Small Bites

Picnic in the park

Now that Pack Square Park is almost fully opened to the public, what are people to do with all that space? Anthony Cerrato of Fiore's has a plan for those lovely spring days when a picnic seems in order.

Talking it over: Laurey Masterton's Dinner and Conversation series includes food and tidbits of a more cerebral variety, including conversations with farmers like these. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Cerrato recently came up with a series of "Tuscan picnic baskets," which are actually high-quality hot/cold coolers that he stuffs with a nice array of Italian meals. Four different prix-fixe menus are offered, like "The Garden," which is offered either vegetarian or fully vegan, with almond cheeses and tofu-basil stuffed figs.

A gluten-free "Almost Italian" menu is also available, with gluten-free pizza and pasta salad. All meals come with fresh fruit, chocolate and sparkling fruit sodas. The lunches only cost $12.50 on their own, while the blanket and thermal picnic basket carry a one-time price tag of $30 — the baskets, of course, are refillable. One Tuscan picnic meal out of every four purchased is free with a Fiore's frequent picnic card.

Also, did you know that Fiore's serves brunch on Saturdays? Look for items like a massive Monte Cristo with maple-shallot glazed fries, or a breakfast pizza — topped with bacon, garlic butter and local double-yolk eggs baked right on the house-made crust — that would make Anthony Bourdain proud.

Once a month on Sundays from 1-3 p.m., Ceratto offers Italian-style cooking classes. For example, guests can learn how to make fresh mozzarella class for only $15. What's more — participants get to take home a pound of the cheese and recipes to go along with it.

Fiore's is located at 122 College St. in Downtown Asheville. For more information, visit www.fioresasheville.com.

Farmer to table

Laurey Masterton, owner of Laurey's Catering, is hosting a series of dinners throughout the growing season. Her "Dinner and Conversation" series features local food, prepared with reverence. The dinner highlights guests of honor — usually farmers — as well as the items that they grow or raise. "The important thing, however, is the conversation," says Masterton.

The first event, to take place on Thursday, May 13, will feature Nora Pouillon from Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C., a woman who started the very first certified organic restaurant in the United States. Masterton, who interned with Pouillon at her restaurant about eight years ago, counts her as a mentor.

Picnic in the park: Fiore's is selling picnic baskets complete with meal and a Fiore's logo blanket, printed by Image 420 in West Asheville. Photo by Halima Flynt

Masterton is a new beekeeper, and will be hosting a Dinner and Conversation later this year that will focus on what it takes to make honey. "Hopefully we'll have some of my honey, too," Masterton says.

Also in the works: a beer dinner with local brewers, as well as a North Carolina seafood dinner featuring Blue Water Seafood.

Other potential guests include the farmers of Green Toe Ground, who raise flowers, vegetables and livestock, as well as the proprietors of Looking Glass Creamery.  The owners of McConnell Farms, who grow bramble fruits and apples, will likely be guests, as well as a woman who grows exotic mushrooms locally. The table, says Masterton, is still open. "I love connecting people and food, so I'll just have to find out however many ways I can do it."

Anything can happen when the farmers come to dinner, says Masterton. She tells a story of the owners of East Fork Farms, who she invited as featured guests at one of last year's dinners. The farmers brought their two young daughters, both under 10, who Masterton says became the stars of the show.

"They both have jobs on the farm," says Masterton of the little girls. The sisters had prepared a presentation for the evening that included photos of them holding the rabbits that they raised — followed by pictures of them selling the meat.

"The little girls talked about how the process was just fine with them, and how they came to terms with selling their animals for meat. It was amazing," says Masterton. "They loved them while they were alive, but it was not heartbreaking for them to kill them."

Masterton says that having a farmer at the table is a very moving experience "for both the farmers and the people. It's a very special experience to have the opportunity to spend the evening conversing with the people who are buying your food, and to spend the evening with the people who are growing your food."

Although much of the evening takes the form of a relaxed, round-table discussion over a meal, "there's a formal component, where [the farmers] stand up and talk about themselves and the politics of farming, the science, the heart, the faith, the spirit of farming, the cultural decision to become a farmer," she says. "It's more than lip service to local food."

Masterton says that the market dinners will take place on the last Wednesday of every month during the growing season. The Dinner and Conversation series will "generally take place on the third Thursday of each month, but I can't absolutely commit to that." The best source of up-to-date information for Laurey's events is the online newsletter, which can be found by visiting www.laureysyum.com. Laurey's Catering and Gourmet-to-go is located at 67 Biltmore Ave. in downtown Asheville.

Just a reminder

The weekly WNC Chefs Challenge competitions, hosted by WNC Magazine, kick off on Tuesday, May 18, at the Flying Frog in downtown Asheville. The Iron Chef-style challenges feature culinary teams from Western North Carolina restaurants battling in heats. The two remaining chefs and their teams will go head to head at the WNC Food and Wine Festival on August 14.

Here's how it works: Chefs hole themselves up in the kitchen with their secret ingredient and other pantry items. Attendees will get to sample three different creations — and then declare the winner.

Challenges will run every Tuesday from May 18 through August 3. Cost is $39 per guest, not inclusive of tax, drinks and gratuity. Make your reservation by calling the Flying Frog at 254-9411, or by visiting www.wncmagazine.com. Look to the Xpress for full coverage as events unfold.

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