Small bites: Dance by the river at MANNA FoodBank’s Blue Jean Ball

START THE FIRE: Christine Garvin's dance troupe will perform an original routine that plays off the fire-and-ice theme at MANNA FoodBank's Blue Jean Ball. "They work wonders in getting the crowd ready to dance," says organizer Alisa Hixson. Photo by Susan Francis

MANNA FoodBank is in celebration mode, and not just because the nonprofit welcomed new CEO Hannah Randall in early May. A successful $3.2 million capital campaign increased freezer and cooler space by 400 percent, meaning MANNA won’t be turning away nutrient-dense, perishable food donations for lack of capacity. The organization’s 17th annual Blue Jean Ball will highlight that accomplishment with a fire-and-ice theme on Saturday, June 4.

“The fire was all of the volunteers and donors that made that capital campaign a reality. That’s a lot of money to raise from a city of this size,” says individual and corporate relations director Alisa Hixson, noting mostly local donations. “And the ice is, of course, the freezer-cooler space itself.”

Culinary sponsors are a key ingredient at the outdoor gathering, which takes place along MANNA’s stretch of the Swannanoa River and focuses on a massive tent full of donated small bites and desserts. This year’s participants include The Lobster Trap, Posana, Twisted Laurel, Chestnut, Chai Pani, Corner Kitchen and at least a dozen more local food establishments.

Guests typically graze until 8 o’clock, Hixson says, and then the live music starts. Former American Idol contestant Jesse Berry will lead a horn-heavy 10-piece band, and DJ Nigel will also play a set. “People come to the Blue Jean Ball to dance,” she says, and “the music is chosen specifically for that.”

Local choreographer Christine Garvin is also prepared to motivate movement: She and her dance troupe will perform an original number inspired by the theme. “That really kicks off the dancing,” Hixson says. And between spectacles, attendees can browse an auction with more than 100 items, including Disney World tickets and a football signed by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

As the name implies, casual attire is welcome, though there will be a contest for fire-and-ice-themed costumes. Some people are taking that in a Game of Thrones direction, Hixson says, which MANNA has unofficially endorsed by sourcing a 7-by-5-foot throne ice sculpture, but, she adds, “However they want to interpret it is great.”

The Blue Jean Ball  runs 7-11 p.m., Saturday, June 4, at MANNA FoodBank, 627 Swannanoa River Road. Call 299-3663 or visit for tickets ($75).

Practical Skills for Healthy Digestion

Drawing from traditional medicine and modern research, herbalist David Meesters of Medicine County Herbs and the Terra Sylva School will “paint a truly holistic picture of the role of the gut in mind/body health” in an upcoming workshop at Villagers, according to a class description. He’ll cover what happens when digestion is compromised, “herbal allies,” the intestinal microbiome, fermented foods, nutrition strategies and the connection between gut inflammation and various chronic illnesses.

Meester leads the course from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, May 29, at Villagers, 278 Haywood Road. $25-$40 sliding scale. Visit for details or tickets.

Arancini becomes Bar Grasso Italian Subs

A day after opening fast-casual Italian eatery Arancini in November, co-owner Katrina O’Donell said the quick service “didn’t feel right.” Introspection following a health scare led her and partner Daniel O’Donell to revamp the restaurant by December, reopening as a wine bar with small plates and a leisurely atmosphere. In early May, however, the couple posted on Facebook a notice that the business was closing due to “circumstances beyond our control.” That announcement was followed with news that they would soon be launching a new concept from the space: Bar Grasso Italian Subs. More details to come.

Bar Grasso will open soon at 643 Haywood Road. Visit for more information and check for updates to this story.

North Asheville Tailgate Market farm dinner

A tour of Marshall’s East Fork Farm will precede the four-course dinner served there on Sunday, May 29 — a feast exclusively featuring the goods of North Asheville Tailgate Market vendors. Chef Samuel Etheridge of Merrimon Avenue’s Ambrozia Bar & Bistro will prepare the first three plates, which include a chilled heirloom tomato and melon soup with Three Graces Dairy chèvre, fresh mint, candied peanuts and balsamic pearls; and grilled trout with farm vegetable farro, root vegetable top pesto and quick-pickled peppers. Dessert by Beth Sollars of Wake Robin Farm Breads will feature local strawberries.

The dinner is at 5 p.m. (farm tour at 4 p.m.), Sunday, May 29, at East Fork Farm, 215 Meadow Branch Road, Marshall. Visit for information and tickets. $60. 

GO Kitchen Ready benefits from collaborative farm dinner

Guests at an upcoming dinner will start with beer-infused cocktails and appetizers in Yesterday Spaces’ century-old renovated dairy barn before crossing the street to Gaining Ground Farm for an organic garden tour. Finally, Rhubarb’s chef John Fleer and GO Kitchen Ready’s chef Liam Luttrell-Rowland will lead their teams in dishing out a five-course meal made in part with the day’s harvest and served aside five beers from Catawba Brewing Co. A portion of the proceeds goes to the GO Kitchen Ready program, which prepares low-income adults for employment in the food industry.

The event begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, at Yesterday Spaces, 305 Sluder Branch Road, Leicester. Visit for details or tickets ($99 plus fees). 


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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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