Strada Wins with Apples in #6 Challenge

March 26, 2013 WNC Chefs Challenge

Chef Anthony Cerrato – Strada Italiano

Chef Stuart Jensen – Stuart's on the Green


By Melissa Reardon


I had been looking forward to the sixth bout of the WNC Chefs Challenge for weeks. It was a chance to taste food prepared by Chef Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italiano in Asheville and flavors from Chef Bill Klein of Jack of Hearts in Weaverville. Unfortunately, Chef Klein had to bow out at the last minute. But that opened the door for a new and unexpected entrant; or should I say two new entrants: brothers and chefs Stuart and David Jensen with Stuart’s on the Green in Spruce Pine. It was looking to be the makings of a memorable food fight – Chef Tony takes on the Big Bad Jensen Brothers – when another heavy hitter on the Asheville food scene stepped up to bat for team Strada. That would be Chef Vijay Shastri, who, for years, operated the venerable German and Indian restaurant Flying Frog Café and most recently Mr. Frog’s Soul & Creole eatery.


And so it went, brothers against brothers in a battle that came down to a win separated by a slim four percent of the vote.


The host restaurant, Chestnut, had prepared a wonderful cocktail and wine pairing for the evening, the star ingredient of which was apples from Blue Ridge Food Ventures and apple sauce from Winter Sun Farms. The Apple Fizz rum and apple soda libation was an appropriate starter.


The first course, a smoked trout dollop with a bacon strip, tomato jam, kale chips and a crispy red apple chip, came from Strada. It was a beautifully colorful creation that offered both sweet and savory flavors. And the Kono Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand added just the right punch. This was voted No. 3 dish of the night.


Next came a bright and refreshing julienne apple, jicama, and fennel salad with saved prosciutto and Parmesan tossed in honey-apple vinaigrette from Stuart’s on the Green. It was a perfect palate-cleansing segue into the flavorful dish that followed.


When the Moroccan-style spice and wine-braised chicken, couscous, and celeriac root puree was placed before me, I immediately knew it was the influence of Chef Shastri. It smelled of curry and sweet spices, onion, apples, and raisins. Earning high marks for aroma, flavor, and use of the secret ingredient, it was no surprise this dish was ranked No.1 by diners.


Though Stuart’s on the Green didn’t win diners’ hearts with their apple stuffed pork loin, it was their dessert that came out on top over Strada’s bourbon poached apples. The apple bread pudding with caramelized apples, raisins, currants, candied pecans, and bourbon sauce was a sweet sensation that was voted the No. 2 dish of the evening.


In the end, chefs Cerrato, Shastri, and teammate Josh Burnett from Strada came out on top, and will move on to compete in the quarterfinal round against Chef Cary Shackelford from Deerfield on April 30.   



Strada Italiano

–Lightly Smoked Trout with Kale Chips, Crispy Red Apple, Bacon, and Tomato Jam   Voted No.3

–Tagine De Poulet – Aromatic Spice and Wine-braised Chicken and Onion with Apple and Raisin “Chutney,” served over Couscous and Celeriac Malanga Root Puree  Voted No.1

–Bourbon Poached Apple with Homemade Farmer’s Cheese, Spiced Apples, Dried Apple Brûlée with a Chestnut-apple Butter


Stuart’s on the Green

–Fresh Apple Salad with Julienne Apple, Fennel, Jicama, Radish, Cilantro, Shaved Prosciutto and Parmesan with a Honey-apple Vinaigrette

–Apple-stuffed Pork Lion with Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper, Orzo with Wild Mushrooms and an Apple Brandy Jus

–Apple Bread Pudding with Caramelized Apples, Raisins, Currants, Candied Pecans, and a Bourbon Sauce   Voted No.2


Melissa Reardon is a Contributing Editor for WNC magazine, freelance writer, and Marketing Coordinator for the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. She can be reached at