“Well, at least we had wonderful weather indoors,” jokes Asheville Wine & Food Festival founder and director Bob Bowles, jeering at the torrential downpour that tore through downtown shortly after the festival’s final event, the Grand Tasting, ended on Saturday, Aug. 22.
This year’s Grand Tasting, which spread to all three floors of the U.S. Cellular Center, allowed the crowds more space and shorter lines than last year’s packed event. There was not an empty seat in the house, however, for the 2015 Chefs Challenge, the competition that pits four finalists against each other in an effort to impress a panel of judges with a meal prepared in one hour with a secret ingredient that is revealed at the last minute.
This year, competitors, Steven Goff (formerly of King James Public House), Ryan Kline (Buffalo Nickel), Joe Mitchell (Chestnut) and Hollie West (Sweet Monkey Cafe) were surprised with quail.
“I chose quail because it can be pretty easy,” says Bowles, “but those easy options can often turn out to be quite difficult, particularly when they don’t have an oven.”
Mitchell opted for a bisque-type soup as a sauce with the quail tented nicely in the center of the bowl, while Kline built the birds into small towers topped with a salad. Goff opted to serve a potato salad and break the bird up throughout. But in the end, it was West who came through as the winner, serving the quail whole with sweet potatoes.
“It was another classic example of a chef with [somewhat] different ideas,” Bowles explains. “What I heard back from most of the judges wasn’t how well the quail was done or the presentation, but what made the difference was the seasoning itself.”
The judges were Jill Prescott, host of the PBS television program “Jill Prescott’s Ecole de Cuisine;” Frank Brough, chef de cuisine at Walt Disney World; Susi Gott Séguret of the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts; Kenneth L. Richards, a regional historian; James Fisher of the Asheville Scene; and last year’s Chefs Challenge champion, Ulfet Ozyabasligil Ralph. They took their time deliberating and, in the end, their scores were tightly drawn.
“The judges points were so close,” Bowles says, “It ranged from 109 to 126; that point spread is so unbelievably close.”
About West’s win, Bowles says, “It wasn’t really a surprise to see her win. A lot of folks know her as a great chef, but she doesn’t necessarily have a lot of the formal training that a lot of these other chefs have. But I think it just goes to prove that the vision that a chef has and the ability to really think about what they are putting on the plate really makes a difference in what that final plate is going to taste like.”
Following are two galleries of images capturing the 2015 Asheville Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting and Sweet events. First are photos by Cindy Kunst from the Grand Tasting and Chefs Challenge.
Below are photos from the Asheville Wine & Food Festival’s Sweet dessert event, held Friday, Aug. 21, at the Grove Arcade. Photos by Kat McReynolds