Tomato Jam Wins First Chefs Challenge

February 12, 2013 WNC Chefs Challenge

Chef April Moon Harper – Sunny Point Café

Chef Daniel Wright – Tomato Jam Café


By Maggie Cramer


The kickoff WNC Chefs Challenge between chefs Daniel Wright of Tomato Jam Café and April Moon Harper of Sunny Point Café was a night of firsts: the first time flour has been featured as a secret ingredient, the first time chefs weren’t allowed to bring their own ingredients or equipment, the first time diners got to see the full menu before the festivities began, and the first time culinary students from Eliada School of Trade Arts’ inaugural class got to help out in the kitchen. Eliada Homes is this year’s nonprofit beneficiary. But wait, there’s one more first: the first time the event was held at Chestnut, since it is, after all, one of Asheville’s newest restaurants.


Let’s start with the flour. Of course, we’re not talking just regular multipurpose flour. The night’s secret ingredient was North Carolina-grown whole wheat Carolina Ground flour, purchased through the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project. What’s more, the two featured flour varieties were virtually unheard among the diners and were even novel to the three judges: whole-wheat crema flour and whole-wheat polenta. I know what you’re thinking: “But polenta is corn!” As event emcee Bob Bowles explained, polenta actually has to do with the mids, a technical term for a grain mill product that’s not yet a flour. And what about crema? It’s called such because it’s extremely refined, which gives it a texture almost like, you guessed it, cream.


Both teams had the same idea when it came to the wheat polenta: “grit” cakes. “When you have an ingredient that’s kind of odd, it seems to spur the same thing,” Chef Harper said of their similar approach. Team Tomato Jam topped its grit cake with pan-seared trout and pork belly vinaigrette, which was voted the number one dish of the night. Team Sunny Point served its cakes with brown butter jalapeño seared salmon, a tasso green bean salad, and a creamy crayfish Lusty Monk Mustard sauce.


It’s that local Lusty Monk concoction that made Chef Wright “sauce jealous” and convinced him to add a last-minute pineapple sauce to the number two dish: grilled pineapple cheesecake with a crema wheat crust served with whipped cream and that pomegranate hard candy. (The hard candy was a first for Wright.)


For dessert, team Sunny Point countered with an apple and purple sweet potato tart topped with a refreshingly sweet local Haw Creek Honey vanilla ice cream and garnished with pork belly cracklings. What about the secret ingredient? To honor another first and give a nod to the host restaurant, Chef Harper incorporated chestnut flour into the crema for the tart’s dough.


Chef and Chestnut co-owner Joe Scully served as the event’s chef referee, although there were no scuffles to break up. “It’s about camaraderie, food, fellowship,” he remarked. In other words, Chestnut is ready for seconds. The second round between Chef Dan Moore of Double Tree Catering and Chef Edwin French of Pack’s Tavern takes place on Tuesday, February 19


It was a close contest, but team Tomato Jam Cafe prevailed. They’ll be back and ready for a second go in the semifinals.


For more information about the Asheville Wine & Food Festival and WNC Chefs Challenge, visit

To learn about the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, visit


February 12 Menu


Team Tomato Jam Café

-Cream of wheat polenta grit cake with pan-seared trout with a pork belly vinaigrette
-Braised strip loin pot pie in a sweet potato herbed crema flour pastry shell
-Grilled pineapple cheesecake with a crema wheat crust served with whipped cream and pomegranate candy


Team Sunny Point Café

-Blue cheese crema bread flour crackers garnished with warm smoked duck breast and a fennel beet carpaccio
-Brown butter jalapeño seared salmon with a creamy crayfish Lusty Monk Mustard sauce served over a polenta cream of wheat cake with a tasso green bean salad
-Apple and purple sweet potato tart with chestnut crema bread tart dough topped with Haw Creek Honey vanilla ice cream and garnished with pork belly cracklings


-Maggie Cramer is Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s communications manager. She can be reached at