Across the country there are stories of how bakers and pastry chefs are pushing the envelope to create new culinary experiences. The new menu at Counter- in Charlotte, North Carolina, will feed your imagination – literally. Inspired by various creative themes – the Modern Art menu, for example – pastry chef Faith Morley of Counter- helps bring a full sensory restaurant experience featuring themed tasting menus paired to music.

“Our themes come from research, and my newest menu is inspired by American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, telling and sharing new influences,” Morley explains, adding that the location of where the modern artist lived (New Mexico) inspired the pastry chef to use chiles and prickly pears in her dessert. “Our concept is your own thought – as long as you have the translation yourself, that is very important.”

O’Keeffe famously said, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I've never let it keep me from a single thing that I wanted to do.”

The imaginative concept of Sam Hart, who in 2023 is a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef in the Southeast, features themed 10- and 14-course tasting menus.

The restaurant is purposefully designed to mimic a blank canvas and features muted concrete floors and countertops that can easily be transformed to fit the rotating menus, tableware, and art that accompany each quarterly theme. Once seated, guests will experience meticulously coursed out dishes and wine pairings presented by Hart and his team.

New York born and raised, Morley set her sights on the South upon graduating from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 2018. While at the CIA, she interned at the historic Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Here, she fell in love with the state of North Carolina and decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, where her partner grew up.

Starting off with gigs at Copain Bakery and Roosters Uptown, Morley eventually accepted a job at Peppervine, where she ran the pastry program, executing five plated desserts a night plus house made ice creams and sorbets.

“Here at Counter-, we do so many different things. It allows me to experiment with a broader spectrum,” Morley says. It’s definitely broadened my spectrum on what I’m able to do with desserts. People are recognizing pastry chefs more now. This is opening people’s eyes to a wide spectrum of what you can put on a plate for dessert.”

For instance, one of her favorites is purple corn pancakes – offering a delicious flavor blending sweet and savory. She is preparing a desserts-only tasting menu that will include a custard-like dessert featuring eel.

She is passionate about learning from people of all different walks of life, and feels right at home at Counter-, an inviting space where the kitchen staff regularly interacts with guests. Aiming to create desserts that are both familiar yet out-of-the-box, she enjoys playing around with interesting flavor profiles, creating unexpected delicacies like a black pepper crumble.

Challenging people to try new things and taking guests out of their comfort zone is paramount at Counter-, and Morley’s pastry program illustrates just that. Her approach is unique. She starts with something traditional, dissects it piece by piece, looks at all the components and flavors individually, and finally recreates it in a new and improved form.