Not one for splashy grand openings, chef Patrick Abernathy hopes folks hear about his new restaurant, Chupacabra Latin Café, via word-of-mouth and come by to try his Latin entrées or enjoy a cup of joe.
At age 16, Abernathy took a summer job washing dishes; later he learned how to be a prep cook. He attended culinary school at the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver, and he’s been cooking ever since.
Abernathy has been in Asheville since 2000, working at Noi’s Thai Kitchen, Chestnut, Trillium bistro and other local eateries. In 2013, he was part of chef Adam Hayes‘ team from Red Stag Grill that won the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series.
Now, however, Abernathy’s focus is on running his own restaurant, which he says is completely chef-driven.
Mountain Xpress: What inspired you to start Chupacabra?
Patrick Abernathy: I just wanted to be my own boss and do what I wanted to do. My last job was corporate; there was a lot of working on holidays and being away from family. Of course, I’m away from family right now, but hopefully it won’t be like that forever. I know it will be challenging for probably the first year, but eventually if staff can run the place, I’ll be able to have more time with my family.
What are some of Chupacabra’s signature dishes?
The Cuban sandwich has been a huge hit. We’re using local torta bread from up the road and making our own pulled pork that has manchego cheese on it. We’re making our own chorizo in-house, and we’re doing a chorizo burger instead of a regular beef burger. But I would say the mussels (which have chorizo in them, too) would be everyone’s favorite so far.
We’ve also started playing around: We ran an ahi tuna taco special recently that everyone seemed to love. I’m just now starting to get where I can focus on the food and not the restaurant logistics, and that’s a good thing, considering it’s our first real week.
Who helps you run the café?
My wife, Emily Abernathy, takes care of all the front-of-the-house stuff, the schedules and the finances. James Simonoff and Eli Scott are kind of like my sous-chefs; they make everything happen. And Dave Snyder is my good friend, business partner and co-chef.
What sets Chupacabra apart from other local Latin-inspired restaurants?
Just having the café menu and doing the mussels and the ceviche (which has been a big hit, too). Right now we’re doing a shrimp and a scallop ceviche; we’re also making desserts in-house: coconut milk flan and stuff like that.
We’re trying to do a taqueria with a twist: a little bit more chef-driven, using all fresh ingredients and making everything in-house, selling good coffee, using homemade bread and handmade tortillas.
To what do you attribute your success as a chef?
I definitely grew up in a cooking family: My mom cooked pretty much every meal, and she always made desserts — growing up in the South, that was always our thing. My grandparents were farmers who grew up eating cornbread, pinto beans, collard greens and a spread of other vegetables and corn. I guess just being around that started my love for cooking.
I was always kind of artistic and hands-on, not a desk job kind of guy; cooking just kind of fit me, and here I am.
Chupacabra Latin Café is in Reynolds Village, 50 N. Merrimon Ave., Suite 101. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday. For details, visit chupacabralatincafe.com.