She’s educated (Bachelor’s, Master’s, previous PhD student in neuroscience), has traveled the globe, worked at El Bulli (previously ranked “best restaurant in the world”), opened her own restaurant in Asheville, NC with her parents and husband, and just recently completed an internship at Noma (currently ranked as “best restaurant in the world”). She’s not yet 30 years old and easy on the eyes.
She’s Chef Katie Button, Executive Chef and Co-owner of Cúrate.
With all that under her belt, I didn’t know what to expect when we sat down to chat about her experience at Noma. The moment we met, Katie set the tone with her natural ease and genuine personality. I’d say it’s because she grew up in the town of my birth (small world), but this is who she is.
Interview with Chef Katie Button
CE: What made you choose Noma?
Chef Katie: When my family and I opened Cúrate, it was on the condition that for 3 weeks each winter, I would be able to go somewhere for further education and growth. At first I was thinking somewhere in Spain, but then thought, why not do something totally different?
CE: How does one go about applying to intern at Noma?
Chef Katie: Noma has a steady stream of interns year-round, so I contacted them directly. Also, Lisa Abend, who had previously interviewed me for her book, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice“, put in a good word for me.
CE: Did Noma provide housing?
Chef Katie: No. I did a lot of research and settled on a place through airbnb. It was a room in a private home and worked perfectly with my schedule – up early, home late and in to bed.
CE: It sounds pretty intense . . .
Chef Katie: Totally! It was too much for some people. They’d just stop coming.
CE: What stood out, surprised or impressed you at Noma?
Chef Katie: Everyone who works in the kitchen at Noma, no matter what their job, is referred to as Chef. This really made everyone proud and set a standard. I would be chopping vegetables, looking at each piece, thinking “is this something that should come out of Noma’s kitchen?”
The way they view ingredients is so different. We even went foraging while I was there. Presentation is off the charts. Take this bowl of soup presentation. First, raw chestnuts are thinly sliced on a mandolin. Then they are stood on edge in a bowl, maze-like, as you would a house of cards. Soup is added slowly table-side, causing the chestnut slices to move and float.
It took me forever to get the hang of setting those chestnut slices up. In the beginning, I’d do one in the time another chef had 9 or 10 done. After some practice, I closed the gap.
Another impressive thing they did was bring in fresh crabs, right off the boat. Never refrigerated, they’d be cooked at 6pm en masse. Then four or five chefs would collect the meat and have it ready for dinner service. They were so fresh. The taste was amazing.
I also found it interesting that Noma offers quite a few juice pairings for people who don’t want alcoholic drinks.
CE: How has your experience translated to what you do at Cúrate?
Chef Katie: It’s caused me to reflect on what can be used and presentation, incorporating some of that here at Cúrate. Pine, for example is a great ingredient used more extensively at Noma. I’ve created a new dessert at Cúrate using pine oil made by grinding pine nuts and a little olive oil. Candied pine nuts are also sprinkled on top.
CE: Any ideas where you’d like to intern next winter?
Chef Katie: Something different again. Maybe working with a butcher or learning about seafood. I’m still narrowing it down.
CE: I’ve often wondered why you and your family decided to open Cúrate in Asheville.
Chef Katie: We located here because it’s an inspiring place. There’s a feeling here, people live here to do what they’re passionate about and it’s contagious.
CE: Your accomplishments, awards and kudos are impressive: James Beard Finalist, Food and Wine Rising Chef and lots of press coverage. Anything on the horizon?
Chef Katie: I’ll be preparing a dinner at the James Beard House in November and I’m working on a September event that has to be kept secret for now. Ask me again in July.
CE: What type of menu are you planning for the James Beard House?
Chef Katie: I’ll be doing some non-Spanish dishes as well as special Spanish dishes tied to Cúrate.
CE: Personally, what does the future hold?
Chef Katie: Funny you should ask. When Anthony Bourdain was at Cúrate for his Asheville show after party, I asked him if it was possible to be successful as a chef and have a life. He said, “no”.
My husband and I would like to have children. We’re still trying to figure out how to have a family and continue running and growing our business.
That wrapped up our interview. Katie asked if I’d like something to eat. Ha! “No” was not an option. I wasn’t too hungry, so I asked her to recommend something light. Jerusalem Artichoke Chips with a savory yogurt dip coming up! It almost looks like an ice cream sundae, doesn’t it? The chips were perfect and that dip . . . fantastic!
Then Katie asked if I’d ever tried their dish, “jamón ibérico de bellato fermin” – Black Iberian pigs from Spain, who have fed solely on acorns. I was really too full for their usual 6oz serving and asked if she had just a small piece I could taste.
This is what the full serving looks like before it’s grilled and seasoned simply with salt and pepper before being finished off with a little torching. All that marbling these pigs are famous for gives the meat fabulous flavor!
And the dessert pictured above? What a combination of flavor and texture! The pine oil was wonderful as it mixed with the apricot sorbet and yogurt. And broccoli flowers? They have a slightly salty taste and make the dish look so pretty.
Epicurean Note: Many people have the misconception that Cúrate is fine dining and expensive. It’s actually casual and average dinner tickets are a reasonable $30.
Read more about Chef Katie:
Chef Katie Button
Cúrate bar de tapas
11 Biltmore Avenue (just off Pack Square)
Asheville, NC 28801