Matt Farr and Erica Beneke have packed a lot in the 4 1/2 years since they first crossed paths at MANNA FoodBank’s 2017 annual Empty Bowls fundraiser, including courtship, parenting, marriage and the launch of their catering company, Red Fiddle Vittles. More recently, the husband-and-wife team celebrated the latest milestone in their evolving business: the opening of the company’s first brick-and-mortar facility, which combines a commercial kitchen with retail space.
“We think it’s pretty special that we first met under the umbrella of feeding people,” says Farr, who managed MANNA’s volunteer program at the time. Beneke, then a private chef (and 2013 winner of Food Network‘s “Chopped”), was new to Asheville and among the volunteers.
Shortly after the fundraiser, Farr was tasked with organizing an appreciation dinner for MANNA volunteers. He and Beneke, by then dating, took on the event together. “We got donations from Hickory Nut Gap, Whole Foods, Warren Wilson [College] and Sierra Nevada [Brewing Co.] and fed 250 volunteers,” he says.
That success inspired them to launch Red Fiddle Vittles catering business in 2018, focused primarily on small, 20- to 30-guest dinners. The following year, the birth of their son led to an impromptu wedding ceremony at the Buncombe Country Courthouse, attended by baby Harlan in his car seat.
After three years of renting space in a commercial kitchen, the pair began searching for a place of their own. In July 2020, they found what they’d been looking for in a shopping center in Arden. Amid lengthy renovations, the couple’s vision for the space changed. Initially, they planned on using the entire square footage for their kitchen and catering business but ultimately decided to build out the front section for retail.
Today, Red Fiddle Vittles welcomes guests inside to cheery red walls decorated with cast iron skillets and invites shoppers to peruse cases of frozen food items (including the company’s popular ready-to-bake biscuits and cookie dough), prepared refrigerated foods and heat-and-eat meals made on-site. The shop also offers local products, including Farm and Sparrow flour and grains, Imladris Farm jams and Spicewalla spices.
The couple recently hired their first full-time employee, Beneke’s sister, Molly. Meanwhile, their 2 1/2-year-old son is also in the family business. “Harlan has decided he loves taking out the trash, and I couldn’t be happier,” says Farr with a laugh. “We’re hopeful dishwashing is the next step.”
Red Fiddle Vittles is at 1800 Hendersonville Road, Arden. For hours and new weekly heat-and-eat meal menus, visit avl.mx/ba5.
In late February, the James Beard Foundation announced its 2022 semifinalists. Six Asheville chefs and restaurants received nods, including a pair of seasoned nominees as well as two others making their first appearances on the prestigious list.
Katie Button, a three-time finalist, is again in the Best Chef Southeast category; meanwhile, her restaurant, Cúrate is nominated for Outstanding Hospitality.
Meherwan Irani — also previously recognized in the Best Chef Southeast category — celebrates a pair of firsts with Chai Pani’s nomination for Outstanding Restaurant and Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken’s for Best New Restaurant.
Making their James Beard debuts are OWL owner Susannah Gebhart with her Outstanding Baker nomination and Benne on Eagle’s Cleophus Hethington for Emerging Chef.
Hethington says he received a “Congratulations!” text from a friend while prepping Wednesday morning and had no clue why. “Just as I texted him back, I got one from Benne’s publicist with the news. It’s pretty awesome, and I cherish the recognition, especially as one of two Black chefs in the category. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.”
He laughs when he recalls that several years ago, Zagat recognized him as an Under the Radar talent. “Now I’m emerging, so I need to keep working hard to arrive.”
Irani takes note of how tough the pandemic was on the hospitality industry. “The last two years restaurants have been through hell and back. To make it and be recognized for the job we’re doing is a certain amount of luck and a privilege, and I am conscious of sharing that recognition with the entire Asheville restaurant community.”
He says he was thrilled at Chai Pani’s first inclusion for Outstanding Restaurant and floored over Nani’s entry. “It’s not like I opened a temple that was an ode to gastronomy. I took a very simple idea to take rotisserie chicken and try to make the best rotisserie chicken anyone could buy. This year there are a lot of outliers and small stories in this category, and it is recognition that if you focus on one thing and doing it really well, people notice.”
Button, too, says she is honored, especially for the recognition of Cúrate’s hospitality. “I am continually inspired by our team’s passion and love for what we do. It is such an honor to be recognized for our commitment to the craft of hospitality — something that we care so deeply about at Cúrate. The past two years have been incredibly hard, and I am beyond proud of how our team has confronted each challenge head-on and with enthusiasm.”
Gebhart, who opened OWL Bakery in early 2016, similarly lauds her team and the community. “Though I am the founder and figurehead of the bakery, my personal baking journey has been enriched by so many others that are doing work in the baking field. So much of what is perceived as ‘my’ baking is really a host of collaborations that it takes to make a single product. Everything we make has roots in deep cultural traditions, is informed by our mentors, counts on the quality of ingredients we source from millers, farmers and makers, and takes inspiration from the backgrounds and interests of all of our bakers.”
Final nominations will be announced Wednesday, March 16, with the awards ceremony set for Monday, June 13, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Ginger’s Revenge Craft Brewery will celebrate its fifth anniversary of making alcoholic ginger beer with a long weekend of events. The party kicks off Thursday, March 10, with smoky eats from Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ food truck from 4 -8 p.m. and free birthday cake from Kayla Kirk Culinary Works.
On Friday, March 11, The Smokin’ Onion will be serving vegetarian goodness from 4-8 p.m., and Pour Darling will teach an acrylic fluid art class.
On Saturday, Kinfolk food truck parks and feeds on-site from 2-8 p.m.
And on Sunday, the Smokin’ Onion is back from 2-6 p.m.
Different bands perform each day, and $1 of every full pour and ginger beer flight sold throughout the weekend will go to Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, as well as proceeds from several raffle options donated by local businesses.
Ginger’s Revenge is at 829 Riverside Drive. For a full schedule of events, visit avl.mx/bar.
Chef Chris Cox is a past winner of the Asheville Wing War, the Asheville Battle of the Burger and the Punk Rock Hot Dog competition and secured his meaty reputation and “Burger Boi” nickname as a master of gastropub fare in his post at The Malvern in West Asheville. Sam Kosik, owner of Mother Ocean Market, recently lured Cox to his storefront to serve as head chef.
Since coming on board, Cox has developed and introduced new items, including shrimp and grits, clam chowder poutine and a tuna melt with Havarti cheese, lemon caper mayo and pickled fennel. Adding turf to the surf, Cox will also cook up chicken sandwiches and weekly burger specials.
Mother Ocean Market is at 640 Merrimon Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/ba9.
The girls are back in town. Brenda the Drag Queen, Kitty Litter, Marsha Mellows, Kiara Mel and Giselle Cassidy Carter request your pleasure in their presence at the Boobs, Burgers & Beer Drag Dinner on Friday, March 11, 7:30-10 p.m. at Hi-Wire Brewing’s Biltmore Village event space. The queens bring the boobs, Foothills Local Meats Food Truck provides the burgers, and Hi-Wire supplies the beer.
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $30 for first drink, burger dinner and the show. Doors open at 7 p.m.; showtime is at 8 p.m.
Hi-Wire Brewing is at 2A Huntsman Place. For more information, visit avl.mx/baa.
If sauerkraut chocolate cake piques your culinary curiosity, Buxton Hall Barbecue will satisfy that and more when it hosts fermentation king Sandor Ellix Katz on Friday, March 18, 5:30-7 p.m., for a discussion of his new book, Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions from around the World. While hearing about his global travels and techniques for fermenting foods, attendees will enjoy a vegetarian tasting prepared by Buxton. Highlights include tepache and potato tempeh and fermented beverages. Attendees will receive a signed copy of Katz’s book.
Buxton Hall is at 32 Banks Ave. Tickets are $120 per person. To purchase, visit avl.mx/bab.
Leah Raines, who has led the Asheville Brewers Alliance since 2020, will be stepping down from the organization in mid-March. In a press release, she states: “The last couple of years, while extremely challenging, have provided the ABA an opportunity to revisit and rebuild solid organizational infrastructure and identify new ways to support our members. I am grateful to have been a part of that process and excited to see what the ABA’s next chapter looks like.” Rainis adds that she will be working closely with the ABA board and executive committee to ensure a smooth transition to the next executive director.
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