The 2019 Chow Chow Festival in Asheville, N.C.

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Pickled in the Park main tent

Hey, AVLtoday readers. Ali here. I just wrapped up a full weekend of the inaugural Asheville Chow Chow event – four days celebrating Appalachian food and culture through highlighting traditional foodways, celebrating innovative area chefs + makers, and sampling the dishes – and drinks – that make our local + regional food scene so great. 

While the food was a highlight of the event, there was a lot more to this year’s Chow Chow. Since plans are already in the works for next year, I wanted to let you in on my experience and takeaways, so you can Chow Chow like a pro next time around. 

🥘 But first, the food. 

With local restaurateur and chefs like Katie Button (Cúrate, Button & Co. Bagels) and Meherwan Irani (Chai Pani, Buxton Hall Barbecue) helming the event, we all knew it was going to be a top-notch food festival from the beginning.

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Katie Button working on paella for the crowd at Pickled in the Park
  • Pickled in the Park was the heart of the action. Tents were arranged across the Roger McGuire Green and Pack Square Park and chefs + restaurants served up small bites, while mixologists, wineries + distilleries poured sips.
  • Highlights included: the giant paella Chef Katie Button made with a guest chef each day, presentations from star chefs (especially Chef José Andrés, who gave a moving speech Saturday), live podcasts from the stage and an entire area devoted to grilling.
  • If there were only one Chow Chow thing you could fit on your schedule for next time, spending at least one day at this weekend-long event would be the way to go. Bonus: Discounted tickets + locals’ deals were available for Sunday, so keep your fingers crossed that the same will be true next year.
  • Every other event included food + drink, from a dessert + chocolate-tasting extravaganza to sit-down meals and workshops with experts on everything from wine blending with Biltmore Wines to apple pie and biscuit dough making with acclaimed bakers.

🥘 More than a food festival

While Pickled in the Park (and all that food) kept me full all weekend, other events highlighted the interconnectedness of food and culture. Keep reading for some of my favorite experiences. ⬇️

Appalachian Soul Food

This four-hour experience started with a short Hood Huggers Tour of the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center and the historic Block neighborhood, followed by a presentation at the YMI from three local African-American leaders: Dr. Dwight Mullen and Dr. Darin Waters, both of UNC Asheville, and Chef Hanan Shabazz, founder of Shabazz Restaurant on the Block and currently a chef at Benne on Eagle.

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DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International

 

After a discussion of how Asheville – particularly the traditionally African-American Block and East End neighborhoods – has changed and the importance of including black history and experience in Asheville’s tourism sector, we headed into Benne on Eagle, just named one of Time magazine’s Greatest Places in the World, for a meal with our fellow participants and tour leaders. The added context of the neighborhood and the history of some of the dishes we were eating made the meal richer, and conversation flowed easily at the communal-style tables. 

On the menu – elevated Appalachian- and soul food-inspired dishes, like zucchini bread with chicken liver mousse, apple + hominy fritters, Hanan’s fried chicken, buttermilk britches (dried + rehydrated beans), cornbread, and bean pie with sorghum whipped cream. The meal took me back to my childhood, when my great-grandmother (who churned her own butter, y’all) laid out a feast on the holiday table – but with world-renowned chefs doing the cooking.

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Benne on Eagle

Sips + Sun Salutations

On Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early (8 a.m. on the weekend is not easy for me) and headed to Pack Square Park for a yoga class followed by brunch

This event, coordinated with the Asheville Yoga Festival, featured an all-levels yoga class with Sierra Hollister, who led us through an awakening flow and easy pranayama (breath work) before setting us loose to feast. 

The Pickled in the Park main tent was filled with small bites from local brunch favorites, like Sunny Point Cafe and Rise Above BakeHouse, plus local bakers + bartenders serving up breakfast cocktails and mocktails. My fave bite was probably baker Rich Orris’s everything bagel, topped with goat cheese spread, microgreens + edible flowers.

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Rich Orris’s everything bagel

🥘 The Makers Market

Because Chow Chow highlighted so much area culture along with food, local crafts + products were a major part of the event. Enter the Makers Market – a free, open-to-the-public tent at the top of the park where you could stock up on everything from pottery to chocolate, spices, and cookbooks. I grabbed some za’atar from Spicewalla and a few other local treats.

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Makers Market

 

Here are my final takeaways from this year’s Chow Chow –

    • It was immersive. Each experience offered plenty of food and drink in comfortable, fun settings.
    • It looked beyond the food. While food was the highlight, events also focused on regional culture + talent. 
    • It was engaged with community issues. I was particularly happy about how Appalachian Soul Food highlighted the contributions of African-Americans and set out some possible courses for how to elevate the voices of people of color in our area. 
    • While tickets were in the higher price ranges (Pickled in the Park was $125 on Fri. + Sat. and $75 on Sun.), the Makers Market and the Food Truck Rodeo (also at the top of Pack Square Park) were open to the public and brought the community together – even without a ticket or pass. Chow Chow also activated town beyond Pack Square Park as many local venues celebrated with after-parties and special events. Also, because of the all-inclusive nature and the long event times, tickets were well worth the price of admission. 
    • Oh, yeah – and I got really, really full

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