Sunday, January 19, 2014

Baked Asheville (with pork candy)

Asheville is surrounded by very old mountains.

We have wildflowers.

We have waterfalls.

We also have lots of restaurants and a rocketing food culture. Big time. James Beard nominees and finalists. Articles popping up everywhere, a couple hundred food blogs (maybe a couple hundred and one.) The choices for dining out have grown hugely (especially if you like pork.) There's even a recently published history of Asheville's particular cuisine: Asheville Food: A History of High Country Cuisine (which I have not yet read). We have glamorous chefs and bakers, we have bad boy chefs, we have wondrously myopic food artisans. I can't imagine that anything more needs to be said about our bursting barrel of breweries but we also have distilleries and cideries.

mountain food culture, old school (Brigid Burns)

May I suggest that things have changed? I have been working in the Asheville food world for over 20 years. When we moved here in 1991, there was good dining at the Marketplace and The Richmond Hill Inn... the Grove Park Inn. There were mainstream American bakeries, lots of yeast and pillowy breads. We had Frank's Roman Pizza and lots of diners with Greek names. Asheville still has deep affection for the Mediterranean Restaurant that has been an institution since 1969.

We shopped at Ingles, Harris Teeter, the Fresh Market, Bi-Lo and Food Lion, Dinner for the Earth (now, of course, Earthfare) the French Broad Food Coop and a single tailgate market. Now we have updated versions of most of these as well as newish players in Green Life (Whole Foods, the behemoth), Trader Joe's (eliminating the last reason to envy Greenville, SC), and TJ's estranged brother Aldi,Amazing Savings, Katuwah and a sprinkling of mostly Mexican Tiendas. For anything exotic we have Kim's Oriental, Foreign Affairs and several other ethnic shops. At last, one does not have to make one's own pelmeni, Siberian style stuffed pasta (or worse, to try and substitute tortellini [as if they can't tell the difference]).

Our resources are now nearly complete, whether or not you care for the package in which a particular element arrives. Nearly everything one could need is available to cook (or raw) and serve literally anything you wish. Fresh galangal, candlenut, jaggery or gulub jawa, Thai peppers, long beans and bitter melon, both gochujang and gochugaru...all available! A vibrant community of local farms brings stunning produce to the tailgates. I am still surprised every year to be able to find purslane, lamb neck, honey, sugar plums and tatsoi along with foraged nettles. morels and ramps. We even get descent seafood driven up from the coast.

We even found our constant companion at the City Market in the Public Works parking lot. You need to be careful. The Humane Society or Brother Wolf often have booths offering the irresistible.

                                  Mookie                     brigid burns

The artisan food community is growing rapidly. We have locally made miso, cheeses, smoked, cured and fresh meats, superb chocolates, preserves, heirloom grains milled into meals and flours. And bakeries? Funny you should ask, we do have many bakeries for every taste and requirement but there's more. Here is the true story about how I got to Asheville in the first place:

We parked behind a strip of shops on the corner of Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues in northwest DC. to shop at great bakery, Marvelous Market in case you were there. I got out of the car and noticed a van with these words painted on its side... French Baking Machines. It was a moment...I dropped everything I was in order to be someone completely different and, as it turned out, very much more my self. My former wife Margaret was in on the epiphany, she shared my need to start feeding people. Up until that moment I worked for the US Small Business Administration, after that moment I was a bread baker.

I was 45 when I made that hairpin turn. I got a business card from the disdainful French driver/technician. He doubted I could learn to make real bread. It must be in ze blood. Well... apparently it is. It never occurred to me that I might not have it in me or that I might be "tone-deaf" to bread. I had fallen in love with the idea of baking. In short order the idea became the life. I called the boss at headquarters in New Jersey and proposed to buy one of his ovens if he would put me together with the best baker he knew.

I followed up with the oven man who sent me to Dan Leader, owner of Bread Alone, 100 miles north of Manhattan (my home town). We agreed on a fee and he became my sensei. He took me from that moment (not knowing how to bake bread) until two weeks after Blue Moon Bakery was open and running. I spent a couple of months learning and doing everything that could be done in Dan's bakery. Margaret (who had visited as a child from her native Kentucky) picked Asheville as a good place to try and we never looked back. We met Laurey Masterton who persuaded us to move in next to her shop in the building on Biltmore Avenue (the spot where City Bakery is now.)

So we packed up our daughters, Nora and Emily, and drove to our new home. From the moment we opened our doors the city welcomed our family and our bread.

I found the knack to make artisan breads (and then made the breads 10.000 times as Hank says one must in order to become good at something.) Ashevilleans found that they loved those breads. Blue Moon was the first such in Asheville (and I think the first in the state, maybe the whole South.) The bakery was just a bit ahead of the curve when I started the boules rolling 22 years ago. This coming March (2014) will be the 10th annual Asheville Artisan Bread Festival founded and nurtured by Steve Bardwell and his wife, Gail Lundsford of Wake Robin Farm Breads. (For festival news and schedule

I am still here, baking less and cooking more. We are here, Brigid, Mookie and me; we still love the mountains, wildflowers and waterfalls, the glorious cooks and foods of Asheville and each other. Bon Appetit!



1 comment: