Chefs and their Kitchens
I have been in so many restaurant kitchens lately! It has been interesting to see the various workplaces where some of the best food in WNC is conceived and prepared for a wide variety of patrons. My assignment was simple: visit and photograph each of the 14 chefs who are competing in the WNC Chefs Challenge (www.wncmagazine.com/wineandfood/challenge) that previews on August 13th at the Haywood Park Hotel Ballroom.(www.haywoodpark.com)
While the workspaces were so similar in terms of equipment, pots and pans, they varied so much more in size and layout. You can probably guess that the Grove Park Inn has many spacious kitchens, as seen in many of the photos of the Obama’s recent visit. This is also true for the Inn on Biltmore Estates. One kitchen that surprised me was at the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement community. The number of patrons they serve each day is tremendous – this is a very large community of people.
I think it was the smaller kitchens that really impressed me the most. Some kitchens, such as Curras, The Admiral, and Early Girl, were long, narrow, and so compact that they barely accommodated the chefs and staff. Just try and photograph a chef while working in a tight kitchen – it is not easy! Several times I had to ask the chef to step outside the kitchen just so I had enough space to take more than a head shot!
The chefs were all great and either had questions about the preview party or who their competition will be at their challenge. I had the opportunity to read their bios and to ask questions about their experience and how they had learned their craft. Many of the 14 chefs had worked together at other locations, many had attended the same schools or apprenticed under the same executive chefs. The pride in their craft and their spirit of competition always came through as they talked to me during these sessions.
At one place in particular I was taken aback when I entered the kitchen. There was a very large party taking place in the dining area, but when I entered the kitchen all was quiet except for three people gathered around the old Hobart mixer. I recognized the chef and while the older person he was working with seemed familiar, I could not place him immediately. I watched the older chef measure flour and describe the actions of the dough being formed and how it would react in the bowl and on the dough hooks when it reached the right consistency. The younger chef was taking notes and asking questions until I interrupted. As they both turned toward me, I realized they were father and son.
I had met the father many years ago when his restaurant was on Lexington Avenue in Asheville. Now it was the son’s turn to learn from the master. We talked about the competition for a few minutes and then about the son’s experience of cooking in different kitchens and of the pride of learning from his father. He expressed the possibility that his father would participate on his team at the competition and how they enjoyed working with each other in the kitchen!
You will get to meet these chefs as they gather on May 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at the Haywood Park Hotel Ballroom in downtown Asheville. Then starting May 18 and for every Tuesday night until August 14 at the Flying Frog Café (www.flyingfrogcafe.com) in downtown Asheville, you will get a chance to be the jury and decide which chefs will make it to the final “Iron Chef Challenge” at the WNC Magazine’s Asheville Wine and Food Festival. To see who the chefs are and what restaurants they represent, go to (www.ashevillewineandfood.com) and look at the schedule. Get your tickets now for the preview party and make your reservations for the Tuesday night competitions – and remember to invite your food-loving friends!