Tomato Watch 2014

Tomato Watch 2014—you know, the thrice-daily trips to your garden to see if they’re maybe just maybe ripe and ready, or the weekly “Are they here yet?” ask of farmers at your neighborhood tailgate market—has officially ended, and tomato season has finally arrived. Knowing how painful a tomato-less winter it was for Ashevilleans, Festival Director Bob Bowles didn’t waste any time revealing ‘maters as the secret ingredient to a hungry audience at the third Asheville Scene Chefs Challenge Tuesday.

The competing chefs didn’t waste any time getting their delicious dishes to tables either. Team Little Hen, out of Apex, NC, and led by Regan Stachler, presented the first course of the night: raw tomato, grilled purple tomato, and a fried green tomato with romesco sauce. That romesco calls for tomatoes was, of course, not by accident. The dish, said Chef Stachler, really put the focus on the secret ingredient, highlighting it in several different applications.

Team Buffalo Nickel from Asheville, led by Ryan Kline, responded with their version of the Southern staple: a tempura-fried green tomato served with tomato tartare, scallion chimichurri, balsamic gastrique, and green tomato chow chow. It wowed the crowd, taking the coveted honor of top dish of the night. Is your mouth watering? Chef Kline shared he’s running tempura tomato as a special at the restaurant now. (Wait! Keep reading to learn who won before you run out and place your order.)

Both teams served pleasing meaty main courses, but all talk quickly turned to dessert. Some guests guessed a tomato sorbet, and they were nearly spot-on. The night’s final dish, a buttermilk pound cake from Buffalo Nickel, was served with tomato granite, a refreshing ice. Little Hen put a spin on classic lemon curd by adding tomato, which they served with drop biscuits and thyme meringue.

Biscuits and fried green tomatoes: Both teams served up a Southern summer in a sensational fashion. In fact, they have the highest scores so far in the competition. Ultimately, team Buffalo Nickel won the evening, but both chefs will deservedly advance to the next round of competition.




Team Little Hen
•    Raw tomato, grilled purple tomato, and fried green tomato with romesco sauce
•    Potato gnocchi, garlic roasted tomatoes, and green curry braised veal short ribs
•    Thyme meringue, biscuits, tomato curd, candied celery, and glazed cherry tomato


Team Buffalo Nickel


•    Tomato tartare, scallion chimichurri, tempura green tomato, balsamic gastrique, and green tomato chow chow
•    Tomato-braised pork belly, chevre grits, tomato-braised collards, tomato marmalade, basil oil, tomato chips, and braised jus
•    Buttermilk pound cake, tomato granite, honey, poached tomatoes, goat cheese mouse, and almond crumble


Maggie Cramer is an Asheville-based writer, editor, and communications specialist. She can be reached at