“It started out as a tiny little thing,” Steve Bardwell says, recalling a gathering of bread enthusiasts at Greenlife Grocery in 2005. But the popularity of the Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival, which Bardwell organizes with his wife, Gail Lunsford, has grown along with local interest in handmade loaves. Now in its 12th year, the event will bring 15-20 regional bakeries, several master bakers and an estimated 1,500 attendees to A-B Tech’s campus on Saturday, April 16.
“The reason to come to the festival, for somebody who is not a bread snob or into artisan bread to begin with, is that you can get a lot of free bread,” Bardwell says. “You can spend four hours eating the best bread that’s made in the U.S.”
He’s referring to the festival’s mainstay: a Bakers Showcase that’s free and open to the public 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This try-and-buy fair features a “huge selection” of sourdoughs, wholegrain breads, French, German and Italian recipes and more. Samples come courtesy of participating bakeries, including Alimentaire Wholesome Breads, Annie’s Naturally Bakery, Backwoods Bakery, Blunt Pretzels, Chicken Bridge Bakery, City Bakery Café, Farm and Sparrow, Flat Rock Village Bakery, La Farm Bakery, Ninth Street Bakery, Roots & Branches, Simple Bread, Smoke Signals Bakery, Stick Boy Bread Co., Underground Baking Co., West End Bakery, Wildflour Bakery and the Bardwells’ own Wake Robin Farm Breads. And that’s just the North Carolina-based makers — several more vendors hail from neighboring states.
At other times and venues, the festival will offer lectures and hands-on workshops from a handful of renowned master “bread-ucators,” such as Richard Miscovich, guru of baking with wood-fired ovens; 10-time author (with three books having won James Beard awards) Peter Reinhart; and master of rye Harry Peemoeller. Additional opportunities include two lessons on making pizza in a mobile wood-fired oven, a class on salt-rising bread, a milling demonstration by Asheville’s Jen Lapidus at Carolina Ground, and a networking dinner with all of the presenters at Smoky Park Supper Club.
Though it’s not open to amateur bakers, an immersive full-day master class (following the day of public programming) has been part of the festival for at least seven years. “I think this has made a huge impact on the quality of baking in our area,” Bardwell says, and that extends beyond the area’s bakeries. “At least half the people who come are chefs and baking staff in local restaurants.”
Bardwell also credits the festival with helping to catalyze Western North Carolina’s marked “synergy between bakers, farmers, millers and the people who eat that bread,” by providing networking opportunities and educating consumers on the process and purveyors behind the bread — thereby increasing overall demand. Last year’s showcase alone spurred more than $10,000 in bread sales. That’s a lot of loaves.
The Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival’s free and open-to-the-public Bakers Showcase is at the Magnolia Building on A-B Tech’s campus, 340 Victoria Road, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday April 16. Limited same-day tickets are available for lectures and workshops ($10 each) and the networking dinner ($35). Visit ashevillebreadfestival.com for programming details.
Growing vegetables in Asheville
Gardening techniques and schedules vary greatly from one region to another, so gardener and educator Kate Hanford is leading an Asheville-specific veggie growing class. She’ll cover topics such as local planting dates, pests and diseases in addition to highlighting some resources for area growers. Hanford will also share best practices gleaned from other backyard gardeners.
The workshop is at Villagers, 278 Haywood Road, 6:30-8 p.m., Tuesday April 19. Cost is $15. Visit forvillagers.com for details or to sign up.
Chestnut’s Jones vonDrehle wine dinner
Upon trying Jones vonDrehle Vineyard’s wines, Chestnut’s culinary team was impressed to the point of designing a dinner around the North Carolina-made beverages. The meal’s wine list offers chardonnays, petite manseng, tempranillo, malbec and rosé. The varietals will come alongside a five-course menu by chef Joe Mitchell, including intricate dishes such as herb-seared king mackerel on toasted couscous with blood orange fennel slaw and lemon oregano aioli; grilled Spanish octopus on gigante beans in a San Marzano tomato broth with olives, smoked paprika chorizo and microgreens; and loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) tossed in local honey with house raisins and pistachio gelato.
The pairing dinner is at Chestnut, 48 Biltmore Ave., at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21. Visit avl.mx/2g7 for the full menu or to buy a ticket ($99, including tax and gratuity).