Everyone has Questions About Chowchow. I have answers.
Long before Chowchow happened, there were questions, the main one being , WTF is it?!? And now that it’s happened, how the fuck was it?
Q: WHAT IS CHOWCHOW?
A: CHOWCHOW IS WHAT A FOOD FESTIVAL LOOKS LIKE WHEN THE RESTAURANTS PLAN IT.
Do y’all remember the Asheville Wine and Food Festival? AWFF was the annual local food festival, with samples, demos, education, cocktails, wine, beer, and more. ChowChow is just like that, only waaaay fuckin’ better.
We all observed the downfall of AWFF. Over the years that I attended, it grew into a monster, too big and too crowded for me to truly enjoy. The last one I attended was highly unpleasant to be at, and I felt overwhelmed by huge, zombie-like crushes of people, trying desperately to get at tiny samples of food, offered by unhappy vendors, in a too-small venue. Worst of all, I struggled to find enough to eat. Food Festival death blow.
As unpleasant as that one was, the following year the producers moved it outside, in July, where it was Hellishly hot, and from what I understand — I wasn’t there — it had very sparse attendance, and was pure misery for those who did show up.
If you thought it sucked being an attendee at the last two Asheville WIne & Food Festivals, those “unhappy vendors” I mentioned above hated it even more. Prior to the final AWFF, I personally heard restaurateurs, chefs, farmers, and food makers of all kinds from all over town express dread, often slumping their shoulders in exaggerated mock-weariness, at the very idea of being at another AWFF. I heard later that even the vendors left the final AWFF early! Oh. No. Worst possible case. One thing I know for sure is that if your vendors pack up and leave before your event is over, your event was a total fucking disaster.
The Golden Rule of festivals of any kind: If your vendors aren’t happy, your festival will not continue to happen.
So AWFF died in the hot sun, and the following year there was no major food festival in Asheville. Things like Taste of Asheville, The Battle of the Burger, Asheville Coffee Expo, Garlic Fest, Ramps Fest, several beer fests, and of course my own Live Stoobie Awards Ceremony filled in the gap nicely, but we all wondered if AWFF, or something like it, would ever come back, even in some alternative form. Well, it did! Kinda sorta.
During that gap-year, the restaurants themselves plotted, planned, schemed, and dreamed of their own, perfect food festival, and boy howdy, this year they actually made their plans come together and their dreams come true with Chowchow.
THE BREAKDOWN: ChowChow 2019 was a food festival, with samples, demos, education, cocktails, wine, beer, VIP’s & celebrities, and a ton of happy people everywhere you looked, including the vendors. I asked them, point blank, “Are you happy with this event”” and they made happy sounds with their mouths. I would say that it’s a pretty safe bet that ChowChow will happen again next year.
So now that you know what it is and was, you can plan accordingly for ChowChow 2020.
ABOVE: Happy Vendors Equal a Happy Food Festival Experience
Q: WAS THERE A LOT OF FOOD? DID THE FOOD RUN OUT?
A: YES THERE WAS A LOT OF FOOD! I DID NOT SEE ANY VENDOR RUN OUT OF FOOD.
Let’s cut to the chase. I know how you animals think… because I am one of you. We always show up hungry. No matter whether we’re attending a wedding or a bris, we’re anxious as fuck that there won’t be enough food, or that we’ll have to wait a long time before we can eat any of it, and in the meantime some other mother fucker is going to get a cracker with cheese on it that should have been ours! “Psst… how long do these orthodox funerals generally last? And are those mini-spanicopita over there?” That’s who we are. Just own it. I do, and I showed up to ChowChow wanting to eat a great many things from the minute I walked in, and that is exactly what I did. Holy shitsticks, Yo. Check it out…
ABOVE: Meat Men
The theme on Saturday was MEAT, and hell yes, I like meat. I was vegetarian when I was younger, it was great, very healthy, please do that, and leave the meat for old man me to die happy with a large piece of in my mouth. As luck (or great planning) would have it, the very first thing that folks entering Chowchow 2019 happened upon was local meat being cooked on a fancy locally made custom grille by Chef and butcher, JT Debries of Intentional Swine! Way to lead with a shoe-in, ChowChow. I see your game.
ABOVE: The Grille Whisperer
The aroma coming from the grille was fucking amazing, and the offerings were too! Locally made Jalapeño Cheddar sausage, hot off the flames? Fuck yes. I think I was literally the very first person to pop one of these bad boys into my eat-hole that day. And I may have been the second and third person too. Hey, as stated above, I was hungry. I would have eaten them all if I wasn’t on assignment to try a shit-ton of samps. This wasn’t my first food rodeo, I know things can get crazy. I was pacing myself. Saving room.
ABOVE: Grilled local Jalapeño Cheddar sausage got this shindig off to a great start in my opinion.
THE BREAKDOWN: ChowChow 2019 was chock full o’ food, and I ate until I tapped out, but not before I ran out of things to eat. I did not personally witness any vendor run out of food, nor did I hear of any. Many people I spoke with remarked “There’s a LOT of food here,” and other similar exclamations. If you were wondering if there was enough food, wonder no longer. There was.
ABOVE: Oysters all day from the Lobster Trap
Q: THE TICKETS WERE PRICEY, WAS IT WORTH IT?
A: ONLY YOU CAN ANSWER THAT, BUT…
Yes, in my opinion the tickets were worth the price!
That is to say it’s worth it if you can afford it, and you’re a pretty big food fan, or you’re in the hospitality industry, or it’s one of your major fun-time festival plans for the Summer a la LEAF, or you really wanted to meet Chefs Jose Andres and Katie Button, or you just plain think it’s going to be one of the friggin’ highlights of your year! If you fit into one, some, or all of those categories, then absolutely, save your dollars in a jar starting now, and buy yourself a ticket for next year. You will not be disappointed.
Actually, this question is more complex than just “was the ticket worth it,”, because there were several ticketed events, like special demos and dinners and parties and tents, and each one had a different ticket at a different price, ranging from $30 to $130, and up if you wanted to get super-fancy.
I was mostly interested in attending the Grand Tastings in Pack Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and because of my work schedule, I had to pick just one, so I chose Saturday, which was a good choice, because it was MEAT day! Had I paid for a ticket — yes, shocker, I got comped a ticket because I am a well known food blogger — it would have cost me $130 dollars.
Would I pay that much to attend this event if I were not in a position to receive a “Social Media Team” all-access pass, but I was still really into food and fun? Yeah, I would. Straight-up. It’s the food event of the fuckin’ year for one thing, and the FOMO factor should be through the roof for any true food fan who misses it.
Also, at the Grand Tasting I attended on Saturday at least, one could stand in front of the Jamón ibérico at the Cúrate table — as one person seemed to be doing — and literally eat slice after slice after insanely delicious slice of this very expensive Spanish ham until your ticket was paid for in pig. Ain’t no one stopping you. That’s the power of a pricey ticket. You can treat yourself while you’re there, and muhfuckers can get bent if they don’t like it.
ABOVE: This pig leg is worth it’s weight in gold. Like, literally.
I have to admit, I did kinda think it was a little tacky for that person to eat so much of that ham, but if they had turned to me and said, “Get bent, Fucko, I paid for this ham,” I would have had to agree, and get bent.
So, yeah, there was tons of expensive food and booze which definitely helps to justify the ticket-price, but also The Grand Tasting I attended was just a real fun time, where I saw all of my food loving friends, met some new people, made and reaffirmed some solid connections, and I even witnessed the great and powerful Chef Jose Andres in action, and heard him address the crowd with a wonderful speech about peace, love, unity, and action.
Also, there was a totally FREE part of ChowChow, with a Food Truck Rodeo, and an AWESOME Makers Market. (Pictures below.)
THE BREAKDOWN: As an event, the Pickled in The Park, Grand Tasting on Saturday was pretty fucking epic, and I think that — especially as a food enthusiast — the price of the tickets does not seem out of line with the quality (and quantity) of the experience to me at all.
ABOVE: I don’t know if y’all like pie, but…
Q: WAS IT TOO CROWDED?
A. NOT YET.
As I said in the opening paragraphs of this post, one of the failures in the final years of the AWFF was crowd management. Have you ever seen the movie World War Z? And the scene where the the hordes of zombies climb over each other and breech a wall in Israel? That was people trying to get a crab-puff at the last AWFF I attended.
ABOVE: A reasonable crowd in my opinion.
The crowds at ChowChow were totally reasonable. I did wait in a few small lines for food, but never more than three or four people deep. At one point my friend Gina Smith from the Mountain Xpress and I got in line together for some of Chef Andres giant paella, and we were both like, “This line is huge, and it’s not going anywhere,” and then we realized it wasn’t the paella line, and it was just a clump of people standing around gabbing or getting beer or something, and we just went around them, and like, three minutes later, we had paella. And it was great! And that was the most crowded situation I dealt with all day.
THE BREAKDOWN: If the crowd grows a little bit next year, it will still be good. If it grows a LOT, we shall see. It’s a ticketed event, so they have control over crowd size.
ABOVE: Chef Jose Andres addresses the crowd. Also on stage: Felix Meana and Chef Katie Button.
Q: DID I GET TO MEET CHEF JOSE ANDRES?
A. YES! AND NO.
I was lucky enough to meet Chef Andres for half a minute a few days before the event, by pure chance, at the generous invitation of Felix Meana co-owner of Cúrate. I even got a selfie (you can scroll to the bottom of this post to see it) to prove it happened! He was very nice, and fun-loving, and a good guy in the moment for sure! He was having fun with his friends, though, so I said thanks and bye in the same sentence, and got out of the way ASAP. I knew he’d be in high demand, and I think that I know my place in the pecking order of the food scene in this town, and I try to stay in my lane, so I let that be my one and only encounter with him, and didn’t try to seek out a second meeting with him.
I did, however, have a second and third chance to bask in his brilliance at Pickled in The Park, when first, I watched him, and Chef Katie Button and her crew, cook-up two HUGE paella in the biggest pans I’ve ever seen in my life, and then I had the extreme pleasure of hearing Chef Andres give a talk, addressing us directly, with a wonderful message of peace, love, sharing food, and taking action. He’s a true shining star of the culinary world, rising above the largely meaningless title of “celebrity” to be something and someone much greater for us. He’s a force for good and should be an example to us all.
ABOVE: That’s one hellova paella!
THE BREAKDOWN: It was very exciting to have such a well-know and effective activist-chef come visit us, cook for us, and talk to us here in little ol’ Asheville! I did get to meet him, and so did lots and lots of other people with various roles in our local food scene. He was very accessible, and he spoke to us all from the heart. Here’s a very brief Video that I shot while I was in the crowd…
ABOVE: What a guy!
CONCLUSION & PICTURES
So, yeah, I had a fuckin’ great time at ChowChow Asheville 2019’s Pickled in The Park event on Saturday, September 14th, and I will very much be looking forward to next year! I recommend that you budget for it if you have to, bring your appetite for sure, and get ready to meet the growers, the makers, and the eaters of Asheville!
Below are a ton of pictures that I took of the fun and food. I’ll caption some of them but not all. If you have further questions, please post them below and I’l be happy to answer them for you.
ABOVE & BELOW: All props and cred to the super cute and cohesive design work throughout the event!
ABOVE & BLEOW: The Food Truck Rodeo and awesome Makers Market were part of the free section of Pickled in the Park!
BELOW: It was all about the people! Well, it was all about the food, but there were also people!
ABOVE & BELOW: There were plehhhnty of boozey drinks for those who wanted them, and there were lots of N/A choices too.
BELOW: Here’s the giant paella and more pics of Chefs Jose Andres & Katie Button
ABOVE: I tried one of the giant paella, and it was friggin’ awesome!
BELOW: One of the highlights of my food-blogging career! Flanked by Felix Meana and Chef Jose Andres.
MANNA FOOD BANK
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO MANNA FOOD BANK!
— end —
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.