Small Bites

Back away from the pumpkin-spice latte

I'm noticing an autumnal trend. People cannot stop talking about pumpkin-spice lattes. Most people, I'm sad to say, seem obsessed with the frothy Starbucks variation. I looked it up for you, folks. I’m sure you already know it's really not that good for you. But listen: One grande pumpkin-spice latte has 380 calories, 13 grams of fat and an astounding 49 grams of sugar — refined, white sugar, that is.

Sorry if I ruined anyone's day. However, should you want something similar made with natural ingredients, premium coffee and on a smaller scale by someone local, you might want to head over to Waking Life Espresso in West Asheville to try the Zombie Pumpkin Latte.

Jared Rutledge of Waking Life uses real canned pumpkin in his syrup, which he purees with raw sugar, fresh-ground spices and some Hawaiian deep-sea salt that his friend harvested himself. He then simmers it until it's the consistency of apple butter. "It's very subtle, and there's nothing artificial about it,” says Rutledge. “It gives the pumpkin flavor without being overbearing or too sweet."

Rutledge reports that he currently goes through about a gallon of the syrup on a weekly basis — at least while pumpkin seems to be the hot item. He'll continue to make the syrup for as long as he can locate canned pumpkin, which he says seems to be in short supply.

Rutledge holds his pumpkin latte to the same standards he holds all of his drinks, which are always made with premium, natural ingredients. "I'm trying to make homemade syrups and drink combinations that are pretty easy to make, are pretty simple and don't have a lot of crap in them," he says.

Waking Life Espresso is located at 976 Haywood Road in West Asheville. For more information, visit wakinglifeespresso.com or call 505-3240.

A Night for Locals

The Grove Park Inn is going local. On the last Thursday of every month, the Inn and the Blue Ridge Dining Room feature "A Night For Locals." The reception-style event includes displays of work from local artists, food from local farms and wine and beer from the WNC region.

At the debut event, representatives from Jolley Farms and Hickory Nut Gap showcased their wares in a mini-farmers market, while visual art from Mark Henry of Weaverville and John Mac Kah of Swannanoa was set up close by. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture project was also available with information about the thriving WNC food scene. What’s the collaborative link between food and art? Blue Ridge Dining Room general manager Mark Ramirez says the idea is to “create a synergy where the food is inspired by art."

Local foods showed up not only in that mini-market, but also on trays in the form of hors d’oeuvres. The biggest show of the evening? The sunset outside of the Blue Ridge Dining Room's large windows. At any point during the event, guests are invited to have a seat, take in the sweeping views of Asheville and order from the dinner menu, which Ramirez says consists of approximately 85 percent local goods. 

Ramirez says that, for future events, he hopes to include artwork from UNCA students as well as from the River Arts District. "It's a collaborative effort to bring the community together, bring the artists into the Grove Park Inn to showcase not only the work, but to see how it can be tied into our cuisine," says Ramirez.

Ramirez adds that the occupancy rate of the Grove Park Inn is typically in the thousands, and that captive audience offers great exposure for the local artists, farmers and other members of the WNC community involved in the evening. A chief aim of the event, says Ramirez, is to show locals that the Grove Park Inn isn't all about the tourists. "The only thing that we profit from [with this event] is the exposure, and for people to see the Grove Park Inn as more approachable. The intentions are genuine," says Ramirez.

ASAP Development Director Scott Bunn says his organization was asked to take part in the proceedings because the Inn “wanted to showcase their commitment to local food. We've been working with them on accessing local food and connecting them with farmers and promoting the use of local goods. It's what we do —  and the local Hendersonville apple hors d'oeuvres were excellent," he added with a smile.

Hickory Nut Gap's Farm Manager Walker Sides presided over a spread of farm-made jerky and keilbasa sausage at the event as well. Though it may seem strange to find local meat displayed in a mini-farmers market within the walls of the historic Inn, Sides reveals that Hickory Nut Gap and the GPI have a history of collaboration.

Hickory Nut Gap works with all three restaurants at the Grove Park Inn says Sides, adding that there are also plans for the Inn to keep shelf-stable products — like that jerky — in the gift shops. Sides also says that the farm provided some of the meat that the Obamas ate at the GPI during their visit to Asheville in May.

Zeb and June Jolley of Jolley Farms displayed the last of the year's tomatoes right next to the Hickory Nut Gap stand. Along with their green zebras and Cherokee purple tomatoes, boxes of gorgeous microgreens were on display. Zeb revealed with considerable pride that he heard that the Obamas enjoyed those very greens during their stay at the Inn.

June says that the tourists that stopped by were intrigued by the presence of the farmers, as one might expect. She's happy to imagine that local food might become a talking point for those returning home from their Asheville vacation.

"I think it just helps us to get exposure, and helps people learn more about local food," says June. "[Local] is a buzz word, a trend, but this gives them an opportunity to touch it and see it, so it's a good thing in that respect."

Zeb adds that the Grove Park Inn buys a lot from Jolley Farms, so in return the farm is happy to help to support the Inn's cause. He also hopes that the tourists visiting the inn will carry more than tomatoes home with them. He hopes that the experience of connecting with local farmers will make enough of an impression on visitors to encourage them to connect with local farmers elsewhere.

The next Night for Locals event takes place on Thursday, Oct. 28 beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit groveparkinn.com.

— Send your food news to food@mountainx.com

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