Here’s a look at what’s happening with Chow Chow, the brand new Asheville signature culinary event coming Sept. 12-15. With less than three months to go, things are poppin’. Here we go:
The background: Last fall, some of the most-respected and well-known players on Asheville’s culinary scene announced they had come together to organize and stage a new food festival that they hoped would continue to help raise greater awareness of the city’s vibrant food scene. Chef Katie Button of Curaté restaurant and Jael Rattigan, co-founder of French Broad Chocolates, have led the charge alongside a host of other Asheville culinary rockstars. They’re calling it Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event.
About that name: Chow Chow is a reference to a pickled relish.
The organizers, and a key sponsor: The new group hired Angel Postell as lead festival organizer. She’s a co-founder and former director of the popular Charleston Wine + Food Festival. In Asheville, all-around event guru/planner Melissa Porter of Asheville Event Co. was hired as the boots-on-the-ground event manager. The lead sponsor is Kimpton Hotel Arras, the name for the new mixed-use building under construction in the heart of downtown that will include a boutique hotel, condos and retail and office space. (The building is known as the former BB&T office building.) Hotelier John McKibbon is the lead on the project and a big proponent of the new food festival.
The vision: In a recent phone interview earlier this week, Postell told me that Chow Chow will not be like the food festivals of days gone by, where a visitor would buy a ticket for access to a belly full of samples. The Chow Chow goal is to tell a story about food in Asheville and Western North Carolina, Postell says, and immerse visitors in amazing experiences. Everything is built around that idea. The first year attendance goal is for about 5,000 festival goers, with the event to grow from there.
More about the vision: The festival aims to tell a story about everyone on the local and regional food scene, Postell says. That’s the farmers, the makers, the educators, the food tour operators, the nonprofits and many more. And yes, that includes the chefs, but they won’t necessarily be front and center, Postell says. “It’s really about everybody around the table,” she stresses. That’s ambitious, but it really honors the community aspect of the local food scene, she notes.
Festival events: Chow Chow will offer a central event called Pickled in the Park, as well as a constellation of marquee events and smaller gatherings called workshops and seminars.
Pickled in the Park: This weekend event will be spread out across Pack Square Park, the city park smack dab in the heart of downtown. It will include dozens of vendors, a cooking techniques area and a cooking demonstration area on the park’s big covered stage. Pickled in the Park is where one ticket will get a visitor all kinds of food and drink samples. This area will encompass food trucks, musical performances, and up-close views of people doing everything from making flower crowns to grilling. The cost of a ticket is $125 per person.
Marquee events: These events include a Willy Wonka-esque behind-the-scenes tour of the French Broad Chocolates manufacturing facility in Asheville. Get out of downtown with a farm tour that includes visiting the nearly 100-year-old, family run Hickory Nut Gap Farm; the Looking Glass Creamery where you can savor their farmstead cheeses; and Flying Cloud Farm, where visitors will pick up fresh produce. Learn about the history of Appalachian soul food and Asheville’s African-American history with a downtown tour followed by a family-style meal at the new Benne on Eagle restaurant. Visitors can also try their own hand at cooking in clay with a tour of East Fork Pottery’s manufacturing facility in Asheville. There’s much more, of course. Tickets for these events range from $60 per person to $150.
Hands-on workshops and seminars: This is where a Chow Chow festival-goer will find the most intimate events. Learn how to make killer biscuits alongside the pros. Sit in on a discussion with passionate local farmers, millers, and bakers as they discuss their grassroots approach to building a regional grain economy. Build a cheese board. Up your outdoor dining game by hearing from a picnic pro. And there’s much more. Tickets for these events are in the $15 to $75 per person range.
A call for makers: The festival will include a Makers Market. Chow Chow organizers have issued a call for makers to be a part of it. The festival has partnered with Stephanie Mergelsberg of Show & Tell Pop Up Shop to curate, merchandise, staff, and operate sales and all aspects of the market. The market will highlight items used to set a dining table, utilized in the kitchen, stored in the pantry, served to guests, used for entertaining, and given as a host/hostess gift. There will be a mini-bookstore by Malaprops, where guest and local cookbook authors will be signing books throughout the weekend. There is no participation fee, and Chow Chow will sell products on a consignment basis for a percentage of the sales. Here’s the form to fill out for market participation. For more information about other ways to participate, go here.
Volunteer: Postell tells me that Chow Chow will need “an army of volunteers”to pull off this event. More information is coming about how to volunteer. For now, organizers ask folks interested in volunteering to sign up for the Chow Chow newsletter. Go here, scroll down and fill out the form in the bottom right-hand corner of the page.