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Never Blue chef Jesse Roque heads to Raleigh next week to compete in the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Chef Showdown.
Roque will be making a dish representative of her restaurant to compete in the Savory category against some of North Carolina’s top chefs including Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 (Charlotte), Matthew Krenz of The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel (Charlotte), Richard Miller, Graze (Winston-Salem), Sam Stachon of Highland Avenue (Hickory), and Matt Tilman of Gallery Restaurant at The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge (Charlotte).
Awards will be given in the Savory and Sweet categories based on the use of GotToBeNC ingredients and the most creative presentation. NCRLA will name one participating chef as their 2016 Chef of the Year, and guests will also choose a People Choice Award. A total of 16 chefs are competing.
Roque visited Hendersonville 10 years ago and never left. The classically-trained pastry chef opened Never Blue with her husband and artist mother as a café/bakery and art gallery, but over the last eight years, the restaurant has grown to a globally inspired tapas hotspot drawing loyal diners from across the Southeast.
Roque grew up underfoot in the various kitchens of her friends and family in Tampa where she learned techniques and methods from people that had a genuine love and compassion for food. The Filipino, Greek and Cuban flavors she experienced in her youth permeate her recipes still today. Her first jobs in restaurants started at age 15, so becoming a chef was the logical next step to a career in the hospitality industry. At 21 years old, Jesse packed up her little Toyota and with a map in hand, she headed for Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina to start her culinary adventures.
Three quarters through culinary school, she took a pastry detour. Roque continued to move between chef and pastry chef throughout her career. Highlights include an internship at the famed Fontainebleau Hilton Resort in Miami Beach and classical French, Four Star, award winning restaurant, Le Festival in Coral Gables, Florida. She apprenticed under renowned Charleston chefs “Mama Rose” Durden at Carolina’s, Donald Barickman at both Blossom and Magnolia’s, and under famed "Rock n' Roll Chef" Kerry Simon at Mercury in South Beach, Florida. She landed the Executive Pastry Chef position at the AAA Four Diamond Charleston Grille inside the Charleston Place Hotel in 1999 working under world renowned, celebrity chef, Bob Waggoner and Michelle Weaver. She later opened Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro locations for PB&J Restaurants, Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri.
After family tragedy, a new start brought her mother to a little house on Never Blue Road in Western North Carolina. Jesse visited her mom and after some soul searching, decided to stay. She called her boyfriend (now husband), Edson, to ask if he wanted to move to the mountains and open a coffee shop/art gallery with her mother. They found a dilapidated building on the south side of Main Street and after a year of construction, Never Blue opened in February of 2008. Like the layers of one of the beautiful paintings of her mother’s that adorn the walls, Never Blue has emerged as a dining icon in downtown Hendersonville. Jesse Roque has become a noted chef in the North Carolina dining scene and is known for her seamless melding of flavors and use of local and often unusual ingredients.
Her recipes have been featured in Chefs of the Mountains: Restaurants and Recipes from Western North Carolina and Fine Dining: Tennessee Style. She has also been featured in Southern Living, WNC, Charleston Place, Parents and UpScale magazines.
She and her husband, Edson, live on a small family farm, which produces eggs, vegetables and unique herbs for the restaurant. On her days off, she homeschools their two girls, Violet and Lily Jo, cans and preserves food stuffs for the restaurant, and enjoys all the beauty and adventures Western North Carolina has to offer.