FOOD NEWS: Local Chef Makes James Beard Semifinals! Oyster Bar Shucks Franchise! More!

I get a lot of communications from a lot of people in the Asheville & WNC Food Scene and I try to pass as many of their messages, news items, announcements, and special events on to you as I can. Here are some of the most recent, collected together and presented to you as…


All the News that’s Fit to Eat

THIS JUST IN: From our good friends at Chai Pani
Chef and Restaurateur Meherwan Irani Named Semifinalist for 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards

Chai Pani Restaurant Group chef and founder recognized in “Best Chef: Southeast” category

ATLANTA (February 15, 2018) – Chef and restaurateur Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani Restaurant Group has been named a semifinalist for the “Best Chef: Southeast” category in the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards. Announced today, February 15, this year’s semifinalists were selected by a body of more than 300 previous James Beard Restaurant & Chef Award winners, 250 panelists divided evenly among 10 regions and 18 members of the Restaurant and Chef Award subcommittee.

Irani is in great company, nominated alongside Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah, Ga., Katie Button of Nightbell in Asheville, N.C., Cassidee Dabney of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., Paco Garcia of Con Huevos! in Louisville, Ky., Josh Habiger of Bastion in Nashville, Tenn.,  Atsushi Hayakawa of Sushi House Hayakawa in  Atlanta, Vivian Howard of Chef & The Farmer in Kinston, N.C., Kevin Johnson of The Grocery in Charleston, S.C., Alex Lira of Bar Normandy in Charleston, S.C., Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, N.C., Joe Kindred of Kindred in Davidson, N.C., Cheetie Kumar of Garland in Raleigh, N.C., Andy Little of Josephine in Nashville, Tenn.,  Rui Liu of Masterpiece in Duluth, Ga., Margot McCormack of Margot Café & Bar in Nashville, Tenn., Matthew Raiford of The Farmer & The Larder in Brunswick, Ga., Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, S.C., Ryan Smith of Staplehouse in Atlanta and Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis, Tenn.

A three-time James Beard Award semi-finalist nominee, chef Meherwan Irani was born in London but moved to India’s Maharshtra state at age four. Meherwan came to the United States in 1990 to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and spent 15 years in a successful sales and marketing career in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2009, Irani quit his day job to open his first restaurant – Chai Pani, a unique Indian street food joint in downtown Asheville, NC. The self-taught chef has now opened his fifth place, with more on the way. The award-winning line-up includes Chai Pani Asheville, Chai Pani Decatur, MG Road, Buxton Hall Barbecue and Botiwalla. In addition to five successful businesses, Irani and his team have recently been devoting time to Spicewalla, a newly announced collection of unique and authentic spice blends. His restaurants and recipes have been written up in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, GQ, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, USA Today, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Local Palate, and Bon Appétit, among others. He accredits his business success to the amazing people he works with each day, including his business partner and wife, Molly.

The James Beard Foundation Award winners will be announced on Monday, May 7, 2018 at the 2018 James Beard Awards Gala returning to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. For more information, visit


THIS JUST IN: From our friends at Catawba Brewing
Catawba Brewing’s Small Batch Pomegranate Sour Ale to Benefit Non-Profit

Catawba Brewing taps a Small Batch Pomegranate Sour Ale (6.7 percent ABV) on Thursday, February 15. Brewed with malted wheat, the beer was soured in the kettle with lactobacillus. An addition of ripe pomegranate in secondary fermentation lends refreshing tartness and bright cherry-like fruit notes, complemented by the clean kettle sour base.

This is Passport Beer #7 in Catawba’s 2018 Small Batch rewards program. Brewed in their Asheville South Slope brewhouse, the beer is available exclusively in Catawba’s four tasting rooms.

Pomegranate Sour is a fundraiser beer for Asheville Prison Books in the brewery’s Asheville tasting rooms (South Slope and Biltmore Village). This volunteer-run organization distributes books to incarcerated people in the Carolinas to cultivate community, education, and rehabilitation. Catawba will donate $1 from each pour to the non-profit for four weeks following its release. To learn more and to get involved, please visit:


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THIS JUST IN: From the good Folks at the Wine & Oyster.
Biltmore Village Oyster Bar Shucks Franchise

ASHEVILLE, NC: A popular Asheville restaurant is shucking its franchise shell.

Formerly Virgola, local owners Steve and Nan Klein have parted ways with their franchise affiliation to become The Wine & Oyster, an independently-owned restaurant in Asheville’s flourishing culinary community.

“We are locals and it is now a locally run, independent restaurant,” Steve said, who originally opened Virgola at 2 Hendersonville Road in Biltmore Station under the franchise in June of 2017.

Their new name, The Wine and Oyster, represents a new beginning for the location, the menu and for the Kleins.

“There is a lot of value in the change for us, and we hope in the community,” Steve said. “We have a lot of loyal customers and we want to continue to make this a warm cozy place for everyone to enjoy. We are maintaining our foundation, but building our own identity.”

To celebrate their grand re-opening, The Wine & Oyster is throwing a re-branding bash Wednesday, Feb. 14 with an evening of local music by Asheville’s own Jesse Barry, fine wines and of course, a feast of fresh raw oysters.

“We hope everyone can come out and celebrate with us,” said Steve. “The Village has been so supportive to us during this time and we are excited to have this opportunity and look forward to our new beginnings.”

The decision to “unchain” Steve says, came because of the desire to create a restaurant more aligned with the independent spirit of the Asheville community.

“We wanted to be able to get more creative with our menu and offer more items that our customers request,” Steve said. “It gives us the flexibility to be able to adapt to the Asheville market, and make changes to wine and food menu that will be more attractive to customers.”

The current space, a 1,400-square foot eatery and bar, will for the most part remain the same. However, The Wine & Oyster will expand on their menu, adding fresh ingredients and new items like flatbreads, olive and charcuterie plates and fresh salads. They also plan to apply for a full liquor license and intend to feature whiskey from local distilleries and craft cocktails to compliment their extensive wine list. As for the star of the sea, The Wine & Oyster will keep up to eight varieties of cold water oysters on their menu on any given day – in addition to a rotating menu of funky seasonal specials like Va Va Voom and Sex on the Beach oysters, a Valentine’s Day special.

“We wanted the ability to be more creative in the kitchen and this gives us that,” Steve said. “The food scene in Asheville is incredible and we want to be able to offer a menu that matches that.”

For the locals and weekday visitors, they will begin weekly events and daily happy hour featuring $1 oyster of the day, shrimp cocktail for $9 (reg. $15) and your choice of three items from their charcuterie for only $15 (reg. $21). As local business owners, they want to give back to the community.  During the past few months, they have held fundraisers and donated to Habitat for Humanity, Manna Food Bank, and Caring for Children.  Events are already scheduled this year to donate a percentage of sales to The Asheville Humane Society, Friends of the Smokies, the Jewish Secular Community of Asheville (JSCA) and other local charities.

“We want to give back,” Nan said.  “It is something we are both very passionate about and we look forward to more opportunities to partner with many more organizations throughout our community.”

The Wine & Oyster is open daily from 4 p.m. –  10 p.m. Mon – Thurs.; and 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday evening. For more information visit or call 828-676-2700.


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Asheville Food Tours— END —

From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O'SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.


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