We are once again bowing down to Asheville chef and sommelier Ashleigh Shanti. The 2020 James Beard finalist for “Rising Star Chef of the Year” and former Benne on Eagle Head Chef will star in Top Chef’s 19th season, which debuts March 3 on Bravo TV.
As we (impatiently) await the grand showdown, which pits 15 “cheftestants” from across the country, let’s reflect on her journey as a chef + impact on Asheville’s culinary scene.
When spotlighted as one of the “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America” in 2019 by the New York Times, Shanti shared that she’s been shaped by mentors + chefs Vivian Howard and John Fleer, as well as the exploration of what it means to cook Appalachian soul food.
Brought up in coastal Virginia, Shanti “stripped collard greens before she could walk.” After honing her skills at Baltimore International College’s culinary school + cooking at restaurants that ranged in style + cuisine from Northern Italian to Classic French, she met NC chef and TV host Vivian Howard in the late 2010s and served as the culinary assistant at Howard’s two restaurants in Kinston.
In 2018, Shanti hit the road for a five-month road trip with hopes of discovering how she might intertwine her African-American heritage with her culinary career. Around this time, she received a fateful call from local chef and five-time James Beard finalist John Fleer, owner of Asheville’s Rhubarb, who proposed she partner with him to create Benne On Eagle: a restaurant located in The Block, a historic business district + reemerging hub for Black-owned businesses.
She said yes to Fleer, and Benne On Eagle became an immediate success: earning recognition as one of Time’s “World’s Greatest Places” in 2019. In 2020, Shanti left Benne + and has since launched the local fish fry pop-up Good Hot Fish, and we’re more than excited to see her back-in-action on the big screen.
Hungry for more details about the show? We recommend reading Food & Wine’s recent preview. One interesting tidbit: chefs will be asked to put their expert take on iconic regional dishes while also immersing themselves in Houston’s diverse + ethnic culinary identity. Yum.
How to watch:
Stream it for free via Bravo’s official website or the ‘Bravo Now’ app. Pro tip: The official app will require that you log in with your subscriber credentials, but the website does not.