Choosing where to eat can be a difficult decision in a city like Asheville, with its multitude of quality local restaurants. But Taste of Asheville has a solution: For one special night, this annual event will serve up a culinary smorgasbord, with offerings from 40 local restaurants sure to entice even the most discriminating palate.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, all three floors of The Venue will be transformed into a virtual restaurant stroll. “Any event at The Venue tends to be elegant,” says Jane Anderson, executive director of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR). “What we envision is a grazing cocktail party, where the entertainment is the food.” From hors d’oeuvres to small plates to desserts, partygoers will have an abundant selection.
This year’s Taste of Asheville is special because it marks the 10th anniversary of AIR, which began with about 15 restaurants, all located in downtown Asheville. In the past two years, the organization has doubled its membership and expanded geographically. Additionally, a broader range of restaurants have joined. “We have more high-end restaurants and more family-oriented ones now,” Anderson notes.
As in previous years, a portion of ticket proceeds will benefit AIR’s two outreach programs.
The Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarship Fund awards scholarships to students of A-B Tech’s nationally acclaimed Culinary Arts Program. According to the community college’s resource-development coordinator, Leronica Casey, “This year the A-B Tech Foundation awarded nine $1,000 scholarships to outstanding culinary students, which can be used for books, tuition, tools and uniforms.” Students apply in January and scholarships are awarded in June of each year.
GO Kitchen-Ready is a free training program for low-income adults who face barriers to employment. Program Manager Mark Rosenstein hopes to give students who don’t come with a perfect record the chance to be hired on personal merit and motivation. “For all kinds of reasons, people find themselves in jail,” Rosenstein observes. “When you get to know their story, it’s heartbreaking how our culture pushes them into places where the choices are null. They serve their time and people are still reluctant to hire them.”
But GO Kitchen-Ready is changing that by endorsing their graduates. Michel Baudouin, owner of Bouchon and founder of Go Kitchen-Ready, hired one of the program’s first alumni, Kikko Shaw, who is now a dedicated member of the restaurant’s culinary staff.
“I’m one of those people who believes you have to lead by example,” he says of his decision to hire one of the first graduates of the fledgling program. “If I’m going to put my name behind something, if I’m going to put my money and my people behind something, I have to be willing to take the first step.”
Rosenstein is anticipating GO Kitchen-Ready’s move to the W.C. Reid Center in 2014, where it will finally have kitchen access at all times. “The hope is to design enterprising activities that can generate funding to operate the building,” he says. Two possibilities he is exploring are production for downtown restaurant «Tupelo Honey and preparing meals for MANNA FoodBank.
In the 10 years since AIR’s founding, Asheville has become a national leader in the farm-to-table movement. Most recently, AIR partnered with the Green Restaurant Association and the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute to encourage more environmentally sustainable practices at the city’s restaurants. In 2012, Asheville was the first city in the U.S. to be named a Green Dining Destination.
Anderson credits Asheville’s local population for AIR’s success. “Asheville restaurants wouldn’t be here without the support of the local people who patronize them,” she notes.
Participating restaurants in this year’s Taste of Asheville include: Acropolis Pizza, Ambrozia Bar & Bistro, The Bier Garden, Bouchon, The Cantina, Carmels Kitchen & Bar, Chestnut, City Bakery Café, Corner Kitchen, Creperie Bouchon, Edna's of Asheville, Bad Puppy Roasting, FIG Bistro, Frankie Bones, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Karen Donatelli Cake Designs, Jack of Hearts, Jack of the Wood, Laughing Seed, Lexington Avenue Brewery, Little Pigs Bar-B-Q, Luella's Bar-B-Que, MG Road, Native Kitchen & Social Pub, Oyster House Brewing, Pack's Tavern, Plant, Santé Wine Bar, Scully's, The Social Lounge & Tapas, Strada Italiano, Sunny Point Cafe, The Social, Thirsty Monk, Tupelo Honey Café, Ultimate Ice Cream Company, Vincenzo’s Ristorante & Bistro, Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian, Mela, Jerusalem Garden Café and The Green Sage Cafe.
Wine and beer will be provided by Biltmore Wines, Asheville Brewing, Oyster House Brewing, LAB, Pisgah and Sierra Nevada.
Learn more and find ticket information at airasheville.org.