Despite its cultural pervasiveness this time of year, Valentine’s Day’s rose-tinted focus on conventional romance doesn’t warm everyone’s heart. But whether one holds with the ancient Greek notion of eros (romantic love) or prefers to honor philia (deep friendship) or philautia (love of self) — or something else entirely — many Asheville foodies would agree with George Bernard Shaw that, ultimately, “There’s no greater love than the love of food.”
And in Western North Carolina, there’s no reason for a celebration of that passion to be a pedestrian affair. While many area restaurants are taking reservations or offering special menus for the occasion, there are also plenty of unconventional avenues for making Valentine’s Day an epicurean escapade.
Turn up the heat
An educational way to experience culinary bliss is to get hands-on in the kitchen. Chef Sebastiaan Zijp and his wife, Ariel, of The Farmer’s Hands will offer a Valentine’s Day-themed cooking class and dinner in the pastoral setting of their 2-acre Madison County farm 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13.
The evening starts with a glass of bubbly, then guests will learn how to prepare a feast with the Zijps in the kitchen of their 150-year-old farmhouse. The menu features oysters on the half-shell with shallot and black pepper mignonette, poached shrimp with lemon horseradish sauce, pan-seared scallops with herbed brown butter, grilled beef tenderloin with potatoes and a port reduction and, finally, chocolate mousse. “You get to have an amazing meal with all local ingredients, and you get to learn a ton while enjoying some of Asheville’s best food,” says Zijp. Cost is $95 per person. The dinner is BYOB. Space is limited. thefarmershands.com
For another off-the-beaten-path approach that honors local culinary traditions, French-educated chef, cooking instructor and author Susi Gott Séguret offers an installment of her monthly Appalachian Culinary Experience on Saturday, Feb. 17. The class opens at 2 p.m. with a welcoming beverage followed by a foraging expedition on Sugarloaf Mountain in rural Madison County.
From there, Séguret will welcome guests into her home to prepare dinner as a group on her wood- and gas-powered stoves. The menu of local ingredients prepared with a French twist — a style she likes to refer to as “Frappalachian” — will include wild mushroom tartines, tomato-goat cheese ramekins with rosemary, boeuf à la Bourgignonne with Tater Gap taters and Moonshine Mountain mousse au chocolat, all paired with wine and served by candlelight.
The feast will conclude in the evening with local tales and songs around the fire (Séguret is also an Appalachian fiddler, singer and songwriter). Couples can expect to bond, says Séguret, “not only through wandering the woods together, but also through wielding knives in the kitchen and clinking glasses at the table.” The experience is $150 per person or $250 per couple. Space is limited. 828-301-2792 or schoolofculinaryarts.org
In Asheville, Valentine’s Day sweets can be participatory, too. Chocolate enthusiasts of all ages can get a head start on the holiday with a free sensory chocolate tasting 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the French Broad Chocolates production facility at 21 Buxton Ave. on the South Slope. The drop-in, family-friendly event will include samples from French Broad Chocolates’ seasonal Aphrodisiac Collection and opportunities to taste, touch and smell ingredients such as pomegranate seeds, honey and rose petals.
Mini-tours of the facility will be offered every half hour, and there will be sparkling wine, hot chocolate, coffee and savory snacks as well. The retail space will be open for those inspired to do some shopping for their valentine. RSVP is requested. avl.mx/4ll
Those enamored of edible art can check out what’s new at The Chocolate Fetish at 36 Haywood St. The shop, which has been operating downtown since 1986, is well-known for its detailed chocolate sculptures, including everything from winsome, jewelry-clad bears to chocolate Champagne bottles that, when cracked open, are filled with candy bubbles.
Chocolatier Jessica Leid is also known for making incredibly realistic, hand-decorated chocolate high-heeled shoes. This year, though, Leid takes that concept up a notch with one-of-a-kind designer shoes adorned with tiny chocolate chains, buckles and hand-sculpted roses. “They’re not custom, because we can’t make them that quickly,” says general manager Elizabeth Foley. “But each one is totally unique.”
The Chocolate Fetish also has special Valentine’s Day truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries and heart-shaped boxes that can accommodate anywhere from one to more than 100 painted chocolate hearts or other candies. The chocolatiers can even seal rings or other gifts inside chocolate containers for a sweet surprise. The shop gets busy this time of year, says Foley, so it’s helpful to call ahead for large or special orders. chocolatefetish.com
But sweet doesn’t have to mean chocolate. For the second consecutive year, Hole Doughnuts owner Hallee Hirsh will host the family-friendly Hole Lotta Love party at the West Asheville gathering spot 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. Hole will create three love-themed flavors for the get-together — cherry amaretto, French Broad Chocolate malt and one inspired by Persian love cake with pistachios, rose and cardamom. hole-doughnuts.com
Sit and sip
Tipplers may want to try the three valentine’s cocktails on special for the month February at Capella on 9, the rooftop bar and restaurant at the downtown AC Hotel Asheville. Dubbed Heart, Love and Prosperity, each is made with meads (honey wine) from Alchemy Herbal Wine that are blended with herbs and spices, such as ginger, cinnamon, clove and rose petals, to benefit the health and spirit. capellaon9.com
To linger longer over the views at the elegant indoor/outdoor space, reserve seats for Capella on 9’s four-course Spanish wine dinner. With a nod to the ancient Roman tale of romance between the goddess of love and the god of war, the Feb. 14 dinner offers a choice between two menus: Venus or Mars. Venus goes light with a beet and cucumber salad and a main course of seared salmon, while Mars revels in roasted Brussels sprouts hash and short ribs with butternut squash farrotto. Vegetarian options are available. Cost is $55 per person. Seatings are at 6 and 8 p.m. avl.mx/4ls
The fifth annual Perfect Pairings pre-Valentine’s Day dinner at Addison Farms Vineyard at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, caters to chocolate lovers, matching courses with wines made right on the premises. Chef Corey Marino’s menu opens with chocolate-candied bacon with local cheese, then moves on to a shared plate featuring white chocolate and wasabi ahi tuna, pear salad with chocolate vinaigrette and butternut squash soup — of course, with chocolate. The entrée is cocoa and coffee-encrusted beef tenderloin with scalloped potatoes and broccolini. And, yes, there’s a yet-to-be-announced dessert. Tickets are $90 per person. addisonfarms.net
For tea-totallers (pun intended), Ivory Road Café and Kitchen will collaborate with Asheville Tea Co. to host the Candlelight Valentine’s Tea Service and Tasting at 6 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. The event features full afternoon tea service with homemade scones and shortbread cookies, seasonal jams, honey butter, Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches and petit-fours served with a tea-tasting flight of seasonal blends from Asheville Tea Co. Live classical guitar music will set the mood, and an educational component will provide information about WNC teas. Cost is $27.95 per person. Gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free options are available for an extra $2. Reservations are required. avl.mx/4lr