What’s new in food: Ashleigh Shanti competes in season 19 of ‘Top Chef’

MISE EN PLACE: Chef Ashleigh Shanti prepares her station on the set of "Top Chef." Photo by David Moir/BRAVO

On Thursday, March 3, the 19th season of Bravo‘s “Top Chef” premieres. Among the 15 chefs competing for this year’s $250,000 grand prize is Asheville resident Ashleigh Shanti, who will be marking the event with one of her Good Hot Fish pop-ups frequently staged at Burial Beer Co.’s South Slope Taproom + Kitchen.

Though Shanti remains tight-lipped about the season’s outcome, she says participating in the perennially popular cooking competition, hosted by Padma Lakshmi, was extremely physical, challenging, stressful, illuminating, enlightening and, at times, “really, really fun.”

She also notes that her role in the latest season, which was filmed in Houston, was all a matter of timing. The network had initially approached Shanti about competing in season 18. But at the time, Shanti was still chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle, navigating the industry’s ongoing challenges brought about by COVID-19.

“I told them no but maybe next time,” she remembers. “When they reached out for season 19, the timing was perfect.”

Timing took on a whole new meaning once Shanti joined the show’s latest cast of hopeful chefs and began competing. “That countdown timer is right there in the kitchen, and you’re very aware of it,” she says. “The clock is the only thing I didn’t make friends with on the show.”

She did buddy up with the other chefs, though, while they lived together over the course of filming. “I don’t think most people go into this thinking, ‘I’m going because it will be like chef summer camp and I’ll make all these friends,’” she says with a laugh. “But you do end up forming some really cool relationships. We cooked for each other and had potlucks. It was like college dorm all over again, with better food.”

Along with these newfound bonds, Shanti says she was excited to film in such a diverse and culinary-rich city as Houston. The cast, she adds, reflects the city’s multiculturalism. “‘Top Chef’ really does the work of telling stories from a very diverse perspective of food. That’s what food is — cultural, diverse, personal and political — and they certainly hit all those points.”

That approach, continues Shanti, has always been a major component of her craft. “The food I cook is very meaningful to me,” she explains. And while competing on “Top Chef,” she made it a point to pay homage to her culinary history and identity. “My goal was to bring me to the table.”

Season 19 of “Top Chef” airs Thursday at 8 p.m., beginning March 3. Each episode is posted the next day on the Bravo website. Burial Beer Co.’s South Slope Taproom + Kitchen, 40 Collier Ave., will host the latest Good Hot Fish pop-up starting at 5 p.m. “Top Chef” will be screened at the taproom as well. For all the dish on the new season, visit avl.mx/b8x.

Goodbye, hello

Changes are at play at Jargon.

Steven Goff recently announced his departure as executive chef, shortly after he and his wife, Sam, purchased nearby Tastee Diner from its previous owners Kate and Adam Bannasch. Meanwhile, Ryan Kline is taking over Goff’s former position.

It was a quick turnaround for Kline, who, after stints at the Biltmore Estate, Storm Rhum Bar and Zambra, intended to take a break from restaurant kitchens and launch his own Latin-infused Toro Furioso pop-up series at various venues. But when Jargon owner Sean Piper reached out to see if he knew of anyone who might be interested, Kline asked some follow-up questions, then recommended himself.

“I have always admired Jargon’s attention to detail, and the space is beautiful,” he says. “I knew Sean some, but once we sat down and talked, I really came to appreciate his values as far as the business goes, and after talking to Steve about his experience, I was totally comfortable taking the position.”

“Latin cuisine is one thing I really like, and I have a passion for Middle Eastern and French,” he continues. “The appeal with Jargon is it’s wide open and not pigeonholed into any particular style. I want to build from my experiences to create the best possible guest experience.”

Kline officially starts the first week of March. Jargon is at 715 Haywood Road. For more, visit avl.mx/9hw.

Better late than ever

Entrepreneur and Sovereign Remedies owner Charlie Hodge listened as his staff bemoaned the lack of late-night, post-shift dining options in downtown Asheville. Taking matters into his own hands, he opened the second-floor space above his other downtown businesses, Asheville Beauty Academy, christening it Parlor. With a menu by newly named “hodgepitality” executive chef David Van Tassel (formerly of Chestnut and Corner Kitchen), Parlor will serve late-night food, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with plans to eventually be open seven nights a week.

Fuel up for the drive home with midnight-munchie comfort food like biscuits and gravy, “mac-n-chz,” skillets (meat or vegan), Parlor ham rolls, smashed red potatoes and a smoked salmon pizzetta on naan.

Parlor is at 28 Broadway. For more, visit avl.mx/b90.

Grape expectations

Aimee Diaz says that when her husband and business partner, Hector Diaz, called to tell her he was purchasing a restaurant in Black Mountain, she was reminded of the feeling she gets when a pregnancy test is positive. “You’re happy, but also a little nervous and just hope it all works out.”

So far, so good. The couple have four children, and now a fourth restaurant in their portfolio of Asheville’s Modesto, Salsas and Bomba. Aimee says a former Salsas manager working as a real estate agent in Black Mountain alerted them that La Taperia, the Spanish wine and tapas restaurant that only briefly operated between September and October was coming on the market.

“Hector went to look at it and told me that when he walked in, it felt like the perfect fit,” Aimee says.

They closed on the sale in late 2021. The holidays and supply chain issues postponed initial work on the space. But Aimee says Black Mountain residents are already making them feel welcome. “People who are downtown or out walking their dogs poke their head in the door to say hello. It’s a great community.”

She says the name and exact concept are still under consideration, but the food will be Spanish. They anticipate a late spring reveal of their new baby at 203 W. State St.

Table for two

Holeman and Finch invites you to swipe right on their dinner-for-two date-night deal every Sunday, 4-10 p.m.  Two salads, a bowl of creamy guanciale carbonara, salt and pepper roast chicken and a bottle of wine is $60 ($30 each if you’re going Dutch), with the option to extend the evening with the purchase of a sticky toffee pudding, chocolate mousse or apple and cider chess pie.

Holeman and Finch Public is at House 77 Biltmore Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/aup .

Home plate

On the other hand, if you prefer dining at home, after a nearly six-month hiatus, Buxton Hall Barbecue has relaunched its takeout service. According to spokesperson Charlotte Beck, after the South Slope restaurant reopened for on-site dining in August, it suspended takeout to focus on guests and ensuring it could meet that demand. With sourcing of takeout packaging more reliable in the new year, Buxton Hall is once again offering all that smoky goodness — as well as sides, soups, stews and sweets — to go.

Buxton Hall Barbecue is at 32 Banks Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/6sx.

Extra credit

The 13th annual (with a two-year skip for COVID) Student Food Drive for MANNA FoodBank is taking place during March, with participating schools hosting food drives to see who can donate the most pounds of food to MANNA or their local partner agency. Students can earn points that will be added to their total score by making financial donations, volunteering at the nonprofit’s local partner agency and participating in hunger and nutrition education opportunities. They can also create TikTok videos for the #MANNAStudentChallenge2022 TikTok campaign; videos must include students eating a fruit or vegetable they have never tried before or highlighting a recipe that they believe is unique to their family.

For more information and to sign up your school, contact Jake Deuterman at jdeuterman@mannafoodbank.org




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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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