Full flavor

At the Mountain Xpress, where nothing matters more than local matters, our area's food culture is high on the menu — and we're about to spice it up even more.

Cooking up the news for you: Longtime Xpress food editor Hanna Raskin (left) is stepping down to pursue food writing for AOL and other major outlets, while former Xpress food writer Mackensy Lunsford (right) is coordinating Xpress' new food initiative. Photo by Jonathan Welch

We've forged a new food-journalism initiative that, we believe, will become a gastronomic engine for Western North Carolina's already thriving food-and-beverage scene.

We're doing it with bellies full of input from area foodies, and we're asking every person who reads this and has a passion for eating and drinking locally to chime in and help us make WNC even more of a premium place to get your grub on.

The initiative will focus the power of citizen journalism, collaborative reporting and social media on the area's culinary culture. Here are a few ingredients in the mix:
• A revitalized Xpress food home page, at www.mountainx.com/dining, where you'll find links to local food blogs, a Twitter feed dedicated to Asheville-area eats and drinks, a food forum where anyone who registers can start their own discussions and join others already underway, and frequent blog posts highlighting local food news.
• More food-and-beverage news in the print version of Xpress. Starting this week, we've doubled the amount of news in our Small Bites feature. At the same time, we're shortening our lead food feature.
• A regular Brews News column about local beer, which will appear every other week, in print and online.
• A concerted effort by Xpress to gather and share all of the area's food-and-beverage news; we want to provide a one-stop-shop for passionate foodies.
• A series of collaborative efforts with local food enthusiasts. Last week, we held our first informal foodie summit, where we brainstormed with local food bloggers, restaurateurs, culinary instructors, farmers, and food entrepreneurs and promoters. We came away with dozens of ideas for how Xpress can forge collaborations that take local food journalism to new heights. (And many thanks to Posana Café for hosting the summit in fine fashion.)

To make all that happen, we've welcomed Mackensy Lunsford, who wrote Xpress' food column from 2005 to 2006, back on board. She's working as Xpress' food coordinator and invites you to send in your news and ideas for the initiative (see her e-mail address below).

Meanwhile, Hanna Raskin, our food editor for the past three years, will continue writing about all things edible, most notably in her capacity as AOL's Southern food correspondent and as a featured contributor to a still top-secret food-journalism venture at a major media outlet (stay tuned — we'll let you know when we can). Raskin plans to remain an active member of Asheville's lively culinary scene, and we'll look to her to write some of the in-depth food pieces we plan to publish from time to time.

For this initiative to succeed, we'll need to hear from, and hopefully collaborate with, everyone in our area who has a stake in — or a passion for — the local food scene. There can't be too many cooks in this kitchen — so please send us your ideas, to food@mountainx.com.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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4 thoughts on “Full flavor

  1. tatuaje

    One thing I would really like to see that I really haven’t over the years: reviews that are willing to point out the negatives.

    I understand that pointing out the positives helps generate ad revenue and gives everyone warm fuzzy feelings, but it not only does a disservice to the customers, but to the establishments themselves in the long run.

    Be honest.

    If the service is horrible, tell us.

    If they buy their food from Sysco and heat it up in a microwave, tell us.

    If they’re a new brewery and their beers suck, tell us. (wink wink, nudge nudge)

    If they’re serving super small portions for way too much money, tell us.

    Because when I read a review and then go to the place only to find these things out for myself? Well, then your credibility is blown.

    So step up to the plate Mackensy and Anne. If I wanted sunshine blown up my arse I’d ask the restaurant/brewery/bar if they’re any good.

    TL;DR – Please stop being an extension of a business’ marketing strategy.

  2. Jon Elliston

    tatuaje:

    You make an interesting plea, and it’s one that we’ve grappled with since starting our food section a few years ago.

    At first, we took a kind of no-holds-barred approach — or at least few-holds-barred. We ran some reviews that were pretty darned critical. It was problematic though: We don’t have the budget to send our writers to a restaurant very often, so we’d get into situations where we’d wonder if maybe we just caught an establishment on a bad night, and would be writing up an assessment that didn’t do their regular operations justice. There were several cases where we concluded that that was likely what had happened.

    Then, we shifted gears for a while, and approached restaurant owners with an offer: We’d review the food as honestly as we could, but give them a chance to speak to shortcomings. This approach led to some strong coverage, but again, it’s hard for one person to say the last word about a place when we can’t afford to frequent it and get the full picture.

    Our new approach isn’t designed to blow smoke; it’s an effort to get more passionate voices into the mix of our food coverage. Which is to say that we’re opening the door to many more voices, and hope to help provide a more complete picture of all that’s going on in our food and beverage scene.

    I expect that what we’ll find is that the new approach will lift up establishments that are doing consistently good work — the chorus of observations from foodies and consumers will help us all sort out the good from the bad. True, we might not hear that much about places that are dropping the ball; but we’ll be hearing more than ever about those that do it right.

    Thanks for weighing in, and please stay tuned to see how this new initiative shapes up.

    Jon Elliston, managing editor

  3. Politics Watcher

    Is the Hannah Raskin above also the Hannah Raskin who works in Senator Hagan’s office in Asheville?

  4. patience pecoraro

    I would like an undercover food writer, I don’t think it means much when everyone knows who you are and what not.

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