Why does Haywood County taste so good? “There’s a respect for farmers here, which also makes a respect for food, which definitely extends to how chefs are treated,” says Katy Wyatt, member services and event coordinator at the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. She sees this supportive food culture as a county-wide phenomenon, and it will be on full display at the 12th annual Mélange of the Mountains, planned for Thursday, March 10.
Mélange’s main tasting gala features restaurants, brewers and wine makers from all over Western North Carolina “but definitely centered on Haywood County’s culinary talents, because sometimes we get overlooked,” Wyatt says. “Ticketholders can walk around, talk to the chefs, talk to the brewers and ask them questions.”
Participants include Boojum Brewing Co., Frog Level Brewing, The Swag, Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon, The Farm, Balsam Mountain Inn & Resort, Blossom on Main, Laurel Ridge Country Club, Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa, Sunburst Market, Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center, Tipping Point Tavern and The Wine Seller.
Although not yet through the permitting process, new business Elevated Mountain Distilling will have a display that depicts the process of making distilled products, including a moonshine recipe honed over multiple generations in Haywood County. Presenting sponsor Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort will host a mixology table with a signature drink and an ice sculpture.
But before that starts, the chefs will partake in a friendly showdown. Competitors can opt into any or all of the given categories — appetizer, super salad, main course, dessert and people’s choice.
“For people’s choice, we give them one secret ingredient” Wyatt explains. This year, apples take the leading role, because they’re farmed locally. Chefs “are required, just for that one category, to incorporate apple, [but] it’s not really a secret for them,” she says with a laugh. Having broad criteria in the other categories is intended to highlight what the chefs are already good at.
Judges and VIP ticket holders are the only spectators present for the competitive segment. After that, restaurants and breweries prepare for the gala portion, during which they’re free to give samples of whatever best promotes their work.
To reel visitors and residents further into the Haywood way of life, Wyatt’s team has organized a series of specialty dinners, culinary demos, tastings and pairings for the days following the big showcase. The idea, she says, is “to give people the opportunity to actually stay here for the weekend if they wanted, to experience a little bit more than just that one night.”
Mélange of the Mountains is 5:30-7:30 p.m. THursday, March 10, at Waynesville’s Laurel Ridge Country Club. Tickets are $40 ($35 for chamber members) or $60 for VIP access, which includes a people’s choice vote. Visit haywoodchamber.com or call Michelle Cunningham at 456-3021 for information on the weekend’s activities or to buy tickets.