What’s new in food: Benne on Eagle welcomes new chef

MAKE WELCOME: Cleophus Hethington, the new chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle, brings new ideas to the nationally acclaimed restaurant. Photo by Brittany Wages

Cleophus Hethington is known by many names. Most people call him Cleo. His Instagram handle is @Chefophus. Some refer to him as Ophus. And when he’s in trouble, Hethington notes, his mother goes full-on Cleophus.

But more recently, local diners have come to know him as the new chef de cuisine for John Fleer‘s nationally acclaimed Benne on Eagle at The Foundry Hotel Asheville. Hethington joined the eatery in August, succeeding chef de cuisine Malcolm McMillian, who moved to Charlotte, where his teenage son lives.

Hethington, a Miami native, turned to professional cooking in 2011, after previous stints in health care and the Navy. Gaining an eclectic culinary education in restaurants across the country, he created Ębí Chop Bar in 2017, a pop-up dinner series exploring the foodways of the African diaspora. Two years later, he launched Triangular Traded Spices, a line of small-batch organic spice blends inspired by his ancestral and cultural roots.

“Cleo’s pop-ups were the clearest indication regarding where his heart and head were with food,” says Fleer. “It was immediately apparent a lot of Benne resonates with him, and he resonates a lot with me in terms of what we want the next steps for Benne to be.”

Currently, Hethington says he is focused on familiarizing himself with his staff and local purveyors and wading in with specials such as creamed collards with shrimp and pickled fennel. Come early October, though, he anticipates an entirely new dinner menu, which will always include variations of his Grandma Daisy’s sweet potato pie.

Furthermore, Hethington notes big changes planned for the current breakfast menu. “Right now, Benne serves a traditional hotel American breakfast,” he explains. “Then at 5 p.m., [it] changes to a restaurant that serves food of the Black culture. I want to do more of a daily brunch menu that brings the whole concept together and not just be a part-time lover of Black food.”

Fleer is confident in Hethington’s vision and plans for the restaurant. “All three of the things he tasted us on were phenomenal: complex in flavor and deeply layered,” Fleer says. “Rooting things in the West African culinary experience and the rest of the diaspora and its path to Eagle Street will be educational and informative, and I think that’s what our staff is looking forward to. I am really excited to see what he does.”

Benne on Eagle is at 35 Eagle St. To learn more, visit avl.mx/8qq.

Moon shot

We Give a Share, a local nonprofit that supports local farmers through the purchase of produce and products, recently named JP Chalarca as its first executive director.

“JP is an excellent fit,” says Mark Rosenstein, a founding member. “It’s one of those great serendipities when you get that important piece of an individual fitting into a bigger scheme.”

Launched in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization continues to assist area farmers as well as economically disadvantaged community members. WGAS provides fresh produce to the Southside Community Kitchen, which under Rosenstein and chefs Kikkoman Shaw and Tarell Burton, has served over 120,000 meals to date, mostly to homebound, disabled and elderly City of Asheville Housing Authority residents. More recently, the kitchen also began producing two daily meals for Asheville PEAK Academy and will soon add Verner Center for Early Learning to its client list.

According to Chalarca, We Give a Share is in negotiations to lease the Southside Community Kitchen from the Asheville Housing Authority. The target date is Oct. 1. “From that point on, we will have ownership of the operation of that space,” he says.

Among Chalarca’s additional future goals is to expand the organization’s volunteer network to serve more clients experiencing food insecurity. He is also interested in opening the space for additional community uses.

Meanwhile, Rosenstein says he’s shooting for the moon. His ultimate vision for the kitchen is to turn it into a stand-alone cooperative. “I have a goal of 1,000 meals a day for this kitchen,” he says. “It’s an amazing thing we are pulling off now, and we have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to get to the moon. JP is another part of getting there.”

For more information on We Give a Share, visit avl.mx/9bg.

Fit to be fried

Restaurateur Charlie Hodge may have temporarily closed Sovereign Remedies for renovations, but members of the craft cocktail bar’s culinary team haven’t slowed down. Instead, the group has migrated to one of Hodge’s many other establishments, Getaway River Bar, where Sovereign Remedies chef Burt Sheffield recently launched the Fish Camp Pop-up.

“We thought we’d do a fish fry thing at the Getaway, be outdoors on the river and just have some fun,” says Hodge.

The pop-up’s simple menu, adds Sheffield, hearkens back to his roots in Baton Rouge, La. “It’s what I grew up on — Cajun-style fried fish in cornmeal batter with a mustard hot sauce dredge, fried nice and crispy.”

Sheffield goes on to describe the pop-up’s North Carolina-sourced fish and seafood, served alongside hushpuppies, hot sauce remoulade and dill pickle sauce as “old-school classic stuff.”

Meanwhile, Hodge’s other bar, Asheville Beauty Academy, is feeding the cravings for some Sovereign menu classics with a late night pop-up that runs Thursdays-Mondays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. The pop-up will continue at least until the reopening of Sovereign Remedies, which is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 23, in conjunction with its eight-year anniversary. If Fish Camp remains popular, Hodge says, he’ll keep the fry baskets going at the Getaway as well.

Fish Camp Pop-up is at Getaway River Bar, 790 Riverside Drive,  2-8 p.m. daily. To learn more, visit avl.mx/abz.

Gardens party

Attendees of the West Asheville Garden Stroll on Saturday, Sept. 11, will be the first to taste  Blueberry Purple Basil ice cream the limited-time flavor developed as a collaboration between The Hop Ice Cream and Bountiful Cities, using purple basil from Bountiful Cities’ gardens.  Weather permitting, it will be sold during the stroll, and then through The Hop’s online platform. The partnership will raise funds for Bountiful Cities’ FEAST Garden at Hall Fletcher Elementary School with The Hop donating a portion of the flavor’s online sales Sept. 13-19.

The garden stroll kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at 198 Vermont Ave. and runs until 4 p.m. Participation is free. For more information, visit avl.mx/ac0.


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About Kay West
Kay West began her writing career in NYC, then was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, including contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. In 2019 she moved to Asheville and continued writing (minus Red Carpet coverage) with a focus on food, farming and hospitality. She is a die-hard NY Yankees fan.

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