Blazing the trail: Asheville’s food pioneers

MARKET STYLE: Chef and farm-to-table groundbreaker Mark Rosenstein opened the Market Place restaurant downtown in 1979. Arts Journal magazine took this publicity photo at the Market Place in 1985. Photo courtesy of N.C. Collection, Pack Place Library

It’s easy for a foodie to get spoiled in Asheville. Whether grabbing dinner downtown or shopping the tailgate markets and grocery stores for the makings of a homemade feast, the smorgasbord of choices is vast, diverse and endlessly innovative.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course. It wasn’t that long ago that Asheville was a dining desert, with only a few hardy culinary trailblazers, like Mark Rosenstein, Vijay Shastri and Laurey Masterton, willing to try their luck in a mostly boarded-up and derelict downtown.

Just a few short years ago, the French Broad Food Co-op, a couple of small tailgate markets and a skimpy handful of restaurants were the only businesses around buying produce from the progressive WNC farmers who were trying to make a go of it, and locally made value-added food products like Blue Blaze Soda and Smiling Hara Tempeh were the stuff of epicurean dreams.

It’s thanks to the work of a few pioneering visionaries and upstart organizations that the path was paved for Asheville’s present-day culture of culinary excellence. In this issue, Mountain Xpress takes a look at the roots of Asheville’s thriving food scene and a few of the many venturesome individuals and organizations who built it from the ground up.

It would fill the pages of many issues of Xpress to highlight all of the players who helped create our Foodtopia, so we encourage you to join the conversation — share your thoughts and memories of the history of our food community at www.mountainx.com.

Click the links below for stories about some of the Asheville food scene’s pioneering individuals and organizations:

From palates to pallets: Blue Ridge Food Ventures nurtures startups

Fresh AIR: An interview with three of the founders of Asheville Independent Restaurants

Authentic roots: Charlie Jackson and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

The local grocer: John Swann rejects the idea that bigger is better

Kindness and a serving spoon: The legacy of Laurey Masterton

Feeding the workforce: A-B Tech trains tomorrow’s chefs

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About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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6 thoughts on “Blazing the trail: Asheville’s food pioneers

  1. There are so many players in the “Food Scene Evolution” and while I certainly don’t want to take anything from those highlighted in the timeline it does seem like many important ones were also overlooked.
    The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau who coined the term “Foodtopia”; MILKCO (owned by Ingles) that buys milk from local dairy farmers and supplies school districts, Earthfare, local ice cream like Ultimate Ice Cream and Ingles,; Biltmore Estate and Winery a destination for the food, the house and the wine (the most visited winery in the U.S); Mountain Biz Works who probably provided loans or education for many on the timeline; (Omni) Grove Park Inn a historic inn with several dining facilities where many AB Tech Culinary grads have gotten their training; and of course Ingles Markets, founded in Asheville in 1963, one of the largest employers in Asheville , major purchaser of local produce in the SE , first retailer to sell Highland Beers, and supporter of ASAP, Asheville Wine and Food Fest, and Blue Ridge Food Ventures.

    • Jordan Foltz

      There are, and have been SOOO many people and businesses hard at work in this region to give us a robust economy surrounding dining and food in general. I think this really speaks to the spirit of the people who choose to call WNC home: we’re not only seeking a diverse and ever-evolving aesthetic experience found in dining and different foods, but we are passionate about continually raising the bar for the quality of foods we are using and putting into our bodies. I think both of these elements are foundational to a creative culture.

    • Gina Smith

      Thanks so much, Leah, for mentioning a few of the other major contributors to our region’s amazing food culture. In putting this feature together, it was so hard to narrow down the field of people and organizations who played important roles in its development — it truly has been a group effort! We are hoping other readers will join in by mentioning more of the key players.

  2. Peter L.

    You guys should do a feature on Roots Hummus. That is such a great local company, and their product is so good!

    • Gina Smith

      We appreciate your suggestion, Peter. Roots certainly is a great local company.

  3. Bravo to these great chefs and restaurateurs. To be a pioneer with the risk comes adventure. Paths cut like first runs on fresh powder. I am so lucky to have experienced it as an apprentice under Chef Mark at the time of this photo. Brings a huge smile to my face and gratitude seeps from my pores. The culinary history of Asheville is a great topic to write about and has endless subject matter. Thank you Gina for touching on it.

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