Chances are your favorite chef started here

Asheville – Little known by folks that dine out in North Carolina, the eastern coastal region of the US, and even beyond, is that behind swinging doors at many of those restaurants are kitchens most likely staffed by graduates of the Culinary Arts program at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (AB Tech).

Numerous graduates have held important culinary leadership positions throughout the country:
Vice President Culinary and Corporate Chef of Ritz Carlton Hotels
Cook at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago (Voted 2011 6th Best Restaurant in the World by London’s Restaurant Magazine)
Owner/Partner Outback Restaurant
Pastry Chef French Laundry
Executive Chef Kendall Jackson Wineries
Associate Editor, The Rosengarten Report

Students face a rigorous program that culminates with a capstone project, aka dinner. Interestingly, two dinners are held on consecutive weeks. Each student acts as a server one week and Chef the other.

Happily, I was invited to experience one of this year’s capstone dinners.

The evening began with table after table of hors d’oeuvres served in the gorgeous, historic Fernihurst building.

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As we walked to the downstairs dining room next door, we got a glimpse of the judging/grading of each Chef’s dishes for the evening. This is serious business.AB Tech Capstone Dinner

As an educator myself (in a previous life) and having children that ranged the spectrum in educational needs, I spent many years involved in and advocating for students and educators, as well as hawkishly watching what was happening with our school curriculum.

Let’s just say AB Tech’s Culinary Arts program has impressed over the ten+ years I’ve been aware.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Educators were monitoring what was going on throughout the evening: making notes and keeping an eye on things. And the students were well aware.

At one point, one of the monitors answered an etiquette question we had regarding place settings. None of us had known the answer definitively. We learned that AB Tech culinary students learn a slew of etiquette rules, including those that most people today have no idea exist.

Each table seated four; two invited by the student-chef and two invited by administration. And each table enjoyed a menu selected and prepared by that table’s assigned chef.

Our menu was creative and fun. Two courses are not pictured here: Mussels in a white wine sauce, served with crostini and Chicken Consommé with chicken ravioli. The Consommé was poured over the single ravioli in each of our bowls as we watched.

Everything served, including the Fettuccini supporting Poached Flounder below, was made by our chef.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Our palate cleansing course, Lemon Mint Sorbet with lemon chip, was one of the evening’s hits.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Two wines chosen by chef were served. This Italian (reflecting our Italian meal) Pinot Grigio really surprised me. Paired with the sorbet, it finished with a strong black licorice taste!

Now I’m going to have to get a bottle and try to recreate that effect. It was absolutely delicious!

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Chicken Parmesan served with polenta, cream spinach and tomato sauce was up next. A lovely presentation.

We were also served chef-made Focaccia and herb oil for dipping.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Table-side serving techniques were chosen by our chef and carried out by our server. The Salad of frissee in Italian vinaigrette with a savory tuile pictured below was constructed to specifications drawn out by chef. You can see our server did a good job by looking at the chef-drawn diagram.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

Another big hit – Cannoli with raspberry sauce, strawberry rose, and a chocolate garnish. So many things to learn! Beautiful job on this course.

AB Tech Capstone Dinner

This was not only the presentation of what our chef had learned in her classes, it was a learning experience in and of itself. I count myself lucky to have been a part of this lovely evening.