A foodie paradise

As usual, exciting things are brewing in the local culinary scene. WNC Magazine and parent company GulfStream Communications are partnering with the Asheville Wine & Food Festival to help cultivate an impressive summer showcase of all that WNC has to offer the food-and-wine world. The festival, now in its second year, is taking place on August 14 at the WNC Agricultural Center's new expo facility. Attendees to last year's outdoor festival will recall that it was quite warm, to say the least, so the move to an air-conditioned venue is a wise choice. More than 60 wineries and 2,000 attendees are expected to participate.

Bowled Over: WNC blogger and Slow Food Asheville mover and shaker Bob Bowles is helping to mastermind Asheville's second Wine and Food Festival. Photo by Jonathan Welch

What should this year's attendees expect? Loads of regional wineries, chefs and food producers will host wine tastings and gustatory events in a hands-on effort to showcase WNC's healthy appetite for locally produced flavors.

The festival debuted last year as a fundraiser for Slow Food Asheville and RiverLink and was created by Bob Bowles, a founding member and past president of Slow Food Asheville. Bowles currently blogs for WNC Magazine and is understandably excited about the publication's participation and support of the festival.

"WNC is a publication that reaches not just Asheville, but also Hendersonville, Brevard, Cashiers, Sylva — these are all areas which have been coming into culinary vogue," says Bowles. "These are the areas that have some of the finest restaurants and country clubs — as well as farms. WNC Magazine has been featuring these areas for a while, and providing a much broader view of where our food is both going to and coming from, and they lend a great deal of credibility and outreach to the event."

Bowles adds that the magazine's policy of working to be more inclusive of the entire Western North Carolina region is a good match for his views on food. "In Slow Food," he says, "we try to integrate the farm to the table. We reach out to local farmers; then we bring that food to the table and show family and friends how to keep food traditions in the forefront of our culinary experience."

Whetting appetites for the August Food and Wine Fest will be a series of cooking competitions modeled after the Food Network's popular Iron Chef series — mystery ingredient and all. The weekly series, beginning in May, is locally focused, with chefs from North Carolina's 17 westernmost counties using local foods and products. The winning chefs will eventually compete in an Iron Chef-style competition to be held at the festival. Even better? You get to be the judge.

The challenges will begin with a kickoff gala event in mid-May where the chefs will be introduced, tentatively to be held in the Haywood Park Hotel's ballroom. "It will be a nice way to meet the chefs and have some good local food and wine from local wineries," says Bowles. The challenges themselves will be held at the Flying Frog dining room — a venue that seats more than 100 people — every following Tuesday night for approximately eight weeks. The chefs will compete in brackets and serve their creations — all utilizing the top-secret mystery ingredient — and the audience will then get to vote on their favorite dish. The twist? The chefs themselves will be kept secret. "The audience will know what chefs are competing, but they will not know which of the six dishes belong to which chef," says Bowles. "The chefs will not be able to prepare their signature dishes or give their identity away in any manner because we control what the pantry items are."

Each chef, says Bowles, will begin their task early in the morning and be — quite literally — sealed away from the outside world. "They will not be able to contact anyone. They will have no cell phones; they are completely cut off from the world. They are given a pantry list and will be told at that time what the secret ingredient is. Everything is behind-the-scenes."

Bowles adds that, since every challenge is different, most people will find that they will want to attend multiple challenges. "Not just to support their favorite chef, but to see all the different things that the chefs can do."

Xpress will be covering the details of these events as they unfold, so stay tuned for more information. For more info about the festival and the chef challenges, visit www.ashevillewineandfood.com.

Xpress food coordinator Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at food@mountainx.com.

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