StarChefs.com, an online magazine which stages regional parties to recognize “up-and-coming chefs and culinary professionals,” found nearly all of the talent for its Carolina Rising Stars gala in Asheville and Charleston: The cities are home to eight of the 11 chefs participating in a Dec. 11 tasting at Memminger Auditorium.
“In Charleston, we found a tight-knit community of chefs that sees itself as the keeper of what is one of the richest food traditions in America,” editor-in-chief Antoinette Bruno is quoted as saying in a release from the organization, which considered 100 chefs in 18 cities and towns for the honor. Bruno added that Asheville chefs have distinguished themselves by being “weird,” in keeping with the town’s unofficial slogan.
Charleston’s chef honorees are Husk’s Travis Grimes; Two Boroughs Larder’s Josh Keeler; FIG’s Jason Stanhope and Butcher & Bee’s Stuart Tracy. Charlestonians also made the cut in a number of additional categories: David Schnell of Brown’s Court Bakery was an ‘artisan’ winner; Aaron Siegel of Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ took the ‘concept’ prize; Social Restaurant + Wine Bar’s Brad Ball shared the ‘sommelier’ title with Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House and The Gin Joint’s Joe Raya claimed one of two ‘mixologist’ awards.
Attendees who buy $85 tickets (or $115 tickets, if they want VIP status and the caviar reception which accompanies it) will undoubtedly eat well. But it’s the few chefs who hail from beyond the Carolina powerhouses who may well emerge as the evening’s breakout stars.
Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, N.C. has received increased media attention since starring in a PBS series and serving Saturday lunch at the fall symposium of Southern Foodways Alliance, which has energetically championed her work. Howard is also the lone female on the list of winning chefs. She’s planning to serve pencil cobb grits with sweet potato mostarda and dried mullet roe.
But the guy to watch is Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, N.C. Allen and his wife, Wendy, in 2009 relocated to the tiny mountain town from Los Angeles, trading their private chef roster of celebrity clients for a 35-seat dining room. Locals initially weren’t sure what to make of the Allens referring to “streaky meat” as pork belly and pairing it with quinoa waffles and bok choy, but the restaurant’s become a vortex of pride for an economically-depressed county. Yet widespread recognition has largely eluded Allen, although he did pick up a “Small Town Chef” award from Cooking Light back in 2011.
I’m completely biased on this score. Knife & Fork was where I celebrated my birthday when I lived in Asheville: Allen’s cooking persuaded me to forgo my annual tradition of driving to McCrady’s for dinner. The nasturtium panna cotta with sumac water, pesto, flowers and salted seed pods which Allen’s making for the party could dissolve on my plate, and I’d probably like it. Still, my prediction is he’ll nail the panna cotta – and possibly leave a few South Carolinians thinking about heading up to his restaurant in January and February, when he’s shelving the usual menu in favor of weekly themed dinners: The Valentine’s Day theme is Chicago 1931 (I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia: That’s not the year of the Valentine’s Day Massacre.)
There are a number of other savvy picks on the list: In addition to the Charleston choices, StarChefs.com wisely recognized Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24 in Asheville, who makes a mean cacio e pepe, but is preparing beef carpaccio for the Charleston crowd; William Dissen, who’s successfully freshened up Asheville’s The Market Place without straying from its founding mission of supporting local farmers and the brewers from Asheville’s Wicked Weed, who plan to pour a coconut curry wit.
To purchase tickets to the gala, which begins at 6:30 p.m., visit www.starchefs.com/risingstars. The menu’s posted below.
Nathan Allen of Knife and Fork (Spruce Pine, NC)
Featured Dish: Nasturtium Panna Cotta with Sumac Water, Pesto, Flowers, and Salted Seed Pods
Justin Burdett of Ruka’s Table (Highland, NC)
Featured Dish: Australian Beef Strip, Squid Ink, Yukon Potatoes, Fermented Onion Purée, Lardo, and Bone Marrow-Anchovy Vinaigrette
Brian Cannipelli of Cucina 24 (Asheville, NC)
Featured Dish: Australian Beef Carpaccio, Bone Marrow Béarnaise, and Puffed Beef Shin Tendon
Matt Dawes of Bull and Beggar (Asheville, NC)
Featured Dish: Mediterranean Octopus, Romesco, Gigante Lima Beans, and Salsa Verde
William Dissen of The Market Place (Asheville, NC)
Featured Dish: Wood-grilled Cervena Venison, Strawberry Relish, Foraged Mushroom Gratin, Chioggia Beets, and Foie Gras
Bill Greene of Artisanal (Asheville, NC)
Featured Dish: Bergamot-encrusted Australian Lamb, Kuri Squash, Smoked Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chestnuts
Travis Grimes of Husk (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Rudderfish Crudo, Citrus-marinated Cabbage, Shiitakes, Radishes, Radish Flowers, and Nasturtiums
Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer (Kinston, NC)
Featured Dish: Pencil Cobb Grits, Sweet Potato Mostarda, Dried Mullet Roe, and Fine Herbes Butter
Josh Keeler of Two Boroughs Larder (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Duck Breast, Buttermilk-poached Winter Vegetables, and Cornbread Purée
Jason Stanhope of Fig (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Saffron Spaghetti with Dandelion Greens
Stuart Tracy of Butcher & Bee (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Porchetta, Marinated Squash, Mustard Greens, and Pickles on Ciabatta
Katie Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop (Durham, NC)
Featured Dish: Chocolate Rochers
Colin Bedford of Fearrington House (Pittsboro, NC)
Featured Dish: Chanterelle Risotto, Carolina Moon Cheese, Foie Gras, and Apple Espuma
Katie Button; Felix Meana of Cúrate (Asheville, SC)
Featured Dish: Grilled Secreto Ibérico, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Yogurt, and Yogurt Celery Root Espuma
Danielle Centeno; Hallot Parson of Escazú Artisan Chocolates (Raleigh, NC)
Featured Dish: Tamarind-Habañero Chocolate
Justin Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop (Durham, NC)
Featured Dish: Carolina Charcuterie Board
David Schnell of Brown’s Court Bakery (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Peanut Butter-Banana Roll with Peanut Butter Glaze
David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow (Candler, NC)
Featured Dish: Seeded Batard
Aaron Siegel of Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ (Charleston, SC)
Featured Dish: Smoked Chicken Wings with Alabama White Sauce
Mike Moore of Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder (Asheville, NC)
Featured Dish: Country Terrine, Chicken Liver Pâté, Pickles, and Pistachio Pesto
Brad Ball of Social Restaurant + Wine Bar (Charleston, SC)
Beverage Pairings with Winners’ Dishes
Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House (Pittsboro, NC)
Beverage Pairings with Winners’ Dishes
Dean James of Peccadillo (Carrboro, NC)
Featured Drink: The Long Goodbye with Los Nahuales Blanco Mezcal, Lime Juice, Mint Syrup
Joe Raya of The Gin Joint (Charleston, SC)
Featured Drink: The Bitter Holland Sling with Old Raj Gin, Redbreast 12-year Irish Whiskey, Demerara Sugar, Boker’s Bitters, Ron Zacapa 23-year Rum
Walt and Luke Dickinson of Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville, NC)
Featured Beer: Coconut Curry Wit
Marshall Hance of Mountain Air Roasters (Asheville, NC)
Featured Coffee: Finca Kilimanjaro Coffee
(One final self-indulgent note: Hance and I led mountain bike trips together more than decade ago.)