When Rhubarb acquired the old French Broad Chocolates Space on Lexington, the first goal was to open The Rhu, the awesome café, bakery and pantry that is fully up and going now(and is great btw). In between The Rhu and Rhubarb the connected space houses Rhubarb’s private event space, which includes a kitchen used by the pastry team and for private events. Chef and Owner John Fleer wanted to make it something more though. A few weeks ago Fleer hosted Chapel Hill cookbook author Sheri Castle at one promises to be the first of many dynamic engagements that Fleer hopes will give the community more of a chance to experience the full spectrum of food, from the farm to the cooking to the plate. Local roustabout journalist Jonathan Ammons covered the cooking demonstration for Mountain Xpress:
It was an obvious choice for chef John Fleer to select Chapel Hill cookbook author Sheri Castle to be the inaugural presenter for the new demonstration kitchen at his Asheville anchor restaurant, Rhubarb. Castle’s newest cookbook, a small pamphlet numbered volume 20 in the Short Stack Editions cookbook series, focuses entirely on ways to prepare the namesake plant of Fleer’s well-known eatery. But in offering myriad ways to cook an underutilized but readily available food grown by local farmers, Castle’s book also relates to Fleer’s overall mission.
“I really wanted to be able to integrate [the new event space] into what we are doing and into what I feel like our mission is in terms of being engaged in the culinary and farming scenes,” says Fleer, who is known for his partnerships with Western North Carolina farmers and foragers. “Beyond the business side of things, I really think of this space as a food and beverage community center.”
Besides cooking demonstrations like Castle’s, Fleer lists farmer-hosted “how-to-cook-your-CSA” events and food policy discussions through a partnership with Edible Asheville magazine among the programs he has in the works for the downtown space. “Outside of serving great food, I really see it as our mission to be involved in the community and the broader discussion of what role we play in it,” he explains.
Rhubarb has a solid following as a classic Southern pie ingredient. But despite its abundance in the South in spring and summer and its willingness as a perennial to return year after year without replanting, it is often overlooked as a component for other dishes. Castle rectifies this oversight in her slender new volume — titled simply Rhubarb — by highlighting the tart, acidic and almost sweet flavors of this celerylike member of the buckwheat family.
“It’s much more versatile than you might think,” she says in her book, “and can behave differently — like a berry, fruit or vegetable — depending on the recipe. With the sour tang of a lemon, the tart moisture of an apple and the crisp grassiness of celery, it’s a remarkable ingredient and a cook’s dream.”
At Castle’s late-May demonstration, she methodically walks the audience — which for this first event is mostly a who’s-who roster of regional chefs, bakers and cookbook authors — through the preparation of rhubarb salsa, which works with the ingredient’s fruitlike qualities. Next, she does a step-by-step demonstration of how to make rhubarb and tomato dumplings, a tasty, fluffy, biscuitlike dish. Samples of each dish are distributed to the small crowd.