The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority trademarked the term Foodtopia, and for good reason. Asheville, the farm-to-table-friendly county seat, hosts a pantheon of award-winning chefs and their renowned restaurants. The James Beard Awards are the Oscars of the food world, and several Asheville chefs, including Katie Button and John Fleer, keep making the grade.
- Button cut her teeth at El Bulli, Spain’s acclaimed house of molecular gastronomy. She and husband Felix Meana moved to Asheville to open Cúrate and later Nightbell, the former offering riffs on traditional Spanish tapas, while the latter spins homey dishes such as deviled eggs into signature works of showmanship.
- William Dissen, meanwhile, has been invited to cook at several Beard events. More than a decade ago, he bought The Market Place, one of Asheville’s first fine-dining establishments, where you’ll savor local ingredients like Sunburst Farms trout, wood-grilled specialties and Dissen’s fine spin on mac-and-cheese.
- Over at Table, Jacob Sessoms curates curious wine lists and complex charcuteries. His complex, well-thought-out dishes blend local ingredients with international styles — think Sunburst trout croquettes with ramp salsa or Hickory Nut Gap pork with crawfish cornbread.
- And at Chai Pani, 2015 James Beard semifinalist Meherwan Irani has received much acclaim for his version of classic Indian street food that’s often given a Southern spin. He’s partnering with Elliott Moss to open Buxton Hall, a pit-fired, whole-hog barbecue outfit, later this year. And in the meantime, the pair are offering a dirty-Southern-cuisine, pop-up kitchen called The Thunderbird out of MG Road, Chai Pani’s classy downstairs cocktail lounge.