An upcoming foodie fair hosted by restaurant supplier FRS Inc. of Asheville is part trade show and part showdown. Now in its third year, the Mountain Area Restaurant Show — a free daylong fair with more than 100 commercial kitchen equipment and supply manufacturers on-site — runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, while the event’s main attraction, Whacked! cooking challenge, begins at 1 p.m.
“We decided to do Whacked! — our version of [the Food Network‘s show] ‘Chopped’ — and incorporate training programs to bring [local students] together to work with three chefs,” FRS general manager Sheila Bivens says. “It’s exciting, if you’re training in culinary to work with a chef who has ‘made it.’”
Three teams will participate in the cook-off, each composed of five key ingredients — a local celebrity chef, culinary students from Eliada Homes and GO Kitchen Ready, an individual from Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry and a food service director from a local school system.
Led by an assigned chef — this year’s masters include chefs Stephen Goff, formerly of King James Public House; Joe Mitchell of Chestnut and Reza Setayesh of Rezaz — each team must produce a strictly timed appetizer, entrée and dessert, with judges awarding points for every dish. One team will reign based on the cumulative total, but the twist, Bivens says, will be the secret ingredients for each round.
“It can be 3-4 items,” says Bivens, recalling the whole beef hearts from last year’s competition. This year, FRS will use more local items that are “pretty wacky” and “challenging for the teams.”
“Unlike the TV show, our chefs do not know which combi oven they will be assigned to, our teams do not know which chef they will be assigned to, and the chef does not know anything about the secret ingredients, nor do they get to see what’s in the shared pantry until noon,” Bivens says. She suspects “Chopped” chefs’ wide eyes “are not quite as real.”
Last year’s cook-off attracted a crowd of 300-400 and ended by 4 p.m.
Bivens says the partner training programs lie at the heart of the event. Eliada Homes, for example, arms students who are aging out of the treatment system with marketable culinary skills that increase the opportunity of earning a living wage.
“I’ve got an 18-year-old, and I know that if she were to leave the house, she would struggle to make it on her own,” says Bivens, “so the Elaida program really touched me.”
Similarly, GO Kitchen Ready and ABCCM’s programs train low-income adults and veterans, respectively, to empower themselves through the art and skill of food. Mountain Area Restaurant Vendors partnered with FRS for the first time this year in a bid to give back to the community and suggested adding local schools to the lineup.
“The schools’ food service director is under real, tight restraints with regards to what they can serve the students and how they can prepare the food,” Bivins says, “so the school food service is trying to make contacts with chefs and culinary professionals to help them enhance food flavors.”
In addition to promoting the event and connecting FRS with multiple vendors, MARV helped raise money for this year’s scholarships. One will be awarded to each county participating in Whacked!, to be passed along to a high school student interested in pursuing fields of culinary or nutrition after graduation.
Bivens says that anyone who is active or interested in commercial food operations is welcome to attend the event for demonstrations, specials, energy rebates, networking and even free knife sharpening. Plus, Melt Your Heart food truck will be on hand from 11 a.m. until about 2 p.m., serving lunch to those who work up an appetite during kitchen demos.
“[Attendees will] learn a lot, they’ll get to see a lot of equipment being demonstrated live throughout the day,” Bivens says. “It’s a lot of fun!”
Visit avl.mx/0v9 for more information about the event. Limited parking will be available on-site, but FRS will be available to recommend alternative lots and shuttle attendees from various to-be-determined spots.