RABBIT, RABBIT, RABBIT! - Final Chefs Challenge


SG Séguret


This year’s final showdown of the Asheville Scene Chefs Challenge occupied an entire side of the US Cellular Center during the last intensely distilled hour of the sixth annual Asheville Wine & Food Festival.


Following a somewhat standard list of secret ingredients doled out to the fourteen chefs of the previous seven rounds (peaches, tomatoes, beets, sweet potatoes…), new heights were set when festival director Bob Bowles announced an unexpected ingredient…RABBIT!


Previous finales were showdowns between two finalists. This year the finalists numbered four, and each had only one dish to showcase the best of him or herself: a dish highlighting this four-legged pastoral rodent, lean of body, sinuous of muscle.


One hour and two portable burners were all each chef had to contend with, along with a table laced with various items supplied by the French Broad Food Co-op, such as juniper berries, long, purple Thai beans, fennel, tri-colored potatoes, tomatillos, leeks, peppers, tomatoes, daikon radishes…


Given the absence of ovens and the short time to pull off a dish that invites overnight marinating and careful finishing off, the four chefs chose unanimously a fricasséed presentation.


One might think that four dishes of fried rabbit served back to back would be an impossibility to consume. However, I can assure you that, as a lucky bystander with fork in hand, I swallowed every morsel without blinking.


In ascending order, dish number four, prepared by Chef Joe Mitchell of Chestnut and scoring 70 points, was a spectacular stack of rabbit leg and lighter morsels, with a rack of lamb kind of attitude, served over a bed of rice and varied greens with a creamy sauce gracing the edges, and a crispy splay of slivered leeks.


Dish number three, prepared by Chef Ryan Kline of Buffalo Nickel, at 79 points, was a delicate arrangement of rabbit morsels and gnocchi, graced with mushrooms deliciously marinated in all the flavors of the beast, served on a smear of daikon radish purée and finished off with a delightfully dark, rich sauce, fresh leaves of arugula, and marigold petals.


Dish number two, from Chef Regan Stachler of Little Hen, scoring 80 points, was my personal favorite. Making trifold use of the rabbit, it highlighted not only a miniature rack of rabbit ribs; it was served up on a bed of rabbit sausage and garnished with beautifully delicate rabbit kidneys, perfectly sautéed so as to be intensely flavorful on the surface and deliciously rare on the inside. All this was accompanied by an herbed gnocchi made from pâte à choux, light and flavorful and deserving of its own private showcase. Delicate shavings of parmesan and marigold blossoms finished off the deliciously peppery presentation.


The winning dish, at 81 points, was from Chef Ulfet Ozyabasligil Ralph of Bloom Supper Club. A richly infused leg perched atop a blend of apples, squash and mushrooms, more sweet than savory, with the kidneys used in the poaching liquid, and the ensemble finished off with butter, this plate was awarded especial detailed attention, with braised cherry tomatoes adding a final touch of color and another sprinkling of marigold petals contrasting in brightness with the dark velvety quality of the sauce.


Accompanied by a lightly spicy Austrian Blaufränkish from 5 Walnut Bar, sporting aromas of dark, ripe cherries, red currants, and a good dollop of acidity, the four dishes represented a true slice of cooking form the cuff.


Given more time to play, I would love to have seen what these four young and talented chefs would have done to turn rabbit into a dessert. As is, being a savory person, the flavors rest on my tongue and trigger delightful sensations of a prolonged nature, and I am grateful for the culinary attributes of this furry creature we all know and love.



Wine and food writer Susi Gott Séguret, CCP, CSW is a native of Asheville with a unique perspective that comes from twenty years of living in France. A graduate of the Cordon Bleu Paris and the Université de Reims with a degree in gastronomy and taste, she directs the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts in Asheville, Ithaca, Sonoma and Paris, and orchestrates a series of ultra-elegant events known as the Asheville Wine Experience. Visit www.susigott.com, www.schoolofculinaryarts.org, or www.ashevillewineexperience.com.