The fast-casual eatery celebrates Black Appalachian culture, community, and cuisine.
Amidst the buzzing food scene of Asheville, North Carolina, one restaurant has managed to garner constant anticipation and excitement: Good Hot Fish. Created by James Beard Award finalist and Top Chef contestant Ashleigh Shanti, this fast-casual eatery opened this month in Asheville’s South Slope District. Good Hot Fish, which pays homage to the fish-frying heritage in Shanti’s family, is not only one of the hippest places to dine in Asheville but also a gathering spot that celebrates Black Appalachian culture, community, and cuisine.
For Shanti, food and fishing have always been a way of life. Growing up along the woodlands and waterways of coastal Virginia, she learned the art of frying fish at her family’s fish camps, where the men would catch and gut the fish, and the women would season and fry their catch. Led by her grandmother and Great Aunt Hattie, the matriarchs of her family would sell their mouthwatering creations after Sunday church services and throughout town, their signature call of "Good hot fish! Come get your good hot fish!" drawing customers from far and wide.
Surprisingly, none of Shanti's family members pursued a culinary career. But Shanti is proudly carrying on their legacy through her unique fusion of Black Appalachian or "Affrilachian" cuisine with Southern flavors and global influences. She’s reimagined everything from her grandmother’s buttermilk cornbread soup to international staples like hummus, crafting it with black-eyed peas and fermented benne.
Shanti's culinary journey has taken her to various corners of the U.S. and the world, from culinary school in Baltimore to flavorful expeditions in Cameroon. Yet, despite her vast experiences and coveted chef positions, she’s often found herself yearning for the simple joys of her childhood kitchen.
"Food has always brought people together and created a sense of community for me," Shanti told Travel + Leisure. But a trip to Shenandoah National Park sparked a deeper realization for Shanti. A thought-provoking exhibit at the visitor’s center at Shenandoah National Park asked, "Where are the African Americans of Appalachia?” This exhibit caused her to reflect on the lack of representation of African Americans in Appalachia, and it ignited her determination to showcase the rich food culture of Black Appalachia.
As chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle in Asheville's historic "The Block" neighborhood, Shanti's bold and innovative Black Appalachian menu garnered critical acclaim. It’s also where she discovered the power of storytelling through food and the importance of owning one's narrative. Her departure from Benne on Eagle in 2020 marked the beginning of a new chapter that saw her pop-up shop bring her cherished foods to an eager public, but this time, on her own terms.
“It’s deeply important for me to fully own my story,” she said. With her latest venture, Good Hot Fish, Shanti aims to recreate those same childhood feelings of togetherness and connection, drawing inspiration from iconic spots like Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, DC. As she takes diners on a journey back to her roots, she wants patrons “to feel welcomed and nostalgic, like they're visiting my home.”
Housed inside Eulogy, a live music venue by Burial Beer Co., Good Hot Fish will serve a carefully curated menu with elevated offerings like caviar beer, locally sourced seasonal fare, and classic sides like baked beans, stewed collards, and hush puppies. Not to be missed are Shanti's famous fish sandwiches and plates, made with wild-caught Carolina blue catfish and a signature Burial Beer batter texture she describes as "glass-shattering crispy." Another standout dish is Shanti's personal favorite, trout “bologna” and cheese, a filet of sunburst trout cured in the same fashion as the conventional pork classic and served on a fluffy potato bun with yellow mustard, grilled onions, and American cheese.
Beyond serving delectable dishes, Shanti uses food as a medium to spark meaningful dialogue about important topics such as diversity, heritage preservation, and food justice. And as an advocate for African-American and Southern food traditions, she is elevating the voices and stories behind these traditions and shining a light on their invaluable contributions to American gastronomy. Far more than a chef, she’s a storyteller and a changemaker, using the universal language of food to unite and inspire.
For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.