New chef de cuisine makes mark at Benne on Eagle, new John Fleer restaurant in Asheville

At Benne on Eagle, John Fleer's forthcoming restaurant in The Foundry Hotel, 28-year-old Ashleigh Shanti excused herself and jumped up from the table.

The new chef de cuisine for the Eagle Street restaurant, formerly named Iron & Clay, had something she wanted to write on the wall before the last piece of metal fireproofing was placed by the workers buzzing around the kitchen on Tuesday morning.

Beneath the steel, as long as the the building stands, so will Shanti's mark.

Beside her name, she wrote "sankofa," a word borrowed from the Akan tribe in Ghana. Typically illustrated by a bird plucking a seed or egg from its back, it means "go back and get it," Shanti explained. 

"The concept of sankofa is going back and getting those lost traditions so we can remember it going forward while we progress — go back and get the old so it's not forgotten."

Shanti will be responsible for executing an Appalachian soul food menu in a new hotel in a historically black district, known as The Block, now booming with several major construction projects.

In the kitchen will be children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of The Block's former business owners, making the notion of sankofa vital as development propels the area into an unknown future. 

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John Fleer