Story by Gina Smith
The 2015 Asheville Wine & Food Festival kicked off on Friday, May 1, with Amuse, a new event held at the Tony & Helen Morris Hellenic Cultural Center. The small-plate and craft cocktail tasting served as the preliminary round of competition for the annual mixology and culinary showdown and allowed guests to sample creative fare from five Asheville chefs and six local bartenders.
Culinary competitors were Mission Health, Strada Italiano, Omni Grove Park Inn’s Edison, Sweet Monkey Bakery and Café and chef Steven Goff. The event had a circus theme, and competitors reflected that with offerings that ranged from Edison’s El Circo, chocolate-mole smoked duck on a popcorn tostada to Strada’s tea-brined fried chicken encrusted in crushed peanuts and cotton candy.
Cocktail competitors included Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, Social Lounge, Sunny Point Café, the Orange Peel’s Pulp, Aloft hotel’s W XYZ Lounge and bartender Spencer Schultz (normally of Rhubarb, but pairing up for this event with chef Steve Goff). The drinks were as playful as the food: The Orange Peel’s bar, Pulp, was serving the Kevin Bacon, a surprising tipple that started with a sweet powder full of Pop Rocks and finished with a mix of bacon fat-washed bourbon and maple syrup. Social Lounge offered the Chautaquau Revival, a sweet, bright-green dessert drink of vanilla vodka, amaretto, creme de menthe, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters and vanilla gelato from Chocolate Gems.
In the end, the guests voted for two restaurants and three bars to move ahead in the competition. Chef Hollie West of Sweet Monkey Bakery and Café won the most votes in the culinary category followed by Steven Goff. In the cocktail category, Sunny Point Café’s recently added bar won by a large margin, with Pulp and Schultz placing second and third, respectively.
A second tasting event, Essence, will be held June 26. The final weekend of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival will take place Aug. 20-22. Those three days will include the final mixology competition, Elixir; Sweet, a celebration of desserts; and the Grand Tasting, which will showcase hundreds of food, wine, beer and liquor purveyors and the final culinary showdown.