The ‘Charlie and Lola’ Dinner for Picky Eaters

My son and I both love the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child. He giggles at the silly things that Lola does, while I love the mixed media illustrations (and the excuse to use my bad British accent when reading aloud).


The one that gets reread the most in our house — because it’s the only one we own — is I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato. As you could guess, it’s about being a picky eater, something most every parent faces. (If you’re a parent and you don’t have this problem, keep it to yourself or everyone else will secretly loathe you. No one wants to hear about how your kid prefers edamame to ice cream.)


In the book, Lola’s older brother Charlie cleverly tricks her into eating the foods she hates most: “Oh this isn’t mashed potato. People often think that but no, this is cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji.”

When we first started reading this book, Jed wasn’t eating half of the foods on Lola’s No Fly List. That’s when I suggested that we have a “Charlie and Lola dinner” one night.

Clockwise from top left: Orange twiglets from Jupiter, moonsquirters,  ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea, cloud fluff, and green drops from Greenland (middle).
Clockwise from top left: Orange twiglets from Jupiter, moonsquirters, ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea, cloud fluff, and green drops from Greenland (middle).

It was a total hit. For the first time ever, Jed ate all of his moonsquirters, orange twiglets, green drops, and cloud fluff (ocean nibbles are an easy sell in our house, but for the record he ate all of those, too).

There’s no recipe to share for this one — it’s just that easy.

Have you tricked your picky eater into trying (and even liking) new foods? Please share!

WNC Chefs Challenge: A Hoppin’ Good Time

I couldn’t resist the beer pun, as local beer was the secret ingredient last night for Chefs Brian Ross of Dough and Michael Marshall of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort. The teams had their pick from the local beers on tap at Chestnut to not only incorporate but celebrate in their dishes.

Photos taken by Camilla Calnan Photography:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While beer is undeniably a “fun” ingredient, I also recognize it as a challenging one,  which made it all the more impressive that the chefs were able to so thoughtfully utilized it in each dish. Both chefs used Asheville Brewing Co‘s Rocket Girl IPA. Chef Marshall made a sauce with it for his lump crab starter and Chef Ross used it to steam his mussels in what turned out to be the number one dish of the evening. Other beers on the menu included Foothills People’s Porter, French Broad‘s IPA and Wee Heavier, Pisgah Pale Ale and Pisgah Stout (used by both teams in their desserts).

The mussels (Dough), chocolate cake with ice cream and caramel (Dough) and beef tenderloin (Harrah’s), were all favorites at our table, and also happened to be the top dishes of the night respectively. I was especially impressed with Dough for using beer in each element of their dessert: Pisgah Stout Chocolate Cake with Foothills People’s Porter Ice Cream and Wee Heavier Caramel. It was a true and sweet celebration of local beer.

Both chefs had an excellent showing, and true to the pattern of past challenges this year, it was a very close competition. The audience was split 50/50 and the judges’ were 52/48 in favor of Chef Ross for a total score of 51/49 with team Dough as the winner.

The menu:

Jumbo Lump Crab and Potato Napoleon with Cucumber Almond Salad and Rocket Girl IPA Sauce (Harrah’s)

Salmon Confit, Pisgah Pale Ale Crab Fritter, French Broad IPA Vinaigrette (Dough)

Rocket Girl Steamed Mussels with Chicken Sausage, Ginger Orange Nage, Parisian Gnocchi (Dough)

People’s Porter Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Parsnip, Gouda Grits and People’s Porter Reduction (Harrah’s)

Pisgah Stout Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pancake with Coconut and Candied Bacon (Harrah’s)

Pisgah Stout Chocolate Cake with People’s Porter Ice Cream and Wee Heavier Caramel (Dough)

Congrats to both teams! It was a fun, festive night!

Next week: The Quarterfinals begin with Chef Daniel Wright and Tomato Jam Cafe vs. Chef Dan Moore and DoubleTree Catering. Get your tix here:



Chef Mike Fisera of LAB Wins 3rd WNC Chefs Challenge

For the past three Tuesdays, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the WNC Chefs Challenge experience via tweets and Facebook posts for the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. I’m thinking of changing my professional tagline to “will tweet for food” (non-paying social media gigs don’t get any better than this). Every Tuesday, two top local chefs go knife-to-knife, creating three courses each, all of which contain a secret ingredient revealed to the them the day of the dinner. It’s like participating in an exciting food reality show (think Bravo, not Fox), only the focus isn’t on flaming tempers and kitchen disasters… it’s all about what it should be—the food.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the third dinner on Tuesday, Chef Mike “Mikey” Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery faced off against Sean Fernandez of Ruth’s Chris. Their secret ingredient? Eggs from area agrarian darlings Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

While awaiting the first dish, Bob Bowles “cracked us up” with his “yolks”. Even I couldn’t resist describing the menu as egg-cellent.

Chef Fernandez and his team turned out the first two dishes. He used the secret ingredient twice in his egg ravioli, both in the homemade pasta and again with the rich egg yolk that filled it. The second dish was the top-rated dish of the evening and also my favorite. Braised pork belly and local cheese grits (from Adluh) topped with a poached egg and hollandaise demi made for an elevated breakfast bowl–transcendent both in form and flavor.

LAB rolled out the next two dishes, a lobster Quiche and filet tartar. The standout on the Quiche plate for me were the greens. The crisp chard were reminiscent of the more mainstream crisp kale (kale chips), which crunched nicely mixed with the asparagus. Chef Fisera used eggs three ways for his tartar with a beautiful egg-shaped flash fried pasta bowl, a fried caper aioli and of course the yolk, which judge Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine described as a “beautiful explosion of deliciousness.”

Ruth’s Chris ended on a sweet note with a mango creme brulee, a great success despite the deep dish. As Bob Bowles said at the end of the evening, “Food is for nourishment, but also an art form.” If food is an art form, than LAB’s dessert was the evening’s piece de resistance. From its whimsical presentation to the playful textures, team LAB’s tarte took the cake.

In addition to delicious food, we have the pleasure at the judge’s table of meeting fascinating people each week in the food industry. Vinny Scully, Chef Joe Scully’s older brother, served as a special guest judge. With 20 years of cooking experience, he’s proud to see his younger brother follow in his footsteps. Vinny says he and his brother have more in common than cheffing, citing their sarcasm as a family art.

Zoë and Mark Clarke of Hickory Nut Gap Farm brought their youth and charm to the table. Mark graduated last year from UNC-Chapel Hill. He puts his English and creative writing degrees to work for his family, posting for the Hickory Nut Gap blog and working on a project for the 100th anniversary of their family farm coming up in 2016. Zoë ‘s NPR aspirations and engaging nature have her well on the road to becoming the next Diane Rehms (only a few octaves higher). The whole table enjoyed listening to the sibs talk about family life on the farm, from egg-gathering duties to the dynamics of the Clarke dynasty.

What was served:

Chef Sean Fernandez and Team Ruth’s Chris

  • Herb Infused Egg Ravioli with a Jalepeno Cure Salmon and a Saffron Beurre Blanc
  • Braised Pork Belly with Local Cheese Grits with a Poached Egg and Hollandaise Demi
  • Mango Creme Brulee with a Vanilla Grand Marnier Mascarpone

Chef Mike Fisera and Team LAB

  • Filo Baked Lobster Quiche with Fennel and Bacon, Crisp Chard, Shaved Asparagus and a Sundried Tomato Hollandaise
  • Filet Tartar with Egg Yolk, Flash Fried Pasta, Charred Grapefruit Arugula Salad, Fried Caper Aioli with Spiced Honey
  • Tarte au Citron, Blueberry Ice Cream and Marcona Almond Tuile

What I learned: The hundred pleats in a classic chef’s hat symbolize the 100 different ways to cook an egg.

In the end, Chef Fernandez had the winning dish with his cheese grits, but Chef Fisera came out the winner in a very close competition (48/52).

Next up: March 5, Chef Brian Ross of DOUGH vs. Chef Michael Marshall of Harrah’s Cherokee Resort.