Page had visited Asheville years ago with his wife to tour the Biltmore House, but admits this time Asheville surprised him, “I was not aware of the huge craft beer scene, or the local food interest…the traditional Southern culture mixed with open minds.” He observed many parallels between Asheville and his native Canada. “Both see ourselves as a liberal haven inside an increasingly fundamentalist world,” he says. “The stereotype is that it’s a lot of granola heads, but it reminds me of Boulder, Colo. that way, a diverse culture with an excellent food and beer scene, people excited about what’s local. Also the awareness of natural beauty, the hiking and mountain biking, people do that all over Canada.”
Page says Asheville is a good fit for his show. “Asheville blows stereotypes about the South wide open,” he says. “There are different people and cultures from all parts of the country, and that’s what the show is about, trying to show that.”
Jeff Anderson, marketing and creative director at Urban Orchard Cider Company, served as the production assistant on the two-day shoot. “I had a blast,” Anderson says. “We started filming at Seven Sows, and were invited to an underground dinner that night.”
Chef Mike Moore of Seven Sows and one of the founders of the Blind Pig Supper Club explains, “An underground supper club in the modern-day sense is a restaurant set in an unlikely or off-the-map and oftentimes discreet places with special offerings on the menu that are set for adventurous diners.”
That night, Blind Pig’s dinner for more than 100 guests was a fundraiser for nonprofit organization Wild South held at the Antique Tobacco Barn on Swannanoa River Road. Moore says the evening was memorable. “Steven Page arrived in a sport coat and a pink bow tie in typical fashionable spirit,” he says, “and jumped in to help us plate a bit before he grabbed the microphone at the end of the dinner and played the role as Alfred Hitchcock and uncovered the murder suspect through a series of clues. It was hilarious.”
But in what sense are these types of eateries “illegal”?
“Real illegal would be they don’t pay their taxes,” Charney says. “But usually it’s an unlicensed place or an atypical place to have a dinner, somewhere that feels off-the-map.” But that which is illegal one day can be perfectly legal the next. “Street food used to be illegal,” Charney says. “It becomes legal when people want it.”
The Lot at 51 Coxe Avenue is one of several privately owned properties where food trucks, previously illegal, are now allowed to set up shop. The show sampled food from several trucks including Flying Falafel Brothers. But one truck owner, Daniel Martinez of Sabor Bustaurant had arranged to prepare a seven-course meal at Greenman Brewing for the film crew. “I wanted to incorporate the local brewery scene,” says Martinez. “For the entrée I served a Brazilian braised short rib with red couscous.”
Many of these chefs hope to eventually have a real restaurant, and this can be a step for them. “Some can’t afford the start up costs, plus it’s cutthroat competition,” Charney says. Underground supper clubs and food trucks can give exposure to a newer chef. Charney says one restaurant in Canada, Deer + Almond, got its start when an underground diner financially backed the chef.
Although some diners might be concerned with food-safety issues with so-called illegal eateries, Charney says they shouldn't be. “There is such a passion for what they are doing, such care and preparation,” he says. “Ninety percent are licensed food handlers.” Martinez says food trucks at The Lot have to be permitted and meet health and safety regulations. And The Blind Pig Supper Club is a fully licensed S Corporation in North Carolina.
The producers lament that everything didn’t make the cut, such as an interview with [former Mountain Xpress food writer] Emily Patrick at The Wedge. “Emily's scene unfortunately had to be cut from the episode for time,” Charney says. “But it became a fun webisode and can be seen on YouTube.”
This snippet may be all Americans will be able to watch until a U.S. station picks up the show, which hopefully will be soon. For now, stay posted on The Illegal Eater Facebook page.
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