Salt & Smoke: Small Kitchen, Big Flavor
Words and photos by Kevin Fuller Josiah McGaughey fell in love with the very large things in Asheville, that being the southern Appalachian mountains the city is nestled in. However, it’s the small things he’s pouring his passions into. McGaughey is the co-owner and executive chef of Salt & Smoke, a 120 square-foot kitchen inside a trailer situated on the property of a small farmhouse brewery in the South Slope of Asheville. It’s southern roots meeting old world exploration — in a small kitchen McGaughey calls the “hot pocket.” The tiny kitchen is turning out plates featuring small batch menu items to pair well with the small batch beers being brewed at Burial Beer Co, which is where it calls its home. Don’t ever underestimate the tiny kitchen though. “We are constantly surprising people with what we are accomplishing,” McGaughey says. “I am constantly surprising myself.” His plates include antiquated recipes and various food histories across the globe such as skillet seared quail with a lavender and sassafras rub, twig & berry sauce and pommes dauphine. “I have a fascination with old world cuisine,” McGaughey says. McGaughey doesn’t look at the small kitchen as a limitation but as a way to keep him on his toes, making him come up with a constantly changing menu, filled with small plates. “It forces me to get creative,” McGaughey says. “When I run out of something, I have to adapt.” The kitchen even does brunch on Sundays, with items such as bacon-wrapped country terrine and brie, served with pickles and baguette. “We all try to claim southern food is this, or northern food is that,” McGaughey says. “But it all comes from the same place.” McGaughey was born and raised in the rural farmlands of northern Georgia. When he was in sixth grade, his mother packed their bags and moved to Harlem. After a short stint, he was back in Georgia. McGaughey had been cooking since he was 15. While working in Athens as a chef to essentially support his music career as a drummer in an Americana rock band, he would visit the small mountain city on tour, which is when he fell in love with it.
“The very first tour we did, we came to Asheville first,” McGaughey says with a smile. McGaughey, however, took another detour, away from the south, after Athens. He ended up in Chicago, where he really learned his craft — and he met his future wife, co-owner Shannon McGaughey, to boot. It’s there the couple started drafting ideas as to how to open their own space and how to create the food that inspired them to cook in the first place.
The road traveled is really where McGaughey picked up his style of old world cooking. He carried that style all the way to Asheville, which is well known for its beer culture. “We are always paying attention to the beer,” McGaughey says. Burial Brewing Co. is as funky as the beer head brewer and co-owner Tim Gormley brews, like the Skillet Donut Stout, Haysaw Saison and Bolo Coconut Brown Ale. It grows ingredients for its beer on premise. The brewery is situated in an old industrial space and its 10-barrel system is pumping out some of Asheville’s die hard beer fan’s favorites. The area is bustling with development, with breweries and restaurants popping up what seems to be every month.
“The beer scene has certainly helped with the rise of the food scene,” McGaughey says. With more than a hundred breweries in the city of Asheville, and dozens more in the surrounding area, Burial, as well as Salt & Smoke certainly both have the vibe to stand out in a crowd. More and more faces are frequenting the spot. In fact, the brewery has plans for an expansion on the edge of Biltmore Village, another popular spot in South Asheville. “It’s an amazing opportunity to plug into someone else’s business,” McGaughey says. The partnership formed out of a friendship.
McGaughey said the first time he met co-owner Jess Reiser, who owns the brewery with husband Doug Reiser, was when she was bartending and gave his debit card to someone else. As he waited, they struck up a conversation. The rest is history, so to speak. “We all just started hanging out,” McGaughey says. The group formed a bond — over beer and over food. That bond has taken up roots, in the form of a 120 square-foot kitchen. “We are just trying to keep up with their beers,” McGaughey says.