Small Bites: The chef of Cúrate talks about hosting Bourdain and her next apprenticeship

A leg up: A giant ham from an Iberian pig will be one of the food features at the Anthony Bourdain after-party at Cúrate. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Anthony Bourdain's Saturday, Nov. 5 appearance at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is approaching. After the speaking event, Cúrate will host 125 people for a private, ticketed book-signing featuring Bourdain and a selection of about 20 hors d'oeuvres. (For ticket information, visit avl.mx/62). Xpress has secured a copy of the proposed menu, and it looks pretty phenomenal.

And Cúrate’s chef, Katie Button, certainly hopes to make a splash with her offerings. After all, the Bourdain book-signings generally take place at the venue where he speaks, but organizers wanted to plan something a bit different for Asheville. Charlie Jennings of AC Entertainment, the promoter and organizer of the tour, apparently made Cúrate his Asheville haunt while visiting. "I don't know if he was scouting out places or not, but after he came in to eat, he thought it was going to be a perfect tie-in," Button says.

Cúrate is an especially appropriate location given a recent elBulli-focused episode of Bourdain's No Reservations television show, now in its eighth season. Bourdain was fortunate (and famous enough) to attend one of the final services at elBulli, the lauded restaurant where Button apprenticed under Ferran Adrià before coming to Asheville to open Cúrate. In the episode, Bourdain dines with José Andrés, another chef and well-known mentor of Button's, who was present at Cúrate's opening night of business.

One could get dizzy tracing all of the connections.

At any rate, Cúrate's new (and not-yet-finished) lower private dining room will serve as home-base for the book-signing Bourdain. The room, though nearing completion, is still under construction around the clock in to ensure its availability for the event. And with a ticket price of $250 (which includes admission to the Bourdain event at Thomas Wolfe as well as the afterparty and all of its delicious spoils), everything must be in tip-top shape.

Initially, the new dining room was slated to open next year. The specter of Bourdain squeezing into a tiny space with 125 fans crushing forward to see him, however, loomed large, and construction launched forward immediately. "Ever since we started talking about [hosting this event] we brought up that lower level,” says Button. “Luckily for us, we've been doing really well and … we were able to put aside some of the money that we earned over the summer to finish renovating it," says Button.

The scheduled completion date is Monday, Oct. 31 — barely enough time to mop up the construction dust before Bourdain's arrival the following Saturday. "They've been working overnight on the project to get it done, but it's almost complete," Button says. If anything goes wrong? "We don't have an option. This is happening."

Perhaps to avoid the stress of thinking about that tight deadline, Button’s keeping her brain trained on that 20-item specialty menu. It’s a gorgeous spread of Appalachia meets Adrià: A margarita from locally made Troy & Sons moonshine will be offered at one staffed station, nitrogen-frozen and topped with "salt air." Smoked bacon from Iberian pigs wrapped in cotton candy will also be served. Tiny calamari sandwiches on locally baked buns will be offered with housemade arbequina olive oil mayo. Passed appetizers will include small chorizo sausages wrapped in potato chips and marinated lamb skewers with housemade pickles. And an assortment of olives, playfully dubbed "True or False," will include a mix of real olives and the liquid spherical olives, an elBulli trick for which Cúrate has also become known.

It’s hard not to give some credit to the Cúrate crew for bringing such star power as Andrés and Bourdain to Asheville, or at least in a venue in which the local food community has the opportunity to meet them. "There's a lot of people in Asheville contributing to the growth and success of Asheville, and we're happy to be a part of that," Button says. "Honestly what I'm really excited about with the restaurant that we've made here is that everyone is doing [their job so well] to keep this thing running. I'm excited about the team we've been able to create here with our staff in the front of the house and the back."

For her part, Button’s looking forward to meeting the itinerant chef. “I'm curious to see what he thinks about what we have set up here," Button says. "I envy his job. He gets to do these shows where he gets to travel to different parts of the world and learn about the cuisine. He's so fascinated by it and really gets his hands in it." And in that way, Button says, the two chefs share some of the same goals; Button has made no secret that she intends to keep traveling and studying under other culinary masters.

Next on her agenda? Button has secured a three-week internship at Copenhagen's Noma, the restaurant that has, for the past two years, inherited from elBulli the title of the world’s best restaurant, according to Restaurant (considered the definitive authority on such matters). Button departs in January. Xpress will keep you posted.

For more information about Cúrate, visit http://www.curatetapasbar.com.

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