“I have been in the restaurant industry my entire life,” says chef John Bausone, brushing his silver-streaked hair from his face. The restaurant is still empty, the doors still locked, his white chef’s coat still unblemished. The wait staff is already at work sweeping floors and rolling silver, ready to open the doors and pull the chain for another night at Buffalo Nickel.
Bausone took over the kitchen at the West Asheville restaurant in August, taking the wheel from Ryan Kline, who now works at Zambra. Bausone slipped in quietly after relocating from Cleveland, with the official announcement of his new position only recently being released. “The first few months I spent getting things organized the way I wanted them and working on menu development,” he says.
Having worked in kitchens since middle school, he hasn’t really ever strayed far from the culinary world. After running several cafes in Cleveland, Bausone and his wife moved to Oregon, where he spent time in Portland training at the Chef Studio. “It was a really different kind of program,” he explains. The school’s mentor-based program takes students through the creation of a daily five-course menu with class sizes of around 10 students. “It was a pretty intense program. Mostly French and Italian cooking,” he says.
From there he went on to work at Courtney Sproule’s groundbreaking Portland pop-up concept, the Din Din Supper Club, before heading back to Cleveland for a stint at the Beachland Ballroom and Grovewood Tavern, as well as a few goes at hosting his own pop-ups. At that point, he says, “We knew we wanted to get back to the mountains, and Asheville was closer to my family.”
While the menu at Buffalo Nickel has definitely seen some changes since Bausone’s arrival, regulars shouldn’t anticipate anything too drastic. The chef says he intends to keep things approachable.
“For this particular venue, the idea is to do contemporary American fare,” he says. “I kind of view America as a melting pot, so I really draw my inspiration from all over. Having grown up in Cleveland, it really is a city of immigrants — there are people from everywhere — so there’s some Asian influence on the menu, there’s some Eastern European influence on the menu, some Italian and some Southern.”
The menu will rotate seasonally and features ingredients from Joyce Farms, Southeast Family Farms, Carolina Bison and Sunburst Trout. “I don’t put all that on the menu because it should be understood that it is just what we are doing,” he notes.
Bausone’s dinner menu, served 5-10 p.m., revolves around sizable entrees. The tavern menu, which is available as long as the bar is open, focuses on snacks, sandwiches and desserts, such as maple chipotle cauliflower with citrus aioli, cider-braised pork sliders and a rustic apple tart. “For an a la carte menu, it has to be approachable and simple,” he says.
Bausone intends to push toward hosting pop-up dinners and offering prix fixe menus for special occasions, something that always seems to go over well in Asheville. “We can really push the envelope by doing dinners — spirited dinners, beer dinners, wine dinners or even themed dinners. I like being able to have that kind of creativity,” he says.