Michael Moore made a quiet splash in Asheville when he began the Blind Pig supper club in 2011. The concept is simple but exciting and long-overdue in this area. Much like other similar events across the country, talented chefs collaborate to present a themed dinner in a secret location that ticketholders don't learn about until hours before the event starts. But Moore and crew offer more than just courses of good food — they offer multisensory experiences. "It's not just food. It's art, it's music, it's perhaps performance — it's a wonderful thing," Moore says.
The Appalachian Avant Garde dinner, for example, took place in the belly of the Phil Mechanic Building in the Flood Gallery, hung for the occasion with black-and-white photographs of mountain culture. West Virginia-native Willam Dissen (chef of The Market Place) was at the helm, turning out collards in gelee form and serving bacon fat-fried sweetbreads. Asheville-based folk band Underhill Rose serenaded the crowd and storyteller Connie Regan-Blake had the crowd alternately in stitches and tears with stories that included an Appalachian soldier’s account of fighting on foreign soil on Christmas Day.
Earlier last year, the Fire and Chocolate dinner, a collaboration between Mark Rosenstein and the owners and baker of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, was hosted on Rosenstein's property and featured at least one ancient Mayan recipe, fire dancers and drummers during dinner and fireworks that Rosenstein made himself. "Every dinner has its own magic," Moore says.
In 2012, the magic continues with icons of the barbecue pit, stars of the low-country and a food-truck battle, just for starters. This April, Moore will welcome Ed Mitchell, former owner of The Pit in Raleigh, an Eastern North Carolina barbecue destination. "He's a celebrity in the barbecue scene, a rags-to riches guy with a good success story," says Moore.
Mitchell, who's been featured in Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines and once beat chef Bobby Flay at the barbecue game on the TV show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, hails from Wilson, N.C. "Wilson is known for its barbecue because of its roots to history and tobacco," Moore says. "When you were sharecropping in the day, you would have a big barbecue at the end of the season and you would roast pigs … and that's how everyone came together and ate." Mitchell will collaborate with Elliott Moss of the Admiral to host the mother of all pig-picking parties and oyster roasts (at press time, there were still a handful of tickets available at http://blindpigofasheville.com, but all other announced dinners are sold out). "[Mitchell] digs the whole-hog barbecue, cooking with natural wood, done the old-school way. So many barbecue restaurants don't do that these days and you don't get the same flavor at all. I'm excited to bring Ed [to Asheville]," says Moore.
Other future guests include the Lee Brothers, founders of the Southern-pantry staple source, The Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, collaborators on projects for publications like Food & Wine, The New York Times and Martha Stewart Living and authors of their own popular cookbooks. The Lee Brothers will host a traditional low-country dinner for Blind Pig late this year.
Not all Blind Pig events involve imported talent. A Washoku (traditional Japanese) dinner this month features two decidedly talented — yet not Japanese — chefs, including Brian Canipelli of the modern-Italian Cucina 24. A March dinner spotlights local chefs, including Camp Boswell of The Junction, reproducing century-old recipes from Le Guide Culinaire, Auguste Escoffier’s definitive guide to French Cuisine. It's all part of an effort to keep the culinary scene in Asheville energized, the chefs creatively inspired while honoring traditions, says Moore.
"There's a lot of energy when something is creative and there's a great thought process behind it. It's like putting on a show, being the ringleader of a circus and moving people," says Moore. "I hope it's inspiring to the guests and it opens their minds … and I hope it's inspiring to the chefs, also."
Some people have shrugged off the Blind Pig as a gathering of the elite, something that bothers Moore, who turns all profits from his events over to various charities. "That couldn't be more wrong as far as I'm concerned," says Moore. "It's history through food. It's food done from craft — it's an amazing display of talent. We're coming up with creative ideas." And the Blind Pig is also about the magic of gathering together at a table, he says. "That's where it all began. That's what I think the meaning of food was in the beginning. It's part of our life and we have to celebrate it — and life is short."