What’s new in food: The Crunchy Baker rolls out baking classes

BAKE AND LEARN: Laura Walton combines her loves of baking and teaching through The Crunchy Baker. Photo courtesy Laura Walton

Laura Walton, founder of The Crunchy Baker, will launch a new series of in-person baking classes starting Saturday, May 20, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Walton, (whose husband, Daniel, is an Xpress contributing editor), taught at the high school level for nearly a decade before turning her professional attention to pastries.

“Toward the end of my school-teaching career, I wanted to focus full time on creating a suburban homestead, as well as teach baking and homesteading on my own terms,” says Walton. “I loved being in a classroom and doing the actual work of teaching, so my enthusiasm, as well as my experience with lesson planning and classroom management, will be superhelpful in this new venture.”

Walton is a lifelong baker with many formative memories of family kitchen experiences and experimenting with Pillsbury baking books as a kid. In 2020, she began attending local markets and building a committed following in East Asheville and Weaverville. She even won a blue ribbon for her pound cake at the N.C. Mountain State Fair.

Much like in the classroom, Walton felt at home at these venues interacting with new and familiar faces each day. As relationships grew, Walton envisioned a way to combine her loves of baking and teaching through accessible, personalized lessons at her Arden commercial kitchen.

“Gaining a consistent customer base, as well as having lots of practice baking for markets and festivals, has built confidence over the years to start classes,” she says.

Fittingly, Walton’s first class covers the basics of bread making. Just four ingredients (flour, water, salt and yeast) will be explored by beginners wanting to learn the fundamentals.

“I want to take some of the mystery out of baking, help people build confidence in the kitchen and share sustainable baking practices,” explains Walton. All classes will teach students the basics of responsible ingredient sourcing, composting and creative uses for leftover baked goods.

“I hope that sharing simple practices and information through classes will motivate my students to make and share positive, sustainable changes in their own kitchens,” concludes Walton.

Each class runs for three hours and takes place at 16 Glenn Willow Drive No. 36, Arden. The $99 course fee includes all ingredients, equipment and snacks. Visit avl.mx/cof for tickets and information.

Cultura Root to Table

Cultura will host chef Gabriel McIntosh and Namaari Kawamura of Better Thymes for a fully plant-based dinner on Thursday, May 18. The five-course menu will be prepared in collaboration with Cultura executive chef Eric Morris and his team, with proceeds supporting Equal Plates Project, a local nonprofit connecting WNC’s agricultural communities with neighbors who need access to fresh, locally grown, nutritious meals.

Better Thymes has been making a name for itself at local markets and through retail partnerships around town. All products from the small-batch business, including hot sauces, trail bars and granola, are locally sourced, natural and vegan.

“This is a chance for us to share our vision, introduce our small business and showcase our culinary talents to share with the community,” says Kawamura, partner and co-founder of Better Thymes. “We are grateful for the opportunity to tell our story and work with chef Eric and his team to create our dinner.”

Highlights of the evening’s menu include beetroot tartare, okonomiyaki waffles, Sichuan dan dan-stuffed bao raviolis and more. A complimentary tequila shot will accompany a beignet doughnut dessert.

“The story we are trying to tell with our food is that healthy food can taste good. We believe in an overall balanced diet and want to offer food product alternatives for those who seek it and need it,” says Kawamura. “This will be an intimate and heartfelt evening, and we’re excited to tell our story through food.”

Cultura is at 147 Coxe Ave. Tickets cost $125 per person and include gratuity and beverage pairings. Email Cultura directly at culturareservation@gmail.com for tickets.

Cater to your cravings

Crave Dessert Bar presents its very first drag brunch event on Sunday, May 21, 1:30-4 p.m

“Even in its nomenclature, ‘crave’ is a word that’s all about passion,” says co-owner Sheldon Osborne. “When you crave something, it’s not just descriptive — it’s a feeling — and we are passionate about being a safe space for inclusivity and expression. We truly are a multicultural organization, and we represent that not only through the people we hire but also [by] who we create an oasis for.”

Hosted by drag queen Ivanna Cookie, guests will be served a full brunch with a complimentary mimosa prior to a “sickeningly sweet” show performed by Cookie and other local drag artists.

“We find it important to be a part of that community that provides space for art and love of all kinds,” says Osborne. “Even more importantly: fun of all kinds, and that’s what Cookie and her team bring on a consistent basis when they perform.”

Guests can expect an array of dishes, such as Margherita flatbread, empanadas, decadent cupcakes and chocolate-covered strawberry desserts. Crave’s full-service bar will also be open for purchasing additional cocktails, beer and wine.

Crave is at 41 N. Lexington Ave. Suite 100. Tickets cost $38 per person. Visit avl.mx/cog for tickets and additional information.

Beer and cheese pairing

Blue Ghost Brewing Co., in partnership with the WNC Cheese Trail and Barn Door Ciderworks, hosts an educational and experiential cheese and beer pairing event Tuesday, May 23, at 6 p.m.

This event marks the return of a long-running series combining Blue Ghost Brewing’s beer expertise with the WNC Cheese Trail’s commitment to all things cheese. The recurring event was put on hold throughout the pandemic, but now the tasty tradition is back and welcomes Barn Door Ciderworks to join in.

“We are all lucky enough to live in an abundant, beautiful part of the country where we can use local ingredients to create absolutely delightfully delicious food and drink,” says Barn Door co-owner Katie Moore. “As small-business owners, we take great pride in what we produce and love sharing that goodness with our guests.”

Event participants will be guided through a tasting of four paired beers and cheeses complemented by other pairing snacks, such as crackers, olives and breads. Hosts will offer education on individual tasting components, describe why the flavors of beer and cheese work so well together and shed light on the beer- and cheese-making processes.

“Our theme is to provide insightful information about our products and provide a fun way for our guests to enjoy themselves.”

Blue Ghost Brewing Co. is at 125 Underwood Road, Fletcher. Visit avl.mx/coe to purchase tickets at $40 per person.

NC food banks struggle

Food banks across North Carolina have announced a precipitous increase in the need for food and resources for people experiencing hunger after extra Food and Nutrition Services benefits ended in February.

MANNA FoodBank reported an increase of more than 10,000 people in need across the 16 counties of Western North Carolina from the final quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023. This trend is expected to continue as inflation adds to the strain of expired benefits.

“We are now serving over 133,000 people on average each month,” says MANNA FoodBank Chief Executive Officer Claire Neal in a news release. “This is more than double the number of people we were serving prior to the pandemic and is reflective of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis that thousands of households across our region are facing. These troubling trends underscore even further what we continue to hear from thousands of families every month: Even working full time, their income isn’t meeting their most basic needs.”

In response to the heightened demand, the MANNA network of food banks continues to implement new programs to find strategic solutions addressing hunger today.

For information on how you can get involved and help end local hunger, visit avl.mx/6gn.



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