James Beard Connections in Foodtopia
By Janet Moore
Top Asheville Chefs and Restaurants Have Earned National Honors
When many people think of American food, one name often comes to mind: James Beard. Julia Child called him the “Dean of American Cuisine,” and he was. Three decades after his death, The James Beard Foundation continues his work by recognizing regional chefs who are taking American Cuisine to new heights. So it comes as no surprise to see Asheville’s Foodtopians honored by the Foundation.
James Beard Awards: The Oscars of the Culinary World
Being nominated is an honor many aspire to but few achieve.
In February 2020, the James Beard Foundation announced that five Asheville chefs/restaurants were among the nominees:
- Cultura - Best New Restaurant
- John Fleer, Rhubarb - Outstanding Chef
- Ashleigh Shanti, Benne on Eagle - Rising Star of the Year
- Katie Button, Curate - Best Chef Southeast
- Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani - Best Chef Southeast
Asheville James Beard Nominees, Semifinalists and Winners
In 2010, Jacob Sessoms of Table was the first Asheville chef to be nominated for Best Chef Southeast. Three years later, two Asheville chefs were on the list: Elliott Moss, then at The Admiral, for Best Chef Southeast, and Curate's Katie Button for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
The number of Asheville nominees has risen exponentially in the years since.
Here's an at-a-glance look at chefs and culinary professionals who have been recognized as James Beard award nominees and semifinalists while working and/or living in Asheville (awards earned before or after their time in Asheville are not reflected below). The list reflects their restaurant affiliation at the time of the award.
- Jacob Sessoms, Table - Best Chef Southeast (2010)
- Elliott Moss, Buxton Hall (previously with The Admiral) - Best Chef Southeast (Semifinalist: 2013, 2017)
- Katie Button, Curate - Rising Star Chef of the Year (Semifinalist: 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019; Nominee: 2014, 2018)
- John Fleer, Rhubarb - Best Chef Southeast (Nominee: 2015, 2017)
- Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani - Best Chef Southeast (Semifinalist: 2014, 2015, 2018; Nominee: 2019)
- Cynthia Wong, Rhubarb - Best Pastry Chef (Semifinalist: 2016)
- Brian Canipelli, Cucina24 - Best Chef Southeast (Semifinalist: 2016)
- Ronni Lundy, Author of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes - Book of the Year (Winner: 2017)
- Leah Wong Ashburn, Highland Brewing Company - Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional (Semifinalist: 2018)
- David Bauer, Farm & Sparrow - Outstanding Baker (Semifinalist: 2018)
- Ashley Capps, Buxton Hall - Outstanding Pastry Chef (Nominee: 2019)
While the list above reflects people who earned recognition while in Asheville, several of those listed were recognized by James Beard before coming to Asheville. Before arriving in Asheville, Eric Gabrynowicz (Tupelo Honey) was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Rising Star Chef in 2011. He was also a semifinalist for Best Chef Northeast from 2014-16. And, prior to Linton Hopkins (H&F Burger) arrival in Asheville, he won Best Chef Southeast in 2012 (he is also a 4-time James Beard nominee).
The James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour
This prestigious nationwide tour pays homage to the unforgettable meals James Beard served his friends at his Greenwich Village home. In 2014 and 2017, William Dissen, chef/owner of The Market Place, hosted an evening of sublime food and wine at his sleek Wall Street restaurant as part of the Tour.
Foodtopians Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall and nationally-acclaimed chocolatier Daniel Rattigan of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, have joined along with other Southern stars from Raleigh and Louisville.
In May 2018, Posana and Chef Peter Pollay hosted the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour which will include Asheville chefs Katie Button and John Fleer. For more information, please visit the James Beard Foundation web site.
Advocating for Sustainability and Seasonality
When it comes to sustainability and farm-to-table cooking, James Beard was a man ahead of his time, which is why he would feel right at home in Asheville. Before these terms became part of our culinary lexicon, Beard was advocating for both. He likely would appreciate that Asheville was the first city in the U.S. to be certified as a Green Dining Destination. He likely would applaud the Asheville independent restaurants that consistently make the list of “greenest restaurants in the U.S."
You would also think Beard would embrace the “100-mile diet” that is standard fare for chefs like John Fleer (pictured) whose creations pay homage to Western North Carolina’s seasonal bounty. Thanks to the independent restaurant community, small family farms are thriving.
Asheville is now a city of neighborhood tailgate markets and where regional grocery store chains tout their wide selection of local produce, meat and cheese.
James Beard never visited Asheville, but his influence is evident in every delicious forkful of food prepared by a new generation of Asheville chefs who share his belief that food should be fresh, local, delicious and authentic. It’s what brings guests to Asheville and what keeps them coming back. Proof positive that the legacy of James Beard is alive and well in Foodtopia.