Seasonal School of Culinary Arts:
Asheville, Ithaca, Sonoma, Paris
Food: Eat. Chef: Cook. Restaurant: Serve. School: Homework.
Asheville: Hip. Ithaca: Unusual. Sonoma: Famous. Paris: Notorious.
Before I spent 5 ½ school days in Asheville, North Carolina with Susi Gott Séguret,, a line-up of top chefs in the US now residing & working in the Asheville area and other students who’d signed up for ‘A Taste of Appalachia’, I was ho.hum, whatever, about the prowess of anyone in the culinary world. Despite a savvy friend working at the James Beard Foundation, who married a chef charmant, and another friend who hired a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park to prepare meals for her family several days a week, and the fortune of many delicious dinners in top restaurants around the world where I have loved the people watching and eyeing the décor (and sometimes my date), I had no (as in NONE, nada) sense of the elite world of food. Love good food, appreciate the concept of farm-to-table quality, all of the effort that goes into the shopping and chopping, the ‘fashion’ exercises of culinary design on the plate and, having been a summer waitress in college, the hard work of the staff for a grab at the customer’s cash. But my sphere ended there. Right there.
Perhaps I was missing something? Given all of the gourmet chatter and reality television featuring the loved and unloved, good and evil, pristine and slimy, delectable and vile elements of ‘Food World’, maybe it was time to embrace the new America. The back-to-basics focus on nutritious food, farmers markets, color, design, organic, healthy homes with everyone in the kitchen lending a hand, sitting around the table sharing stories of school, work, love and life bleeps—or was this just too fantastical? Just Hollywood? I love that Nancy Meyer film, ‘It’s Complicated’, Aaron Eckhart and Catherine Zeta-Jones in ‘No Reservations’ and Johnny Depp in ‘Chocolat’—something je ne sais quoi, some ethereal ingredient exists around food… restaurants… cooking! In fact, thinking about that flaky croissant, that indoor teepee après díner, and that chocolate… it is downright sexy! Time to learn how to don an apron and keep someone begging for more. Fun not boring. Artistic not monotonous.
When the opportunity came to be guided into culinary delights and appreciation by someone as highly regarded by her peers as Susi, I may have been skeptical, but leaning forward, hoping my old classic auto could make it up and over the hills into the world of food at 3000 feet, I set forth. The Blue Ridge Mountains. What cuisine existed in this part of deep America? Intrigued to know if one of the chefs and Susi might disclose secrets like stills & moonshine, I urged the tire treads to grip the road.
Sunday, 5pm: meet at the Garden Cabin. Our school ‘campus’ was within the grounds of Warren Wilson. This American College has been breeding grass-roots, sleeves-up, hands-on, independent and innovative thinking men and women since 1894. The ‘Garden Cabin’, a log cabin of hand-hewn logs set steeped in colonial tradition (I confess, I couldn’t keep thoughts of ‘barefoot with apron’ at bay), was not hosting sedate garden viewing, but organized chaos as Chef Joe Scully flew around the cabin with hors d’oeuvres for the kick-off of ‘A TASTE of APPALACHIA’ by Susi Gott Séguret.
Who is Susi Gott Séguret? Why should she be my guide into Appalachian Cuisine? Into any cuisine? Founder and Directress of Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, Susi is a French trained Chef, Appalachian farm-to-table bred native, 4H-er, award-winning fiddler, singer, songwriter and world performer, contributing Food and Wine columnist and critic for WNC Magazine and The Asheville Citizen-Times, Photographer and Mother of three successful children whom she has raised in both France and America. Thus, she brings a flair to the curriculum unlike other cuisine experiences. Susi offers 4 Sessions per year one each in Sonoma, Ithaca, New York, Paris and Asheville. Each year, each session, Susi prepares a fresh seasonal theme for a collection of Chefs and Students to explore. Sessions vary in sizes from two to fifty allowing Susi to flex the programs to suit the participants. One session in Paris was small enough to allow Susi to take her students to special insider venues. An Asheville session was so large she split men and women into groups so they had more individual time with an increased number of chefs. In Sonoma, depending on the size of the classes, one might be viewing oyster beds by boat before sampling them paired with champagnes or discovering a new restaurant in San Francisco. The special experiences change. One reason many students are repeat attendees.
Susi reviewed what we should expect in the life of a Seasonal School of Culinary Arts attendee:
7:30am – Walk & Lecture by various expert foragers, farmers, gardeners, educators
9:00am – Introduction to Daily Theme // Introduction to Chefs of the Day
9:30am – 1pm Food Prep & Cooking *Chefs prepared theme based lunch menus & provide all ingredients. Students help prepare, learn techniques, explore foods & tastes
1:00pm – Lunch with the Chefs
3:00pm – 4:00pm Clean-up
5:00pm – Surprise experience
7:00pm – to early morning tides – The spirit and sounds of the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week surround us. ‘Highlanders’ and ‘Ulster Scots’ settled here, deeply influencing the confluence of music and food.
By 6pm, I’d realized this would never be a ‘barefoot with apron’ experience. The chefs on the roster are not only purveyors of flour and water, sea salt and kosher salt along with cracked, hot, mild, tellicherry peppercorns, they are entrepreneurial business owners with their own restaurants & successful careers in the Culinary Arts. They have attended Johnson&Wales, The CIA, Le Cordon Bleu or just hung out with their Southern Grandmothers for a spell, gleaning every coveted secret whisk and dash. They have won awards, been recognized by their peers, worked around the globe, in the United Nations, the White House, top resorts and continue to reinvent themselves to keep pace with the dynamic increase in competition and artisan flair.
Here were the daily themes, the Chefs, their restaurants and some of their stellar moments.
GRITS & RAMPS Love is Butter
‘…there are four food groups in the South; sugar, salt, grease & alcohol…’ Shrimp & Grits. Salt makes colors explode. Fresh from farm, menu conceived.
Denny Trantham: The Grove Park Inn – Former Executive Chef
Nate Allen: Knife & Fork. Chef owned.
HOG & HOECAKES Preserving the American South’s cuisine
Comfort food. Vacuum sealed cantaloupe & Mangalitsa. Grill. Japanese charcoal. Kosher salt: meats. Sea Salt: salads. Iodized salts change flavor. Molasses. Cornmeal.
Elliot Moss: New Modern Barbeque opening soon Chef/Partner. Former Chef/Partner Ben’s Tune-Up
TATERS & MATERS Mise en place
Organize your meal. Always begin by making desert. Layering of taste. Candy Tomatoes & Rosemary. Smashed potatoes. Gaufrettes. Bursting unexpected flavors and textures. Aioli. Sustainable Seafood. Appealing Congress.
William Dissen: The Market Place Restaurant chef owned
GREENS & BEANS Chefs farm and own farms
Peaches & Tomatoes together! Driving for hours at 5am to farms and markets to bring the best fresh food to table. Bok Choy, Cabbage, Kale & Chard together.
Bill Klein: The River House Grassy Creek, NC. Executive Chef
Brian Sonoskus:Tupelo Honey Café Executive Chef
MOONSHINE & MORELS Fire Food Table Family Friends
Pork grease was Appalachian butter. Size of pan makes a difference. Baked Grit cakes with 3 Graces Goat Cheese served with Morel Cream & Apple Brandy. Green ham shank. Moonshine, morels and chanterelles are sexy and delicious!
Mark Rosenstein: The French Broad (former owner of The Market Place) founder of farm-to-table in Asheville & lover of fire.
Joe Scully: The Corner Kitchen & Chestnut. Chef owned restaurants.
WHISKEY ON THE PORCH
Pastry. Pastry. Pastry. Butter. Moonshine in flavors. Trout. Pork. Appalachian delicacies with grits and black-eyed peas.
Moonshine hosted by Troy & Sons, Mary Rich Hill
Brian Ross: DOUGH owner bakery, grocery, school
Walks & Lectures by:
Alan Muskat – No Taste Like Home
Michael Gentry – ‘Everyone Cooks!’
Ian Robertson – Warren Wilson College
Marc Williams – Botany Everyday
Adventure with the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts began promptly at 5pm on a Sunday in July and was a full speed press until the following Saturday morning. I rolled back down that hill (both figuratively and physically – now a solid 5 pounds heavier*. Note: this is actually not true, delighting in fresh & organic vegetables, meat, fish, desserts & wines at mealtime, did in fact, spur weight loss –who knew?) with my mind spinning and an entirely new perspective on cuisine, chefs, ownership, school, organization, farm-to-table, grilling, smashing, whipping, slicing, dicing, popcorn and mushroom men. Skeptic no longer.
Food: Complex. Simple. Fun.
Chef: Savvy Businessmen. Artisans. Entrepreneurs.
Restaurant: The Whole Enchilada.
School: Seasonal School of Culinary Arts. Involved. Savor!