Small Bites

Local chef on short list for James Beard Award

Asheville continues to prove that the players that make up the local food scene can run with the big dogs. When the semifinalists were recently announced for the prestigious James Beard Awards (or JBFs) Jacob Sessoms, co-chef and co-owner of Table restaurant in downtown Asheville, found himself included in some highly esteemed company. After all, the JBFs have been called the "Oscars of the food world" by Time magazine. Sessoms, while deeply honored, also would like to see co-chef Matthew Dawes garner recognition.

At the helm: Table co-chefs Matthew Dawes and Jacob Sessoms take a collaborative approach to kitchen creations. Photos by Jonathan Welch

"He is 50 percent of the kitchen team," Sessoms says of Dawes. "He opened the restaurant with Alicia [Sessoms, Jacob's wife] and I as the original manager. Matt has been a steady part of running the restaurant since day one and deserves the accolades as well as I do. Food-wise, everything at Table is a joint effort." He also mentions that the rest of his talented kitchen staff deserves his thanks.

In regards to the Beard awards, Sessoms says that in his observation, chefs are repeatedly nominated for years before they are "strong enough" to receive the award, and he doesn't believe that he will be an exception.

"The competition is extremely stiff, and I'm absolutely floored that we made it on that list in the first place. Of course I hope that we make it, but the pool of talent is astonishing. It's very validating for Matthew and [me]." For more information about Table, visit

Following local food news on Twitter

Here at Xpress, we keep a watchful eye on community news that surfaces through the social-media program Twitter. Our official food-centric Twitter handle is @MXeat, from which we dutifully report news from the local food scene to our followers.

Recently, we noticed some debate among local Twittering foodies, who drew attention to confusion surrounding which hashtag to use to make it easiest to find the food news they're hungry for. @MXeat and other Xpress-staff tweeters use #avleat. If you were following that hashtag last week, here's a sampling of some of the dispatches you might have seen:
• just had near religious experience @LuellasBBQ sausage po'boy visual, tasty treat (via @AIRasheville)
• Mention Twitter and get free drink with your meal at Kostas Kitchen in South Asheville. Every little bit helps! (via @KostasKitchen)
• Sausage po' Boy, Smoked Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice & King Cake! Happy Fat Tuesday from Luella's! via (@LuellasBBQ)
• Hey y 'all. Dirty Rice. Gumbo w/our own Tasso. It's Mardi Gras 2day. King Cake Cupcakes. Laurey's.(via @laureysyum)
• "the food was absolutely wonderful" RT @AIRasheville: …review of Fig on the epicurious-eats blog (via @fobes)
• Dinner tonite at Vinnie's (formerly Savoy). Awesome pizza. Much more kid friendly. (via @edgymama)
• Awesome things at Earth Fare today: loose Moroccan clementines, truffled salami, beautiful shrimp, whole black truffles. (via @MXeat)
• French Broad Co-op upgrades >> RT @KellyFain: come lunch in fbfc's new seating area (via @roadhacker)

Jackson Underground Café

The spankin' new Jackson Underground Cafe occupies the space that formerly housed Sisters McMullen, near the Buncombe County Courthouse. Jackson's seems to focus mainly on value — a good business plan when many of us are pinching pennies. The restaurant serves up a fast and cheap breakfast, with items like egg-and-cheese sandwiches with a smear of local Lusty Monk mustard. Lunch showcases some classics — like pastrami on rye — and some twists, like a Reuben with a sweet Vidalia-onion relish. For more information, visit

Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian

Valentine's Day saw the grand opening of Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian, formerly Savoy. Owner Eric Scheffer's latest restaurant project, still occupying the familiar remodeled gas station location at 641 Merrimon Ave. in Asheville, opened to an enthusiastic response. Vinnie's menu centers around family-friendly Italian fare — think chicken parmesan, big bowls of shrimp linguine and an array of pizzas. The family-friendly theme stretches into the weekly specials: Sunday, for example, is family night, with the restaurant providing a special menu geared toward crews with kids. Vinnie's is open every day except for Tuesday. For more information, call 253-1077 or visit

Remembering Chef Werth

Western North Carolina recently lost a great chef in Robert George Werth, the creator of A-B Tech's Culinary Technology program, who died on Feb. 22.

According to a press release from the college, Werth, a native of France, was hired in 1968 to design and teach the culinary-technology program. At the time, Werth had only four students — and only two graduated. He was understandably disappointed with his early results, but then the program began drawing culinary hopefuls from all over the country.

Werth retired from A-B Tech in 1994, handing the reins to one of his former students, Chef Sheila Tillman.

She credits Werth as one of the catalysts for Asheville's ever-burgeoning culinary scene. Indeed, A-B Tech continues to fill our local restaurants with talent. The chef and owner of Rezaz, for example, Reza Setayesh, is an A-B Tech graduate.

Back to the classics: Vinnie’s serves classic Italian fare in a family-friendly environment. Owner Eric Scheffer (above) formerly ran Savoy at the same location. Photos by Jonathan Welch

Werth authored a 2007 memoir, The Fruits of Experience: My Culinary Life. In 2004, a Hospitality Education scholarship was established in honor of Werth through the A-B Tech Foundation.

What's cookin' at Organic Growers School

A major event for do-it-yourselfers, gardeners and food-lovers alike is coming once again to Asheville. The 17th Annual Organic Growers School Spring Conference is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, March 6 and 7, at UNCA.

More than a few of the classes will be of special interest to foodies of the hands-on variety: Gavin Garland of Garland Truffles, for example, will teach participants all they need to know about growing truffles — even down to training a dog to find them. Martha Vining will demonstrate the art of making chutneys and jams, and Andy Bosley of Yellowroot Farm will cover the basics of vegetable fermentation. For registration details, fees and calendar of events, visit Interested in learning more? Turn to this week's The Dirt column.

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