Asheville Wine & Food Festival is a Treat for the Palate

Oenophiles, gourmets and gourmands alike were in for a treat at the eighth edition of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival last weekend. The annual event was held last weekend.

On Friday, SWEET featured a large gathering of pastry chefs with mouthwatering desserts, wine and music. The annual Grand Tasting was held on all three levels of the U.S. Cellular Center with many breweries and scores of wineries in attendance. There were more than 10 Southeastern chef cooking demonstrations, and this year’s Grand Tasting seemed to feature more restaurants, and food vendors, but unlike last year, very few spirits. More than 20 purveyors of distilled beverages got to showcase their products last May during the Wine & Food Festival’s Asheville Cocktail Week.

From Isa’s Bistro in the historic Haywood Park Hotel was executive chef Duane Fernandes. He offered vichyssoise, a chilled French cream based potato and leek soup, perfect for a hot summer day. He garnished it with thinly sliced sugar snap peas, fine biscuit crumbles, and lemon oil. Isa’s menu is specialized to celebrate the freshness of Western North Carolina’s seasonal harvest and fresh local produce. Fernandes was educated at Johnson & Wales University and the Culinary Institute of Charleston. He has worked at some of the best restaurants in the country including a stint as executive chef for Gabrielle’s at the Richmond Hill Inn, and as chef de cuisine for Horizons at Grove Park Inn.

Alan “Mushroom Man” Muskat attended the No Place Like Home Wild Food Adventures booth with Rachael Rhodes and Jeanie Martin. Muskat is known for leading groups into the wilderness and showing them how to responsibly harvest edible botanicals and mushrooms.

“When you forage, shopping becomes a perpetual Easter egg hunt, and it’s not just the food that’s wild and free. Going back to nature, we go back to our true nature as trusting, loving beings,” Muskat said.

Rancher Steve Whitmire, owner of Brasstown Beef prepared and brisket and meatballs. “To build our business and our reputation for steak with consistency of our tenderness and flavor we implemented the strictest of standards in our breeding program to ensure that only the best of the best were added to our breeding herds. The quality of our beef just happens to exist because the cattle are extremely well taken care of, grass-fed, have plenty of room to roam around at Ridgefield Farm, and be happy all the time.

Craig and Lindsey Rudewicz of Crude Bitters and Sodas flavored mini Manhattan cocktails with their bitters. The flavored small-batch bitters they brought for the Grand tasting included rosemary grapefruit & peppercorn which pairs well with gin or tequila, coffee & cacao which pairs better with darker liquors, hibiscus & lavender, and an orange & fig. They were the first producers of bitters in the state of North Carolina, and although their cocktail bitters are carried in almost 20 places in Asheville alone, including Whole Foods, you’ll also find it behind the bar at the Grand Bohemian’s Red Stag Grill in Biltmore Village.

Catering manager Megan Thornton and bar manager Andrew Vermeersch came from Biltmore Park’s Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar. They gave samples of lasagna, Farmhouse Salad, and Pasta Mia Nonna, made with bowtie pasta, grilled chicken, mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes, in an asiago cream sauce.

“We create contemporary Italian fare from scratch,” said Thornton.

Executive chef Taylor Montgomery and Alex Kowaleski came from the Mountain Air Country Club in Burnesville, North Carolina. Montgomery describes his farm to table cuisine as Appalachian regional with a twist.

“We find classic traditional dishes, and then we try to get as whimsical as possible,” he said. They brought Brunswick Osabaw pork stew, with a creamed corn doughnut hole, smoked North Carolina trout sliders topped with apple bacon jam, kale slaw on a sweet potato yeast rolls, and boiled peanut and burdock fritters with pickled vegetable salad, buttermilk crema.

Victoria and Robert Zabel from Zia Pia Imports brought bottles of their olive oils and Balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. The completely authentic extra virgin olive oils come from the producer’s estates in Tuscany and Umbria, and they sell a line of flavored oils from Puglia by Galantino, the later each infused with orange, lemon, aromatic herbs, basil, garlic or chili pepper. Samples of sweet creams from Sicily, flavored with pistachio, almond or hazelnut were also available.

Chefs Matthew Basford, and Tobin Osburn came from Atlanta, Georgia’s Canoe, ranked one of the top 100 restaurants in America by OpenTable. Basford, a native of Australia, began his tenure at Canoe in 2005 as a sous chef. They served samples of tender Gochujang spiced Fremantle octopus garnished with a cauliflower kimchi and apple salad, and a soy & ginger dressing.

“Asheville is known for its culinary artisans, and this festival shows the support the community gives them. Asheville is very welcoming to me and my food which makes my trip north even more enjoyable,” Basford said.

Eater Atlanta, a local version of a national blog, rated Canoe number five in a list of 20 “Classic Restaurants Every Atalntan Must Try.”