Small Bites

Ready, set, cook!

Are you a fan of the Iron Chef shows on the Food Network? Hungry for high-tempo culinary action, Asheville-style? Get ready for the WNC Chefs Challenge.

Up to the challenge: Brian Canipelli, chef/owner of Cucina 24, is just one of many area chefs going to culinary battle in the WNC Chefs Challenge competitions. Photo by Jonathan Welch

WNC Magazine is serving up a big helping of the talent that our area restaurants have to offer. Every Tuesday, from now through July, some of the best chefs in Western North Carolina will square off against each other in a showcase of skill and steel will. If you are familiar with Iron Chef, you are familiar with the concept: A secret ingredient will be presented to the chefs on the day of competition; each team will then have to come up with three unique, creative dishes that showcase the mystery item. The chefs will get to dip into a common pantry of ingredients, but they are also allowed to bring their own arsenal — up to $100 worth of goodies, plus a few extra kitchen tools. The competitions will be held in front of a 120-person audience — an audience which will ultimately decide whose cuisine reigns supreme. The chefs will compete weekly until only four are left standing. Those finalists will move on to a series of showdowns during the Asheville Wine and Food Festival in August.

Bob Bowles, organizer of the WNC Chefs Challenge along with WNC Magazine, practically bubbles over with enthusiasm when talking about the upcoming events. "The excitement is coming from the realization that … we're showcasing some of the best chefs in Western North Carolina," says Bowles. "I really believe that is the key to really showing people what an exciting food culture we have here."

Further showcasing what our area has to offer, the pantry the chefs get to pick from will feature local produce and meats, and most — if not all — of the secret ingredients will be locally produced. "We've reached out to ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) in order to get the word out to local farmers and producers," says Bowles. "We have a lot of major players on board to really put a lot of emphasis on the local food movement, and in using a lot of local, sustainable ingredients."

Bowles says that he can't wait to see the audience get into the excitement of the judging process. "I think the suspense is going to kill everyone every evening," he says. "[The audience] will be on the edge of their seats wondering which team of chefs has won each challenge at the end of each evening," he says, adding, "I think every chef in this competition will prepare excellent dishes."

Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24 is ready for his battle against chef Brian Sonoskus from Tupelo Honey. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a good time," he says. "I'm interested to see what the mystery ingredients are going to be."

Are any secret weapons going to be pulled out of the Cucina 24 arsenal? "I'm going to do what I do, that's all," says Canipelli. "I don't have any tricks up my sleeve. I'm not a trickster. I'm not a magician. I might try a couple of new things, but I'm not going into it with plans."

Eliott Moss of the Admiral is looking forward to the events as well. His team will be competing against chef Chris Aquilino from Pomodoros Greek and Italian Cafe in the first round. "We're all excited to do something like this. We all like competition, so it will be fun to partake in it."

What does Moss feel gives their team the edge? "We have immersion circulators, vacuum sealers and sous vide cooking gear. We have a few other things that we're going to bring, ingredient-wise, that some people in town might not be familiar with, or able to get their hands on," he says.

Green and growing: Michael and Shannon Blair, owners of The Green Light Cafe, are bringing their brand of vegetarian cuisine to downtown Asheville. Photo by Jerry Nelson

Bowles remarks that every single competing restaurant team thinks that they can take down their opponent. "They're all looking forward to the challenge. They all have a lot of self-confidence, in their creativity and also in the food that they prepare for folks."

The Chefs Challenge dinners will take place at the Flying Frog Cafe at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday. Tickets are $39, and include three dishes from each of the competing chefs. Drinks, tax and gratuity are not included. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Flying Frog at 254-9411, or go to wncmagazinecom/wineandfood/challengeform.

Schedule for round one, WNC Chef Challenges:

May 18: (complete, winner to be announced):
Deerfield, Asheville vs. Red Stag Grill, Grand Bohemian Hotel – Asheville
May 25:
Corner Kitchen, Asheville vs. Sunset Terrace, Grove Park Inn, Asheville
June 1:
Pomodoros Greek and Italian Cafe, Asheville vs. The Admiral, Asheville
June 8:
Early Girl Eatery, Asheville vs A Moveable Feast Catering, Asheville
June 15
Nico's Café, Waynesville vs. Chelsea's and the Village Tea Room, Asheville
June 22
Cucina 24, Asheville vs. Tupelo Honey Café, Asheville

Winners from round one will advance to the quarterfinals. The Xpress online food page ( will have updates as they unfold.

Getting the Green Light

The Green Light Cafe, once located in Black Mountain, is re-opening in downtown Asheville. Since the restaurant closed two years ago, owners Shannon and Michael Blair have been bringing their brand of fresh vegetarian and vegan cuisine to the festival circuit, as well as catering private functions. Now they're moving their place to the space next to BoBo Gallery on Lexington Avenue.

The Green Light Café and the gallery/bar are connected by a common dining room, so diners at the restaurant can sidle up to the bar, and barflies will have food within reach. Of particular interest to night owls is the fact that Green Light will keep late hours to match that of BoBo Gallery, at least when BoBo is featuring events. "We're going to play it by ear," says Blair.

The menu at the Asheville restaurant, says Michael, will be similar to the menu served in the old Black Mountain space, Michael says. "We'll basically be a soup and sandwich shop. We'll have daily specials, smoothies and juices." Easily carried items like pocket sandwiches will be available to grab and go.

Michael also reports that, while available, the restaurant will use all local and organic products. Menu items will include dishes like a sweet potato patty over rice with a spicy peanut sauce, or a three-cheese spinach lasagna. Nearly everything on the menu will be available vegan. The Green Light Cafe will be opening in late May or early June.

For more information, visit

Food and features coordinator Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at


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