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Chef Spotlight

Appalachian Cuisine is on the Rise

In the last few years, a resurgence has been occurring in kitchens all across the southeastern United States. Dishes that have been enjoyed for generations, flavors that have been cultivated with love and care are making their way into restaurants in ways that are both exciting and challenging. 

Appalachian cuisine is a style that, for many, takes them home. It reminds them of their childhood, of summer days spent lazily on the front porch, of cool winter nights huddled inside to stay warm. Chef Shelley Cooper, head chef of our Appalachian Bistro at Dancing Bear Lodge, is part of a movement that is seeking to bring the flavors, ingredients, and dishes that have so long been a staple in the diets of those in Appalachia into the limelight. Joining her in this quest are quite a few figures.


 

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Mike Costello & Amy Dawson

Raised on a farm in Kanawha County, West Virginia, Mike Costello developed an early appreciation for the land and what it can provide. As a child, he found himself drawn to the kitchen, learning to string pole beans and bake traditional desserts from his grandmother, "Momaw" Betty Williams. This interest in cooking set him along the path of enrolling in culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina. Working in kitchens across West Virginia, Mike encountered a then-pervasive mentality that "quality" ingredients could not be found in Appalachia, meaning that they needed to be shipped in from far away. After being exposed to this mindset, Mike backed away from his formal culinary education before it even started. 

Instead of landing in the Carolina Low Country, Mike enrolled in journalism school at West Virginia University, where, through his work, he established the important role that food has played in the rich cultural heritage of the Appalachian region. Mike learned the importance of storytelling through documentary projects and reporting on food heritage, which comes through in his remarkable culinary creations. Throughout his career, he has maintained a strong passion for food and an even stronger passion for Appalachia, never losing sight of what makes this region’s food so unique.  

A sixth-generation Lost Creek area native, Amy was raised on a nearby small-scale cattle farm operated by her parents. During this time, she spent her summers gardening, chasing cattle, fixing fences, cooking, reading, and generally enjoying the environment in which she got to spend her time. After taking time to attend college, and a brief stint in law school, Amy found herself drawn to the culinary arts of baking and pastry making.  

Combining a deep understanding of her craft with a special Appalachian flare, Amy is able to create delectable food that can be enjoyed by anyone. 


 

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Ian Boden

At the transformative age of 13, Ian Boden started his culinary journey working with Master French Chef Marc Fusilier in Manassas, Virginia. From the beginning, Ian was hooked. 

After finishing high school, Ian decided to continue with his cooking education by heading north and attending the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. After completing his degree, he made his way to New York City to hone his skills at Payard Patisserie and Bistro, Judson Grill, and Home Restaurant. Returning to his home state, Ian received recognition for his contemporary Virginian cuisine from publications including Southern Living, The New York Times, and The Washingtonian, as well as receiving the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

Ian accepted the executive chef position at Glass Haus Kitchen in Charlottesville in early 2012 and continued to earn widespread acclaim during his tenure there, including a James Beard nomination for the “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.” 

In 2013, Boden returned to Staunton to open his community spirited, causal, 26-seat restaurant, The Shack, where he delights guests with his notable originality when it comes to preparing dishes, earning a 2014 StarChefs Rising Star Chef Award. 

Ian’s tasting menu has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, and Garden & Gun and we are so excited to see where his ambitions take him next. 



 

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John Fleer

Fleer, A native of Winston-Salem, NC,  was named one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century” by the James Beard Foundation and is a five-time finalist for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast” award with his most recent nomination occurring in 2017.  

While attending Duke University as a Religion and Philosophy major, John was inspired by the “culture of food” that he experienced while traveling in Italy. After finishing up at Duke, John, looking to pay for graduate school at UNC, began his culinary career rolling pasta and baking black tie pie at Aurora Restaurant in Carrboro. Moved by his experience, Fleer enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America seeking to explore the culinary arts.

After completing a fellowship at one of the CIA’s restaurants and a stint as personal chef to Mary Tyler Moore, Fleer joined Blackberry Farm, a 4,200-acre estate that includes a luxury hotel and restaurant, where he served as Executive Chef from 1992 until 2007.

Working at Blackberry Farm, John helped establish the unique “foothills cuisine”, a style that blurred the line between refined and rugged, fancy and familiar. His cooking style focused on interpreting the regional food offerings through classical and traditional techniques, eventually catapulting the resort to the honor of Relais Gourmand. 

John took his first step back across the Blue Ridge from Tennessee in May of 2009, to open Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers, NC where his food was paired with what many consider one of the most beautiful restaurants in the country. In 2015, John left Canyon Kitchen to devote his time to Rhubarb, his current restaurant in Asheville.

John is actively engaged in creating community, both in Asheville and, more broadly, in the Southeast, spreading his love of local food and adding a unique twist to his dishes.


 

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Travis Milton

Raised in rural Southwestern Virginia, Travis Milton spent his childhood in a true Appalachian kitchen, learning the proper method for shucking beans, preserving produce through canning, and planting gardens—all under the tutelage of his great (and great-great) grandparents. 

A reverence for the traditions and heritage of  Appalachian cuisine was instilled in Milton behind the counter of a restaurant owned by his great grandparents in Castlewood Virginia known simply as Village. Travis started cooking on his own in his early teens and, after moving to Richmond to attend school, he used his skills as a way to, initially, make some money by doing something familiar. However, jobs in the kitchen became more than just income to Travis, and before long he was staging in kitchens across the country, including the notable restaurants Todd Gray's Equinox in Washington D.C. and Chris Cosentino's Incanto in San Francisco. 

Joining friend and fellow Virginia native Jason Alley to work as Chef de Cuisine at Comfort in Richmond, he worked to combine the memories of his family's kitchen with the techniques of his mentors, creating modern and fresh Appalachian dishes. With these two culinary traditions in mind, Travis left Comfort and set out to realize his dream of heading up a genuine Appalachian restaurant. 

A goal of opening one restaurant quickly turned into opening three: Milton's at the Western Front in Saint Paul, Virginia and Shovel & Pick and Simply Grand just minutes away in Bristol, Virginia. Milton's opened in the spring of 2017 as a meat-and-three. The menu includes classic Appalachian fare such as Chili Buns and Pepperoni Rolls, and also features dishes reflecting the rich food culture of the Eastern European immigrants who settled in the southwestern region of Virginia.

Shovel & Pick and Simply Grand, opened as one location in the fall of 2017, represent both aspects of Milton's’ background, featuring the soulful comfort food of his childhood on one side of the building, and a more modern take on those traditions on the other. Bringing two unique styles under a single roof, the restaurants make use of locally-sourced ingredients including over 65 different varieties of indigenous beans and rare varieties of squash originally cultivated by Native Americans. 

In addition to preparing amazing food, Travis is an important part of the grassroots effort working to preserve the heritage of the Appalachia kitchen. Milton serves on the Board of Directors of the Appalachian Food Summit and also works to highlight the rich history of the Appalachian area in conjunction with the Central Appalachian Food Heritage Project, the Clinch River Valley Initiative, and the Virginia Food Heritage Project. When not in the kitchen of one of his restaurants, his favorite activity is sitting on his front porch, enjoying his whiskey collection, and listening to Whitney Houston.


 

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Ashley Capps


Ashley is a native of North Carolina and has traveled all over to work, eat, and cook since the young age of seventeen. Since 2002, Ashley has called the mountains of Asheville home. Thinking back to her inspirations, Ashley notes the following restaurants/experiences as having a profound impact on her culinary style: Restaurant Five & Ten, Farm and Sparrow, Eleven Madison Park, MG Road Bar and Lounge, Rhubarb, Buxton Hall Barbecue, cooking at the Appalachian Food Summit, and teaching at Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College. Her humble disposition is balanced with an uncompromising dedication to pastry work.

Ashley has been a part of multiple teams that have received national acclaim including Southern Living’s 100 Best New Restaurants Southeast, Bon Appetit’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants, Southern Living’s Best Restaurants 2016, and Bon Appetit’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants 2016. Ashley was recognized by the James Beard Foundation In February 2019 as a semifinalist for the Outstanding Pastry Chef category. 

Ashley’s values are woven into her work, baked in. Supporting small farms, connecting to producers, and using seasonal ingredients are an important part of her cooking process and she finds fulfillment in teaching and creative collaboration in the kitchen. During her time outside of the kitchen, Ashley can be found tending to her garden, caring for her chickens, teaching classes, and escaping into a warm bath. 


 

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SEAN BROCK



Sean was the chef of McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina for the past 12 years. As the Founding Chef of the Husk restaurant concepts throughout the American South, Sean is known all over the southeast for his culinary prowess. 

This fall Chef Brock is set to embark on his first solo venture and open his own flagship restaurants in a sprawling 10,000 square foot complex in East Nashville, TN. This space is being created by Sean as a way to explore the possibilities of Appalachian food.

Raised in rural Virginia, Sean has, for the past 20 years, been involved in the repatriation of the Southern pantry and the revival of Appalachian cuisine. Brock won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southeast in 2010, and is a four-time finalist for Outstanding Chef, as well as a three-time finalist for Rising Star Chef. His New York Times Bestselling cookbook, Heritage, won the 2015 James Beard Award for American Cooking. Brock hosted season 2 of the Emmy Award-winning television show Mind of a Chef, produced by Anthony Bourdain and is currently featured on the popular Netflix show, Chef’s Table. Sean is slated to release the highly anticipated follow-up to his first cookbook this fall.

Most recently, Sean started a lifelong project entitled “Before it's Too Late” dedicated to recording and sharing the cultural and culinary wisdom of the American South. This project includes a podcast, his personal photography, and eventually a large format book to showcase his discoveries, insights, and wisdom.

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