Dining with Culinary Celebrities

Luckily I was healthy and ready to go when the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour came to Asheville last week because this event was truly not to be missed. Held at The Market Place, one of downtown Asheville’s great restaurants, five distinguished chefs made culinary magic, including the James Beard “Best Chef of the Southeast” 2014 winner Chef Ashley Christensen, and Chef Anthony Lamas, three-time semi-finalist of the James Beard “Best Chef: Southeast”. There are a lot of similarities between tasting fine whiskeys or wines and tasting great food. You pay attention, focusing on the look and taste and feel. As each dish was presented, the room would quiet for a moment. Each dish was beautiful so we would take a moment to appreciate the presentation and then there would be a clink of cutlery, a silence while you tasted, and then slowly the threads of conversations were picked up again, mostly about the incredible food being presented to you. 

We also had a celebrity mixologist, Sara Strom, who used our products to create three special cocktails for the event. We started with the Dirty Blonde, made with our Blonde whiskey, infused with ginger candy, shaken with Powell and Mahoney peach Bellini mixer, then served over ice garnished with a grilled peach. During dinner, she brought out Life On the Green: our Platinum white whiskey moonshine infused with cilantro, jalapeño, mint and cucumber, shaken with fresh lime juice and local honey. I hadn’t tasted any of the drinks before so was a little unprepared for this one! Zingy hot and really delicious, but ladylike sipping required. The last drink of the evening was my favorite; the Blue Ridge Beauty used muddled blueberries and basil shaken with T&S Oak Reserve and St. Germaine, lemon and honey.  

It was a lovely evening, despite a rough start. A last-minute family emergency meant we had no one to stay with the boys, so Charlie volunteered to stay home and my sister Trish agreed to be my date for the evening. Trish was the intrepid volunteer who came along with me in the early days when I was traveling the hills looking for ‘home distillers’. She sipped some pretty awful stuff out of suspect stills back then so it was nice to share an elegant experience for a change! I also got to catch up with Ashley Christiansen again. We met a few years ago at an event at Poole’s in Raleigh – it’s a small world – and her recognition is well-deserved.

Charlie would have loved it all – and he may get another chance. One of the folks from James Beard was so impressed by the city, our chefs, and the community’s wealth of artisan foods and spirits, that he said “We’ll have to do this every year in Asheville.”