Play with your food: Kelli Cozlin wants to bring more dinner theater to Asheville

Actress and writer Kelli Cozlin, right, has been teaming up with Lexington Avenue Brewery chef Michael Fisera, left, to produce a beer dinner experience like no other in town. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Kelli Cozlin is cooking up a new feast for the senses.

The actress and writer is hoping to add dinner theater to Asheville’s lively food and entertainment mix. And based on years of experience acting in and producing shows across the country, she thinks it’s sure to be a recipe for success.

“I feel like we have so much at our fingertips when it comes to food, beer and entertainment. Why not put it all together?” says Cozlin. “It could really put us on the map — we’re already No. 1 for food, we’re already No. 1 for beer. Why not kick it up a notch?”

Since moving to town from Orlando, Florida, a year ago, she’s been experimenting with the dinner theater format at the Lexington Avenue Brewery. Her most recent event there was a Halloween-themed gathering dubbed the “7 Deadly Sins Beer Dinner.”

Cozlin teamed up with executive chef Michael Fisera and a group of local actors to produce a beer dinner experience like no other, seamlessly integrating eccentric flavors and performances. Fisera created a sumptuous, seven-course banquet, with each dish and drink corresponding to one of the seven deadly sins. The main dishes included “Wrath” — a duck leg chopped, seared and boiled in its own fat, accompanied by pomegranate and charred orange. It was paired well with Eleanor’s Rye, a malty red ale.

The meal was capped with the appropriately named “Gluttony” — a bowl of smoked bacon ice cream covered in candied bacon bits and bacon chocolate sauce. Attendees washed it all down with The Knuckle, an oatmeal stout.

All the while, notable clips from classic horror movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Carrie and Saw played on a large screen. Some of the characters then came to life in the form of actors, who re-enacted a variety of key scenes.

The experience had an interactive, kitschy quality as several of the freaky figures wandered among diners with sarcastically threatening grimaces and plastic weapons. There was even a survey of sorts asking attendees what their “sin of choice” was. The responses were used to raffle off prizes. The entire room was intricately decked out with spider webs, black lights, pumpkins and other traditional Halloween decorations.

The event followed a similar experiment in multimedia dining earlier this year at the LAB that had a superhero and villain motif. The next theatrical beer dinner at the LAB is set for Wednesday, Jan. 14, and will have a ’90s theme, although many of the details are still being worked out.

Cozlin says that these initial local experiments have been getting “a really great response” that she wants to build off of. Back in Orlando, where she used to work in the industry, dinner theater is common and popular with everyone from families and retirees to young couples on dates, she says. Like that city, Asheville draws legions of tourists who “want to be dazzled and razzled,” says Cozlin. And despite the larger scale of Orlando’s tourism business, Cozlin thinks Asheville has even more potential to grow as a creative dining destination.

“There’s dinner theater in Orlando, but the food is all corporate. We’ve got the luscious farms here, the organic food and the wonderful beer,” she says. “It’s untapped in this area — no pun intended, actually.”

A few Asheville venues already serve food at stand-up comedy performances, such as the Mill Room. And of course the town has a plethora of quirky food, beverage and theatrical offerings. But no one is offering the kind of integrated creative pairings Cozlin would eventually like to see on a nightly basis.

“I would really love to collaborate with different venues to do that,” she says. “Thinking outside the box, I really see potential. What I’m trying to do is create something in Asheville that you guys don’t have.”

For more information on the Lexington Avenue Brewery’s Wednesday, Jan. 14, theatrical beer dinner and to make reservations, visit lexavebrew.com

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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