North Carolina-based chef John Fleer says, “It is southern food that lies at the heart of my cooking.” Fleer has many memories of summers spent at his grandparent’s home in Tidewater, Virginia, and of their large garden and the couple’s “mad rush from the crab pot to the boiling pot.” There were also trips to Europe during his childhood and young adulthood, and even two six-month stays in England and Italy. Fleer is convinced that the early exposure to European culture broadened his culinary horizons and profoundly affected his love of food.
Yet Fleer did not begin his education with the study of food. His first degree was a B.A. in religion from Duke University. Next he enrolled in the master’s program in religion and culture at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It was while pursuing his graduate degree there that Fleer worked as the head baker at Aurora restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina. This led to work on a master’s thesis on the community of the dining table as a model for aesthetic, ethical, and political judgements.
Fleer’s formal training was at the Culinary Institute of America, where he earned his degree, graduating with honors in 1991. He completed a fellowship at the school’s St. Andrew’s Café under chef Jonathan Zearfoss, who taught him how to appreciate freshness and seasonality in ingredients, and to think about the nutritional value of food.
After graduation, chef Fleer worked at a CIA-run restaurant and also had the opportunity to expand his experience with healthy cooking techniques while working as the private chef for Mary Tyler Moore and her husband Grant Tinker in their New York home. He then joined the team at Blackberry Farm where he served as executive chef from 1992 through 2007. His unique “foothills cuisine” cooking style established at Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm wandered the line between refined and rugged, fancy and familiar, transforming local ingredients into world-class dishes. It focused on interpreting regional dishes through classical and traditional techniques, eventually catapulting the resort to the honor of Relais Gourmand, the highest mark of culinary excellence within the Relais Chateaux organization. Under Fleer’s leadership, the Tennessee destination was honored by Zagat in 2003 and 2004, and number one small hotel and number two hotel dining in America.
In the summer of 2000, Great Chefs showed up to tape chef Fleer preparing three dishes: a Blackberry-glazed Quail appetizer and a Bacon-wrapped Trout Stuffed with Crawfish entrée, for their Great Chefs of the South series. They then taped Chef preparing a Pistachio Brownie with Ganache and White Chocolate Ice Cream for their new television series Great Chefs of America. Some viewers called it an “Uptown Moon Pie”.
In May of 2009, chef Fleer took his first step back across the Blue Ridge, opening Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers, NC. The food at Canyon Kitchen is enhanced by a picturesque setting, sitting at the foot of the largest box canyon in the United States. Opening Rhubarb in October 2013 was the next step in his journey. Rhubarb aims to bring the relaxed atmosphere of his previous pastoral posts to Pack Square and to broaden his approach to freestyle American cuisine.
As executive chef and owner of Rhubarb, chef John Fleer brings his impressive culinary reputation and more than two decades of experience to the burgeoning Asheville restaurant scene. Chef Fleer has received many accolades and awards throughout the years, including being named Century” by the James Beard Foundation, and being a three-time finalist for the James Beard Award’s “Best Chef of the Southeast”. He has also served on one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st various high-profile boards such as the Board of Directors for the Southern Foodways Alliance from 2003 until 2009.
Great Chefs congratulates Chef John Fleer on his many impressive achievements!