Black Mountain, North Carolina

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The Laurel of Asheville Features FRESH

Mark Tomczak - Monday, October 10, 2011

The Laurel of Asheville features FRESH in October Issue   (Click link above or read full article below )

Skipping classes is something with which most of us can relate -- and while many skip school to hang out with friends, chef Mark Tomczak had a higher purpose. He spent his afternoons helping his mother prepare food for his 13-member family. Chopping onions beside Rose, with the sweet smell of garlic sizzling on the stove helped Mark understand the difference between feeding people and nourishing them.

As chef and co-owner of Fresh Wood Fired Pizza & Pasta in Black Mountain with his wife Courtney Smith, Mark’s culinary creativity is driven by his desire to nourish, both body and soul. “It’s the quality of our food that sustains us,” Courtney says.

Now entering its second year, Fresh has firmly established relationships with local farmers as well as growing herbs in the restaurant’s garden. Weekend specials highlight produce fresh from the farmer’s market such as the grilled peach salad this summer, or squash soup in the fall. Although there are standards in the kitchen, Mark practices a more fluid style of cooking. You will find no recipe books behind the line. “Mark becomes a magician in the kitchen,” jokes Courtney. 

As a professionally trained ceramic artist (his ceramic pieces are displayed at the restaurant) with a master of fine arts degree, he approaches cooking much as he does creating pots. “It’s the alchemy of transformation—similar to the kiln. He loves the discovery of the unknown,” she says.

A large imported Italian wood fired oven dominates the dining area, which turns out power house pizzas (including a perfected gluten-free crust) with toppings that include fresh arugula, Kalamata olives, wild mushrooms, local goat cheese, fresh basil, and smoked salmon (not all on the same pie mind you). Pizzas are offered in 12-inch rounds. “You don’t need huge portions when the ingredients are so nutrient rich,” Mark says.

The Chica Bella, a FRESH favorite, is a very agreeable combination of pesto, ricotta, mozzarella topped with arugula and walnuts. A protein-packed option is the Scarface featuring savory Italian sausage, pepperoni, and spicy salami with mozzarella and red sauce. Vegan and gluten free options are available. The Veggie Delight brings pungent freshness with spinach, Kalamata olives, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, onions, roasted garlic, mozzarella, and red sauce.

The starters and salads are equally appealing. The Tuscan offers a blend of spring greens, arugula, local goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and toasted pecans served with a light lemon-parsley vinaigrette. Soups are made fresh daily and starters, such as the Three-dip Crustini served with olive tapenade, creamy artichoke hearts, and roasted red pepper hummus, will help stave off hunger pangs.

Baker, E.C. Cleary makes European-style fresh bread in the wood oven every morning including Rustic Italian, baguettes, Sourdough and Cranberry Walnut. The desserts are all handmade—Tiramisu, German Chocolate Cake, Kiwi Strawberry Tart with a silky custard filling are three options we tried that are worthy of a special trip. There is also a gluten-free Decadent Chocolate Torte on the menu.

Mark moves in and out of the kitchen bringing savory and sweet dishes to sample, he adds, “I use fresh produce, locally-sourced from farmers and creameries in the area when available because I think my customers have discriminating tastes and want to eat food that’s good for their family.”  His goal is to help people see and taste the difference that naturally grown foods can make on one’s health and well-being. “It is also about supporting the local economy and not contributing to the decline of the planet,” says Courtney.    “We want people to taste the difference of food that is locally grown, artfully prepared, adapted to accommodate their dietary needs and served by people who care,” says Courtney.

Visit 100 South Ridgeway Avenue in Black Mountain and online at freshwoodfiredpizza.com. The restaurant can be reached at 669.6999.