2018 BEST OF ASHEVILLE PART III – People Who Feed People

Welcome to Part Three, the final installment in the nominations process for the 2018 Stoobie Awards! These are the sixth annual Stoobie Awards, and 2018 marks the very first time ever that we’re throwing a party and doing a LIVE ceremony to give away the awards!

If you haven’t read Parts One & Two of the 2018 Stoobie Awards already, you can go HERE, and HERE, to see who’s been nominated in the first ten categories.

Please purchase tickets to the LIVE Stoobie Award Ceremony on January 28th at the Asheville Masonic Temple, during which the winners in ALL categories will be announced, and the physical awards will be presented by clicking HERE. There will be a ton of food and booze and music and fun!

Tickets are: $25 = Eat Food / $50 = Eat Food and Drink Drinks.

Good deal, yo. Shay Brown Events is curating an awesome food and beverage collection for you all to enjoy while DJ Molly Parti keeps the room lit, and I will emcee and announce the winners in all 15 categories from the stage, presenting them with the actual physical Stoobie Awards, custom made for us by MTN Merch!

Here’s who we have cooking and mixing drinks for the LIVE Ceremony night so far, stay tuned for updates!

FOOD: 50/Fifty: The Art of Dessert . AUX Bar . Buxton Hall Barbecue . French Broad Chocolates . Geraldine’s Bakery . Karen Donatelli Cake Designs . Manicomio Pizza . Melt Your Heart .Polanco Restaurant . The Nightbell . Sand Hill Kitchen . Sovereign Remedies . Sunny Point Café . Table Asheville . Twisted Laurel Asheville . The Underground Café with DoughP Doughnuts . The Worthy Baker

There will also be a super-secret LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT award given to one of Asheville’s most cherished favorites! Can you guess which one?

BUY TICKETS >>HERE<<

Alrighty! Let’s get to the nominees in the final FIVE categories of the 2018 Stoobie Awards, and start with a category I added last year in order to honor all the people who work in and around the edges and periphery of our wonderful food scene. Because I suck at naming things, this category is just called…

FOOD PERSON (OR PEOPLE) OF THE YEAR

The nominees in this category for 2018 are incredibly crucial to our food scene. They make shit happen from behind the scenes, helping to create a cohesive, highly functional, caring, and committed local food scene. They keep it real, contemporary, vibrant, and uniquely “Asheville,” with very little spotlight, if any, placed upon them. They are all humble, quiet people, who don’t begrudge the lack of attention, instead they are happy to relinquish it, so that it may be focused on others rather than themselves. I just want to give them a little bit of the love that they so generously share with us.

ABOUT THE PHOTOS: I mostly take pictures of food, so I don’t have a lot of my own pics of people to pull from. I do not own the copyright on any of the photos featured below, which I found on Facebook, so I guess technically they belong to Zuckerburg. Some of the people I’ve nominated for Stoobies are very private people, so in some cases I have simply used photos of food, equipment, and spaces instead of the people who have been nominated.

Photo from BRRE Facebook Page.

1. Rob & Lynn Foster, BRRE – Restaurants can’t function without equipment, Yo, and Blue Ridge Restarant Equipment has been helping Asheville’s restaurants function for many years. Rob and Lynn have literally built up our food scene at large by “building out” new kitchens all over town, updating old ones, providing cutting edge equipment, similar to examples of Nella Food Equipment, plus expert consulting services, and hands-on work to get just about any job done. Many of the nominees in other categories of the Stoobie awards are cooking on, in, and with equipment ordered and installed by BRRE. Chef Jay at the Underground Cafe, for example, would not be able to cook any of the foods that he has been nominated for if not for the self-circulating ventilation system that Rob & Lynn helped him to find, figure out, and install. No vent, no burgers, no happiness. In fact the last time I saw Rob & Lynn it was at The Underground Cafe, where they were scarfing something delicious… so, their motives might be selfish! Ha! Of course they patronize their own clients, who are their friends as well, and that’s part of why Rob & Lynn Foster of Blue Ridge Restaurant Equipment are my first nominees for 2018 Food People of the Year!
Past & Current Stoobies – Food People of the Year nominees 2018.

Jane meets Banjo! Photo from AIR Facebook Page.

2. Jane Anderson, AIR – Me and you and everybody else in this entire world wouldn’t even exist without Jane Anderson. Well, I exaggerate a li’ll bit, but as the major motivating force / mover-, shaker / rock solid individual behind the current incarnation of The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, and Taste of Asheville, “Jane AIR” (as she is sometimes known), is HELLA FUCKIN’ IMPORTANT to our food scene! And yet almost no one would know about Jane at all if it were left up to her. She is very humble, actually preferring to stay on the sidelines, away from attention, effective but unseen, even sitting out most public gatherings, where she would surely be treated like local royalty. Jane is such a private soul, that I can only imagine her horror as she reads these very words! Ha ha! True story! I can totally see Jane, whom I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with, reading this post and saying to herself, “Stu Helm. I’d better not win.” Well, Jane, sorry to say that, because AIR is the fuckin’ greatest thing ever, and it would totally be the same, boring, old-boys network it was before you stepped in, and you’ve made it into something powerful and positive, and you’ve done it all with very little fan fare, no scandals, and absolutely no whining, crying, or moaning despite the many hours of unrecognized hard work, you are a strong contender and very worthy nominee for the 2018 Stoobie award as Food Person of the Year!
Past & Current Stoobies – Food Person of the Year nominee 2018, Best Food Event winner 2017 (Taste of Asheville).

Image from Food Connection Facebook Page.

3. Flori Pate, Food Connection – If you have not met Flori Pate, I’m sorry. There is a little less sunshine in your life than in the lives of those of us who have. Now, I am speaking metaphorically of course, because I famously despise the actual sunshine, and I don’t want any of my friends to read this and wonder “Does Stu secretly hate this woman.” No. Dumbass. I love Flori! She’s awesome. She is super nice, for one thing, and super motivated. Along with husband Ted, she’s half of the dynamic duo behind Dig Local Asheville, which helps a lot of restaurants and is a great asset to our food scene, BUT, it is Flori’s charitable efforts with Food Connection that are the biggest factor in this here nomination. Food Connection, in case you don’t know, is a non-profit that delivers fresh, warm food from restaurants and catered events at the end of the night, via taxi, to homeless shelters, and other places, for people who might not otherwise get to enjoy Asheville’s famous restaurant cookin’ at all. After the 2018 Cookie Crush competition that I produced back in Dec, Flori delivered a bunch of the best cookies on all of Asheville to a place for runaways kids. She had received a call earlier that day from the director, asking if she could help cheer up the kids around the holidays. Flori brought the fuckin’ cheer, I’ll tell you what! COOOOOOOKIES!!! And these were’t no chips-a-fuckin’-hoys BS craptastic corporate cookies neither. Talkin’ Well Bred bakery, The Rhu, Geraldine’s, and about 7 of the best cookie makers in town. And that’s just one teeny tiny example of what Flori and Food Connection do. She’s an awesome, smart, cheerful, amazing, energetic, effective, powerful, and enthusiastic part of our food scene, and I’m super-happy to nominate Flori Pate for Food Person of the Year 2018!
Past & Current Stoobies –Food Person of the Year nominee 2018.

All three of the wonderful people listed above deserve to be called Food Person of the Year, but only one will be awarded the Stoobie on Monday, January 28th, 2019! Tickets are available HERE

RESTAURATEUR(S) OF THE YEAR

Not every restauranteur is a chef, it just so happens that most of the folks up my 2018 Restaurateur of the Year award are chefs, but their nominations in this category are not so much for their chefly achievements, but more for their entrepreneurial, philanthropic, organizational, social, and capitalist accomplishments throughout the year.

Photos from Chai Pani Facebook Page.

1. Meherwan Irani – WTF can you say about this guy? Chef Meherwan Irani fucking rules. The very first word that comes to mind when I think of him is “friendly.” Then “talented.” Then “Smart.” Then “savvy.” Just those four words alone can easily add up to any individual being a great chef-restaurateur. But not necessarily! It takes a very special individual, with many more words in their profile, to achieve what Chef Irani has achieved. He moved to a new country, graduated college, found success in and then gave up his first chosen profession, took a chance on opening a restaurant called Chai Pani, introduced a small Appalachian city to Indian street food, which is much different than many of the dishes and flavors that most Americans conceive of as “Indian Food.” What a risk! After finding his own success as a chef and restaurateur, he took a chance on another young, talented culinary rogue named Chef Elliott Moss, with whom he invested in and co-owns Buxton Hall Barbecue, one of the country’s most highly regarded eateries. And just in case you didn’t know, he also co-owns MG Road, and a Chai Pani as well as another restaurant called Boti Walla which are both in Georgia, and last year he launched a fucking spice company called Spicewalla. Can you say, “power house?” Can you say, “super star?” Yeah, Chef-Restaurateur Meherwan Irani is both of those things and he is a very strong first nominee as my 2018 Restaurateur of the Year!
Past & Current Stoobies – Restaurateur of the Year nominee 2018, Best Fried Chicken nominee 2018, Favorite Restaurant winner Buxton Hall Barbecue 2017, Best Lunch nominee 2017, Best Table Service nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2017, Most Kick-Ass Kitchen Crew nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2017, Sandwich of the Year nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2017, Best Lunch winner Chai Pani 2016, Best Burger winner Buxton Hall Barbecue 2016, Best Hot Dog winner Buxton Hall Barbecue 2016, Best Deep Fried Thing winner Chai Pani 2015, Best Sandwiches winner Buxton Hall Barbecue 2015, Best Lunch nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2015, Restaurant of the Year nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2015, Sandwich f the Year nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue, Best Deep Fried Thing nominee Buxton Hall Barbecue 2015.

Photo from Cúrate Facebook Page. (announcing 2017 Stoobie Award wins)

2. Button Family, Cúrate, Nightbell, Button & Co. Bagels – Yeah yeah, I know I know, I nominate this family and their restaurants over and over again, year after year, but what can I possibly do? To not recognize their spot in the top three candidates in a wide variety of categories would be like living in the same town as the Von Trapps and not handing them a trophy in every fucking category of your annual “Singing Families Who Escaped Nazism by Holding Hands and Crossing the Alps” awards. It would be a gross and obvious oversight is what I’m saying. So, yes, surprise surprise, the Button family — Chef Katie Button, husband Felix Meana, and parents Liz and Ted Button — are up for another Stoobie award. Yes, you’re right again, this award is partly because of Button & Co. Bagels, which opened up in the latter half of last year, and immediately won my heart with the inclusion of my favorites: Salt bagels, which are strangely hard to find in downtown Asheville. I have a long history with and definite opinions about bagels (shout out to Brookline, Mass.), and these bagels hit all the nails on the head for me. Crusty on the outside. Dense and doughy on the inside. I guess that’s only two nails, or three depending on how you count them… anyhooooooo, yeah, now this family owns and operates three of my favorite eateries in town, each with their own vibe, identity, and menu, and each providing excellent, big city food and service in our little ol’ town of Asheville, WNC. Basically, for not opening Cúrate II, and III, and XIV, but instead spreading their love of food, and talent for hospitality with us in exciting new ways, Chef Katie Button and family a re strong contenders for my 2018 Restaurateurs of the Year award.
Past& Current Stoobies – Restaurateur of the Year nominee 2018, Most Consistent(ly Awesome) nominee Cúrate 2018, Sandwich of the Year nominee Cúrate 2018, Restaurateurs of the Year winners 2017, Best Restaurant winner Nightbell 2017, Best Restaurant nominee Cúrate 2017, Most Kick-Ass Kitchen Crew nominee Cúrate 2017, Best Bar Service nominee Cúrate 2017, Chef of The Year winner 2016, Late Night Small Bite nominee Cúrate 2014, Best Coffee winner Cúrate 2013, Best Service winner Cúrate 2013, Fancy Meal of the Year nominee Nightbell 2018, Best Restaurant winner Nightbell 2017, Best Date Night winner Nghtbell 2017, Best Drinks nominee Nightbell 2017, Best Table Service nominee Nightbell 2017, Best Late Night Bite winner Nightbell 2015, Best Late Night Small Bite nominee Nightbell 2014, Server of the Year nominee Nightbell 2014.

BREAKING NEWS: This breaks my heart, but I must report that at 11:53AM on January 21 2019, Chef Katie and Family announced that Nightbell will be shutting their doors this year. I am truly dev.

Photo from Benne on Eagle Facebook Page.

3. Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb, The Rhu, Benne on Eagle – I love me some John Fleer. Chef Fleer is exactly twice as tall as I am, so at first I was slightly intimidated by him, the same way that Hobbits were afraid of Ents at first, but just like in Middle Earth, John and I have become friends! In particular I have become a great admirer of his food, his easy going personality, his dedication to his craft, his community, and his deference towards and humility about his own role as a proponent of the culinary styles that he represents, but did not “come from”originally. We all know by now that John was approached to open a restaurant in the brand new Foundry Hotel, which opened in the neighborhood known as The Block. You may or may not know — depending on how new you are to town — that back in the day, The Block was a great, strong, thriving commercial district that was home to many African American owned and operated businesses, including restaurants! The Block, like a lot of downtown, was economically ruined in the not so distant past, and eventually much of it — including the restaurants — was shuttered. Cut to many years later, with the Eye of Sauron, er, I mean capitalism, turning towards all areas of downtown Asheville, eventually the old foundry was gutted, revamped, and reopened as the Foundry Hotel, When the hotel approached Chef John Fleer about opening their restaurant, he only agreed to do it if he was able to pay tribute to the restaurants that used to be there, and the history of The Block. He contacted some of the original restaurateurs from The Block’s heyday, and the walls and menus are adorned with their faces and recipes. He hired a talented young African-American Chef named Ashleigh Santi, to be his chef du cuisine, and he is giving us all a wonderful opportunity to try her food. I love the Rhu, and Rhubarb of course, but it’s for this new restaurant, Benne on Eagle, that I’m putting Chef John Fleer up as my third and final nominee for Restauranteur of the Year!
Past& Current Stoobies – Restaurateur of the Year nominee 2018, Sandwich of the Year co-nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Bakery nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Breakfast nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Dinner winner Rhubarb 2016, Deep Fried Thing of the Year nominee Rhubarb 2014.

Who’s it gonna be?!? Again the winners will be announced on Monday January 28th, at the LIVE Stoobie Awards Ceremony. Tix are available HERE.

And now let’s introduce the next three nominees, this time in a brand…

New Category!

BEST EFFING F.O.H.

F.O.H. stands for “Front of the House,” or more specifically, the servers, hosts, bartenders, food runners, bussers, sommeliers, baristas, cashiers, counter workers of all kinds, and of course, the all-import F.O.H. managers. Basically all the people who interact with us, the customers, clients, and “guests” who patronize the local food venues we all enjoy so much. Or maybe we don’t enjoy them so much. Eaters are fickle, entitled people, ready to make snap judgements based as much on hanger as anything else, and it’s often the diplomacy and table side manner of the F.O.H. which determines whether or not we get over our damn selves and actually enjoy or meal. I have observed that people are more likely to forgive bad food than bad service, and an eater’s entire opinion can be formed literally on the very first words spoken by the first person we encounter upon walking into a venue. A great F.O.H. can make a restaurant, while a bad one can cause major struggles for sure. The following three nominees in this category do not struggle, and they exemplify my idea of great front of the house service…

Photo from The Admiral Facebook Page.

1. The Admiral – Things kind of changed over at The Admiral in the past few months, but all of those changes were in the kitchen, as far as I could tell, and thankfully they have not affected the excellence of the food, or the service. I have always found the service at The Admiral to be exemplary, the very model of the casual, high-end dining experience. The F.O.H. is above reproach in my opinion, flawlessly combining slick professionalism with a homey charm that I find unique to The Admiral. Dawn and I go to the Admiral with some frequency, and whether we sit at the bar or at a table, the service is always on time, on point, and never seems rushed, harried, or short, no matter how packed they are. Actually, now that I think of it, The Admiral is booked out solid all night, almost every night, so it’s always “busy,” yet the atmosphere is very relaxed, and we have never felt pressure to eat and get out, so that the house may “flip” our seats to make more money. We feel welcome to enjoy our meal at a comfortable pace, and that is all F.O.H., my friends. Credit deservedly goes to allto the F.O.H. staff, many of whom have been there for years, but I would like to specifically mention c0-owner Drew Wallace, who is not a chef, but IS one of the all-time great F.O.H. people in Asheville. You might know him from his usual post at the host stand of Bull & Beggar, which he also co-owns. Drew’s staff at The Admiral follows his example to the letter, offering their guests a very pleasant, enjoyable, thoroughly satisfying experience to say the least. Drew and his staff, both Front of the House and Kitchen deserve accolades for a lot of stuff, not the least of which is this nomination for the 2018 Best Effing F.O.H. Stoobie award!
Past & Current Stoobies – Best Effing F.O.H. nominee 2018, Best Table Service winner 2017, Best Restaurant nominee 2017, Favorite Restaurant nominees 2017, Best Date Night nominee 2017, Best Desserts winner 2016.

Photo from Buxton Hall Barbecue Facebook Page.

2. Buxton Hall BBQ – Buxton is fucking slammed most of the time. People line-up before they open. People line-up while they’re open. It’s a fuckin’ huge room, and most nights of most weeks for most of the year, it’s also a full room. Now, I like to sneak in around 2pm, when I am most likely to get a seat, but my point is that this F.O.H. is dealing with the masses, like en masse, before they even unlock their doors almost every day. If you’ve ever worked at a place with a constant stream of customers, you know how stressful that can be. The potential for everything to fall apart is huge, especially when many of the customers are from out of town, first time visitors, unfamiliar with the system (or any system), hungry as fuck, and easily confused. It’s clear to me when I walk into Buxton Hall that a sizable number of the people there have no effing clue what to do. LARGE signage gives unsubtle clues: DINE IN on one side of the velvet rope, TAKE OUT on the other, or sometimes when it is mercifully slower, SEAT YOURSELF right in the middle. When there is a host, that’s where the real F.O.H. experience begins, 9 times out of ten, it seems like co-owner Jennifer Moss herself is at the host stand. She is the wife of Chef Elliott Moss, and Jennifer is a tour d’force of F.O.H. power to be reckoned with. Her smile could disarm a hungry axe murderer. Her poise could school-up a statue on how to hold oneself with confidence. Her command of the F.O.H. is something to behold, and when things get crazy, her presence seems to be a touchstone of sanity. Excellence starts at the top, and from my point of view, the F.O.H. at Buxton Hall is excellent across the board. Bar service, table service, pop-up seating, it’s all tops. Over my years of dining at Buxton Hall, I have observed young, shy, unsure servers learn, grow, excel, and move up the ranks, being readied to go on to whatever life offers from there. If you can handle working the F.O.H. at a place as busy as Buxton Hall Barbecue, the world is yours. So yeah, no doubt about it, Jennifer Moss and her team at Buxton Hall Barbecue are my second nominee for Best Effing F.O.H. in Asheville!
Past & Current Stoobies – Best Effing F.O.H. nominee 2018, Best Fried Chicken nominee 2018, Favorite Restaurant winner 2017, Best Lunch Nominee 2017, Sandwich of the Year nominee 2017, Best Table Service nominee 2017, Most Kick-Ass Kitchen Crew nominee 2017, Best Burger winner 2016, Best Hot Dog winner 2016, Best Sandwiches winner 2015, Sandwich of the Year nominee 2015, Best Lunch Nominee 2015, Best Deep Fried Thing nominee 2015, Restaurant of the Year nominee 2015.

Photo from Nightbell Facebook Page.

3. Nightbell – “Formal without being stuffy, friendly without being too familiar.” That is ezzackly how I describe the F.O.H. at Nightbell. I’m telling you what. I see thee fanciest fuckin’ people eating at Nightbell. Like, super fancy people, who look SUPER FUCKING FANCY. #notevenkiding And these folks are not going anywhere to eat with less than stellar fucking service. Oh. Muh. G, gawd. Do you even realize just how much service fancy people require? Like, lot’s of it. “Nring me a separate, very very tiny spoon, for each caviar egg,” kinda service. I know fancy people are like that, because I’m one of them! I know I might look like I’m one chromosome from hobo-status, but deep inside there is a very fancy princess. As in “I want everything I want and I want it now! ” The kitchen at Nightbell has me covered on princess demand number one (everything I want), but it’s the F.O.H. that has to cater to my other demands, and you know what? They’re so dang good at it, I actually don’t have to make demands. They just fuckin’ know. Here’s your caviar, Stu, and I thought you might want a silver cup with 600 tiny spoons. “Wha? Oh you! How’d you know?” Squee. Because they know how to make this princess squee, and they know how to make a hobo feel like royalty, while also making actual super-fancy people feel right at home, and doing it all with the same level of graciousness for every soull, I am very happy to nominate Nightbell for a 2018 Stoobie award for Best Effing F.O.H.
Past & Current Stoobies – Best Effing F.O.H. nominee 2018, Restaurateurs of the Year nominees 2018, Fancy Meal of the Year nominee 2018, Best Restaurant winner 2017, Restaurateurs of the Year Button Family winners 2017, Best Date Night winner 2017, Best Drinks nominee 2017, Best Table Service nominee 2017, Chef of The Year Katie Button winner 2016, Best Late Night Bite winner 2015, Best Late Night Small Bite nominee 2014, Server of the Year nominee 2014.

You know the drill: You’ll have to come to the LIVE Stoobie Awards ceremony (tickets available here) if you wanna hear the winner of the first-ever Best Effing F.O.H. Stoobie award! Until then, it’s time for yet another…

New Category!

COOK OF THE YEAR

When I first started writing about food, I didn’t know jack shit (not much has changed!), so I had to ask, what’s a cook, and what’s a chef? There are more than a couple ways to earn the status of Chef as far as I can tell, but one easy definition that a food industry person once told me is, “The chef writes the menu. A cook executes that menu.” Also, a chef is always a professional, whereas people who cook at home will usually just be called “home cooks.” Okay, SO, it’s actually WAY more complicated than that, but let’s leave precise definitions aside, and get to the this. Cooks make this food scene function. Great cooks are like pure gold to a chef, and they are the largely unsung heroes of every eater in town. Without good, steadfast cooks in the kitchens, this scene would fucking collapse. They are super-important, so I created a Stoobie to pay my respects to them all, while focusing on three of my favorites…

Photo from Rustic Grape Facebook Page.

1. Patty Wright, Rustic Grape – Patty and her wife Melissa own Rustic Grape wine bar, where Melissa handles the wine, and Patty does the food. I already liked Patty and Melissa after meeting them at the 2017 Taste of Asheville, before they even opened the doors of their wine bar. When they did open up, right on the corner of Ashton and S. Lexington Ave, in the North-West corner of the Aloft hotel, it was right on my Food Tour route, so I thought to myself, “Yeah, a nice little splash of wine on tour would be perfect.” I asked about tours, they said yes, I asked about wine, they said “mimosa’s,” and I said Hell yes Then I asked about bar nuts or human kibble, and what-not, and Patty said, well, I make some biscuits and such. Well, fuckin’ aye, Yo. Turns out Patty — who is a self-described “home cook” — makes wonderful food. The biscuits: Killer. Her cakes and other baked goods: Awesome. Her pimento cheese: Came in second place in all three categories of the Pimento Cheese Championship. That last one ain’t no joke, Yo. Second place, that’s great, but second in three categories, in a pimento cheese contest, in the South, for a wine bar? That’s fucking phenomenal. A few weeks ago I referred to Patty as a Home Cook transitioning into a chef, and she told me that sent a thrill up her spine. That day is coming, but for now, not for nuthin’, Patty Wright, you’re a fucking awesome cook, and my first nominee for 2018 Cook of the Year.
Past & Current Stoobies – Cook of the Year nominee 2018.

Photo from Spaceman Jones Facebook Page.

2. Dave Bristol – If Patty is a cook transitioning into a chef, Dave is a cook transitioning out of the kitchen. As strange as that might sound for a Cook of the Year candidate, part of why Davaion “Big Dave” Bristol is on this short list of cooks who had a stellar year is because he’s been spending less and less time in the kitchen, and more and more time on stage, rapping, as Spaceman Jones and Motherships. Don’t get me wrong, Dave is one HELL of a cook, and he basically won the 2015 Sandwich of the Year Stoobie award for Chestnut, with a Reuben that was my first favorite Rueben in Asheville. I met him because of that sandwich, and when I interviewed him on my radio show, I learned more about him as a rap performer, and lifelong resident of Asheville, as well as his thoughts on the perfect Reuben, which aligned exactly with my own. We had a few other things in common, and as I got to know Dave, I grew to respect his opinions about food more and more. I asked him to judge a few of my competitions, and again, I was impressed with his ability to be fair-minded and even throw his own preconceptions right out the window in the face of undeniably great food. When it came time to hire another tour guide for Asheville Food Tours, Dave was the first person I thought of. He’s been doing a fucking great job as our West Asheville Guide, and he has big ideas for other tours. That right there — big ideas — is one of the reasons that I’ve chosen Dave as a nominee for this category. Not every cook hopes to be a chef one day, and although I will be saddened as an eater on the day that Dave stops cooking professionally, I will also be psyched, because I’ll know he made his full transformation out of the kitchen, and into greatness. Dave got my attention with an amazing sandwich, he’s a great cook, an awesome person, and an obvious candidate for my 2018 Cook of the Year award!
Past & Current Stoobies – Cook of the Year nominee 2018, Sandwich of the Year winner 2015

Photo from Mojo Kitchen & Lounge Facebook Page. (courtesy Stephan Pruitt)

3. Matt Kovitch – Work. Horse. Those are two words that I would use to describe my friend Matt Kovitch. Those two words are also music to the ears of every executive chef in town, when aptly applied to any member of their kitchen staff. Yes, every professional cook either works hard or washes-out, and hard workers occupy kitchens all over Asheville, that’s for sure! A work horse is a different sort of creature, though. Steadfast. Staunch. Trustworthy. A barer of burdens. Able to lead and follow with equal acuity, while always keeping their chef’s wishes in mind. A truly great professional cook is able to duplicate their chef’s recipes without discrepancy, manage chef’s kitchen exactly the way chef would do it, keep everything from melting down under extreme fire, and make damn sure that back of the house is running exactly as it should be, even when their chef is not present. To me, making my own observations over the course of 2018, Matt Kovitch personifies all of that, to a tee. Also, as far as I could tell, he never stopped smiling. Bonus points for that. Matt cooked at Mojo Kitchen & Lounge for much of 2018, and fed my food tours every Saturday morning, so I saw his work ethic, I experienced his positive attitude, and I tasted his precise replications of Chef A.J. Gregson‘s dishes, up to and including the 2018 Mac ‘n’ Cheese Challenge award winning “Mojo mac ‘n’ cheese” that Matt submitted in A.J.’s absence on competition day. Since A.J. himself was the winner of my 2017 Chef of the Year award, it makes perfect sense that Matt Kovitch would be my final nominee for the 2018 Cook of the Year award! In many ways, Matt is representing every hard working professional cook in Asheville for this one.
Past & Current Stoobies – Cook of the Year nominee 2018.

And the winner is… psyche! Yeah, no, you’re gonna have to wait until the LIVE Stoobie Awards event on Monday January 28th to find out who gets named 2018’s Cook of the Year! And now, at long last, it’s time for the…

Final category!

CHEF OF THE YEAR

Here it is! The most difficult category for me to decide every year is Chef of the Year, and as the cadre of great chefs grows, it’s harder to narrow the field. I want to have twenty nominees! Ugh. That would be ridiculous, however, so here are my three picks for 2018 Chef of the Year…

Photo from BuxtonHall Barbecue Facebook Page.

1. Chef Ashley Capps, Buxton Hall Barbecue – Have you ever met Chef Ashley Capps? She’s as nice as pie. YES I WENT THERE!!! It’s true though, she is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, a sheer pleasure to chat with, a warm, charming person. Does niceness score points? Hell yes! Does it win awards? Not on its own it doesn’t. Awards are won through merit, and Chef Ashley Capps more than merits this nomination for a Stoobie Award for Chef of the Year 2018. She started as the baker and pastry chef at Buxton Hall Barbecue when they opened, and right away she was given equal status as a contributor to their excellent, homey menu. “Save room for pie” a sign implores, which is not only great advice, but also a big, loud, clear tip o’ the hat to how import dessert — and therefor the pastry chef — is to the overall enjoyment of a completely satisfying meal. Because of that very sign — I’m not even kidding — I saved room for pie! I’ve ate a lot of pie since that day. You can even see me on the Travel Channel eating said pie. #truestory It seems to me that last year, more than any previous year, Chef Capps was cut loose to really do her thing at Buxton Hall. The entire entrance way / waiting area has been slowly filling with products, which makes for a pretty fun little shop at this point. T-shirts, stickers, magnets, lard (yes, lard), and tons an tons of Chef Ashley’s baked goods. Everything from bacon sourdough bread, to thumbprint cookies, to house made “buhnilla” wafers is wrapped-up and ready to go. I have been making it a regular habit to stop into Buxton and try as many of these delicious baked cooks as possible, and wow, am I impressed. I commend Buxton Hall on letting this super-star chef shine, and humbly offer my own homage to her skills by making her my first nominee for 2018 Chef of the Year!
Past & Current Stoobies – Chef of the Year nominee 2018, Favorite Restaurant winner 2017, Most Kick-Ass Kitchen Crew nominee 2017.

Photo from Chef Katie Button Facebook Page.

2. Chef Katie Button, Cúrate, Nightbell, Button & Co. Bagels – No one in Asheville’s food scene has impressed me more, or more often than Chef Katie Button. Neither has anyone in the food scene received as many Stoobie Awards and nominations from me. Between Cúrate and Nightbell, Katie and her staff are crushing it daily. Cúrate set the standard for excellence in this town, gaining as much attention from the national press as the local media. Not content with one venue, Katie and her family opened Nightbell, setting another standard for creative high-end dining, and solidifying this Chef’s place in my heart (and stomach) for life. She could have gone Cúrate 2, but instead she took a chance. Created her own amazing style of American cuisine, and slowly climbed back up the charts from a new starting point. Last year Nightbell won my “Best Restaurant in Asheville” Stoobie award. I also had to implement “The Katie Button Rule” to my Stoobie Awards, so that now NO CHEF can be win Chef of the Year two years in a row. After skipping a year, she’s nominated again for 2018, mostly for all the reason detailed above, PLUS bagels. I ferkin’ lerv the brand new Button & Company Bagel shop that’s located right under Nightbell on South Lexington Ave. To me the bagels are just right: Crusty on the outside, dense and doughy on the inside. A great bagel shop is essential to any downtown food scene, and Chef Katie stepped-up, filled the void, and gave us what we wanted, again not with Nigtbell 2 or Cúrate 15, but with something she took a chance with. For that alone, but for many other reasons as well, Chef Katie Button is once again a nominee for my Chef of the Year Stoobie award.
Past & Current Stoobies – Chef of the Year nominee 2018, Fancy Meal of the Year nominee Nightbell 2018, Restaurateurs of the Year nominees 2018, Best Effing F.O.H. nominee Nightbell 2018, Most Consistent(ly Awesome) nominee Cúrate 2018, Sandwich of the Year nominee Cúrate 2018, Restaurateurs of the Year Button Family winners 2017, Most Kick-Ass Kitchen Crew nominee Cúrate 2017, Best Bar Service nominee Cúrate 2017, Best Restaurant winner Nightbell 2017, Best Restaurant nominee Cúrate 2017, Best Date Night winner Nightbell 2017, Best Drinks nominee Nightbell 2017, Best Table Service nominee Nightbell 2017, Chef of The Year winner 2016, Best Late Night Bite winner Nightbell 2015, Server of the Year nominee Nightbell 2014, Late Night Small Bite nominee Nightbell 2014, Best Coffee winner Cúrate 2013, Best Service winner Cúrate 2013.

Photo from Rhubarb Facebook Page.

3. John Fleer, Rhubarb, The Rhu, Benne on Eagle – Just in case you hadn’t picked up on it yet, opening new restaurants is one of the factors I consider strongly when I think about my Chef of the Year nominees. Not just more restaurants, but new restaurants. Like Katie Button, Chef John Fleer runs three venues now, each very different yet the same as the other. The Rhu is not just li’l Rhubarb, it’s its own thing, but both are all John Fleer. With Benne on Eagle, on the other hand, it seems as though John has let go entirely of his ego, working with his Chef du Cuisine, Ashleigh Shanti, and a member of Asheville’s culinary royalty, Chef Hanan Shabazz to restore some of the soul food origins to “The Block” neighborhood downtown. Because of John, I’m getting to know these two chefs personally and professionally, one a rising star, the other a well established super nova, and I’m able to try their cooking, learn their philosophies of food, and basically expand my own scope of culinary experiences. That’s the main reason that John is a nominee for this award: Because he brings our attention to other chefs. Again, it’s because of John that I am a huge fan and devotee of his head baker at The Rhu, Chef Kaley Laird. He made sure I knew about her, and whenever I hear him talk about The Rhu he mentions Chef Laird. Sure enough, when he talks about Benne, it ain’t all about John, believe me. It’s ALL about Chefs Shanti and Shabazz. (And I just realized how frickin’ cool their names sound together!) Chef John gets plenty of attention himself, James Beard be lookin’ at him all the frickin’ time, but he would rather share his limelight with others, and then step aside, so that they may have it all to themselves. Although he is not shy, he is very humble, and it’s not that hard to make him blush, so John, I’m really sorry my friend, but you are my third and final nominee for 2018 Chef of the Year!
Past & Current Stoobies – Chef of the Year nominee 2018, Restaurateur of the Year nominee 2018, Sandwich of the Year co-nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Bakery nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Breakfast nominee The Rhu 2017, Best Dinner winner Rhubarb 2016, Deep Fried Thing of the Year nominee Rhubarb 2014.

And that’s the end of part three of the Stoobie Awards!

The nominees have now been announced in all 15 categories now, and the winners will be announced at the LIVE ceremony on Monday, January 28th at The Masonic Temple right downtonw, There’s gonna be a ton of food, and booze, and a DJ, and I’ll be sure to say the word “motherfucker” about a thousand times from the stage. If you guys think I swear a lot in my writing, I’m even worse when I’m jus’ talkin’. HA! Sorry, Mom. PS – My mom will be there.
I’m proud and happy to be part of this super-team working on LIVE 2018 Stoobie Award ceremony…


Prt I – A New Beginning Pizza of the Year • Burger of the Year • Reuben Rumble • Fried Chicken Fight • Sandwich of the Year

Prt II – Ecclectic Boogaloo Most Consistent(ly Awesome) • Fancy Meal of the Year • Food Maker of the Year • Best New Restaurant • Restaurant of the Year

Prt III – People Who Feed People Food Person of the Year • Restaurateurs of the Year • Best Effing FOH • Cook of the Year • Chef of the Year

~ STAY TUNED! ~


From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O'SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM
From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook. __________________ External links: PODCAST: avlfoodfans.com ON THE RADIO: wpvmfm.org ARCHIVE: ashvegas.com BLOG: stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com SOCIAL MEDIA: facebook.com/stuhelmfoodfan instagram.com/stuhelmfoodfan twitter.com/stuhelmfoodfan youtube.com/channel/stuhelmfoodfan __________________

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One Comment

  1. Please explain the tragic news of Nightbell closing. It has been our favorite special occassion restaurant, and the place to take visitors to show that Asheville is to be taken seriously as a foodie town. Where else could we find such creatively unique food? The atmosphere is also comfortably upscale and unique.

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