Damien Cavicchi is the new executive chef of all of the Biltmore restaurants — no small task. But Cavicchi, former chef and owner of Sugo, a modern Italian restaurant on Patton Avenue that closed in 2008, is up to it. Cavicchi is working to further lift the culinary scene at Biltmore with more chef-driven events like his Moveable Feast series. The al fresco dinners, which resume in May, afford seldom-seen views of the property, with food good enough to stand up to the scenery.
Despite his ambition and accomplishments at a young age (he’s in his early 30s), Cavicchi remains down to earth. It's not surprising then that in 2012 he'd like to see much of the ego removed from the food world.
The trend of the "celebrification" of chefs, he says, is distasteful. "Where chefs are not really chefs, but they play one on TV. They're marketed for their personality or their looks." Being a chef is not a job that simply requires punching in for an eight-hour shift and tooling around the kitchen stirring pots, Cavicchi says. It’s hard work, and it’s not for everybody. "It's more like what you were put on the earth to do or what you work your ass off to do. Chef means boss. [A chef] is someone who runs a kitchen, a mentor and a leader. Not just someone who is trying to invent the next popular thing so they can get a book deal."
Learning and recreating the classics is falling by the wayside, too, Cavicchi says. A chef should be able to recreate the mother sauces and have at least a few pastries and desserts among his or her repertoire. Too much focus is on the novel-food concept, all in the name of razzle-dazzle.
"I think there's a lack of authenticity,” says Cavicchi. “I want to see us go back to a restaurant that does something that's stood the test of time — the classic genres of food instead of having this murky mess where this 25-year-old hot shot chef who's trying to be the next big thing is kind of all over the place. We’re going to lose something if people just want to be all whimsical and creative.”
“I find myself not feeling satisfied when I go out to eat a lot — not just in Asheville, but other cities as well. If someone just made really good mashed potatoes and really good collard greens and really good fried chicken, that would be fine. Then I would be satisfied.”
Cavicchi also says that he’s sick of the term “locavore” and all of the talk about farm-to-table. “Thinking back to Italian cooking and the food of the American South, which is where my head stays lately, all of those cooks were searching [out] the best local ingredients that they could, and that just makes sense,” says Cavicchi. “It’s kind of the expectation. Let’s quit talking about it and get our heads somewhere else. Let’s use our celebrity — if we have it — to raise awareness about hunger.”