At the Taste of Asheville: Meet the Foodtopians dinner on April 27th I fully embraced the localism, authenticity and conviviality that is Foodtopia. With 135 independent restaurants, natural beauty, farmers markets, breweries, artisans and organic farmers, Asheville can center tourism on their iconic foodstuffs. The Foodtopians are great ambassadors for this culinary scene. Their dedication to fresh, sustainable and locally sourced ingredients combined with the geographic distinctness of Asheville puts the city on the map as a gastronomic destination.
I was greeted with huge smiles when I entered Bradford's on Bishop. I slipped in with the crowd and wanted to make them my friends and neighbors. I have been to a lot of these events but never has the vibe been so joyful and full of genuine warmth and festivity. I met the chefs, the farmers, the cheesemakers, the brewers. Each one brimming with lively enthusiasm for their craft.
First stop, Craggie Brewing Company for a glass of Burning Barrel, a bourbon chipotle porter that was smoky, spicy to the nose and a finish smooth as a sip of Pappy. In other words, yum. I tried another that was really hoppy (I like hoppy. I believe it was the Antebellum Ale. Brew master Bill Drew was nice as can be. I was lucky enough to clink glasses with Ale Sharpton and he seemed to like the brews too. I also tried the signature drink of the evening, a jalapeño mojito. Loved the comingling of hot peppers mixed with cool mint.
Laughing Seed Cafe presented a spring green pesto bechamel lasagna accompanied by tasty kale with pine nuts. Here I met owner Joan Cliney-Eckert who owns a 3 acre farm where she sources much of her cafe's produce.
The charming Michel Bandouin of Bouchon made me a plate of French comfort food Asheville style. I swooned over the plate of Lapin a la Moutard with creamed turnips and a salad of roasted beets and goat cheese. Michel spoke of the local rabbits, the mustard he seasoned with and the goat cheese from a local creamery. It was at this moment that I began to latch on as a Foodtopian.
At The Corner Kitchen station I met owner Joe Scully and snacked on his hangar steak with molasses and mustard infused olive oil. Standing next to him was Jamie Agar of Hickory Nut Gap Farms. Scully sources from this local farm that raises grass fed beef and goat, pastured pigs, chicken and turkeys.
Lucia of Ultimate Ice Cream Company was close by to cleanse my palate. I had such a difficult time choosing from the listing of flavors but settled on one of the star ingredients of the evening with roasted ramp and goat cheese sourced from Spinning Spider Creamery. What a great flavor and interesting combination! Throughout the evening I came back to try Brown Sugar Bacon and maple, Blueberry Honey (yum, the local honey) and my favorite, Rielsling Sorbet.
My next taste dazzled all my senses. Zambra put forth one of my favorites of the evening, local trout cakes with micro greens, trout roe and a topping of crispy trout skin. Gorgeous, creative and so inspired. I also sampled a spread of spinning spider goat cheese with leeks on toast.
Jason and Peter of Posana handed me this oh so tender and delicious braised pork with celeriac puree. They explained how it was rubbed with local grainy mustard first. I ate each composed bite with the puree an wanted more.
I spent much of the evening around the cooking station of The Red Stag Grill. Chef Adam Hayes and crew had so many mouth watering local offerings. The pork pate paired with Lusty Monk mustards was a great start. I moved on to a braised bison short rib that had been encased in caul fat and then to goat sausage. Knowing the ingredients were fresh and locally sourced only added to the intense flavors.
Drunken pork livers were intense with the infusion of bourbon. I loved the rabbit rillette on a piece of crusty toast and topped with chef Hayes' pickled rhubarb. This was such an authentic local dish that I didn't think it could be topped. I inquired about other seasonal offerings since I had seen ramps in abundance. Fiddleheads? No. Morels? This illicited a big grin on chef Hayes' face as he handed me a slice of toast with a smear of chicken liver mousse blended with morels. Hands down my favorite taste of the evening--delicate, smooth and composed umami. Seconds later he plated for me a dish of strawberries, Looking Glass chevre, local honey (sourwood) and shave truffles. Yowza. The Red stag is my first stop this summer when I visit Asheville.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge had the most beautiful spread of chocolate truffles and cakes. When I visit I want to try them all, especially the lavender and honey. Dan and Jael Rattigan, look for me.
Bistro Restaurant on Biltmore Estate served up a pork belly cooked in bacon fat then cooked in duck fat. The first bite melted in my mouth. The second I dipped in their ancho cherry sauce. Wow, just wow. A friend saw my food daze and brought by a Mongolian braised bison taco from Lexington Avenue Brewery. So tender and delicious wrapped in a super flavorful corn tortilla. As I walked away from the table Jeff from Luella's Bar B Q handed me a cup of mac and cheese with bacon and offered me pulled pork slider. A friend nearby tried the sliders and proclaimed them delicious.
Last stop was the Blue Ridge Dining Room at the Grove Park Inn where chef Jack Melson was cooking up Anson Mill blue corn meal encrusted Sorrell Creek trout topped with manque choux. Perfect!
I couldn't get out the door without more good coming at me. The Foodtopians told me to make sure I collected a parting gift. I chose a bar of Black Mountain Chocolate but it was a difficult choice with the gorgeous jars of Imladris Farm jams. I did not want to leave such conviviality.
Foodtopia, I get you and I embrace you. I have made my plans to take a foodie trip to Asheville and I already know it is going to be a good time. Hope the Foodtopians come back for The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival so we can return the comity of a shared love of food, libations and gathering.
*Thank you to Spravka Imaging for the photos!