Whether you visit Asheville, North Carolina to see the Biltmore Home and Gardens, to explore the art scene or simply to take in the beautiful scenery, I urge you to make reservations for dinner at RHUBARB located at 7 SW Pack Square. And, go one step further and request to be seated at the chef’s area where you can watch the culinary wizardry take place. You will be so impressed, AND you’ll enjoy a memorable meal.
Chef John Fleer was born and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. He majored in theology at Duke University and started working toward a master’s degree. But, a part-time job led him to his true passion of food and cooking. He left graduate school and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Along the way of honing his skills in the kitchen, he had an amazing weekend job as a private chef for Mary Tyler Moore! Wow.
He made his way back to the South when he was hired as a chef for Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. During the almost 15 years that Chef Fleer was at Blackberry, he is credited for developing a signature style known as “Foothills Cuisine.” It combines the hearty foods originating from the Smoky Mountains with the products of the Farm’s heirloom garden and the freshest regional produce. Dishes contain both gourmet and Southern comfort elements. Now that Chef Fleer has his own restaurant in Asheville, he still is dedicated to seeking out the finest possible ingredients to use in creating dishes for his guests.
Chef Fleer has been a finalist FIVE TIMES for the James Beard award as Best Chef Southeast. With all of his impressive credentials, I was a little intimidated to be seated so near as he conducted what appeared to be a finely-tuned symphony of kitchen staff members, pots, pans, foods, an open grill, sizzling skillets, fresh herbs and wood-fired ovens. Yet, when I had a short time to chat, I found him extremely personable with a ready smile and a quick wit. It didn’t surprise me to learn that he is married to his high school sweetheart. They have three sons, and the family shares a passion for playing and watching soccer. That tells me that he purposely seeks to have a life outside the kitchen, and I think that ability to find balance in his life is at least one of the keys to his success.
Rhubarb opened in October of 2013 in a couple of storefronts in Pack Square in a room that was formerly an adult bookstore. Pack Square is located at the intersection of Patton, Biltmore and Broadway Avenues in Downtown Asheville’s Historic District.
To end our meal, we had probably the most unusual dessert we’ve ever been served. The Executive Pastry Chef is 31-year-old Kaley Laird. She prides herself on imaginative flavor combinations. We had a fabulous creation called “Dream of Summer” that had just the right amount of sweetness and was extremely intriguing and satisfying. According to Chef Kaley, this dessert is reminiscent of the S’Mores she remembers from her youth with even the smokiness of the campfire infused in the flavors. This was the description on the menu: “Burnt Sage Ganache, Marshmallow Panna Cotta, Smoked Caramel, Sage Ice Cream, Almond Butter and Benne Seed Crumble.” Read more about her and about Chef Fleer on the Rhubarb website.
Here are some photos of the crew at work: One makes salads while shrimp is sauteeing. Another is handling the grill and the oven, while another checks internal meat temperatures. Chef Fleer makes sure that every plate leaving the kitchen area is presented perfectly. We saw one plate — that I would have thought was just fine — handed back to a staff member to redo according to more exact standards. It was impressive.
Rhubarb is closed on Tuesdays, so check the website and make your reservations before you head to Asheville. I believe you’ll be in for a delicious experience.