backs. We treat each other with the same hospitality that we offer our guests, and we just love being together to eat and drink and just relax,” she says. “Food and wine are the vehicles in which we build our connections.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.