Johnson & Wales-trained Mike Vitelli, former executive chef at the Lodge at Lake Lure, spotted a niche in the foodie market from an insider’s perspective. Together with his investment partner Michael Toman — also his lifelong best friend — he started Eat Pique Honey Pickled Mustard Seeds and Spread Head Cheese Spreads. “This product line reflects my life as a chef and overall foodie,” says Vitelli. “Pickled mustard seeds had been popping up on chef-driven menus all over the country, and I had used them a lot during my time at The Lodge on Lake Lure,” he explains. Made in flavors including “Bopp’n Beet,” “Habañero Heat,” and “Session Wheat” (a beer-infused variety), the tangy seeds pop in one’s mouth with a rather irresistible texture.
“Chefs love condiments they can pull out of the fridge to make a dish stand out visually and texturally,” notes Vitelli. “It enhances the other flavors of the dish but doesn’t complete with them. When I couldn’t find pickled mustard seeds for sale in any store or online, I knew I’d found an idea for a start up.” (The newly launched cheese spreads include such gourmet pastiches as “Everything Bagel” spread — onion, garlic, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds — and a spicy variety including fermented chilies and garlic, with more varieties to come, and even a fermented tzatziki sauce.)
Vitelli lives in Lake Lure and produces Eat Pique products in a shared commercial kitchen in Tryon. Well versed in the region’s agriculture, he’s used to working with local growers to produce farm-to-table fare, and he forecasts an uptick in south-mountain foodie ventures. “As Asheville becomes overly saturated, things have to move outward, and the counties south of Asheville have the most farmable land and a more temperate climate,” he notes. “I think you’re also seeing a trend of folks that have gone out in the world and worked for 10 years or so who are beginning to start families and are thinking that the places they grew up in” — he names Hendersonville, Tryon, Forest City, Lake Lure, and Chimney Rock — “are great places to move back to and start businesses. … That’s why my wife Molly and I are up here — she grew up spending her summers in Lake Lure; it was such a huge part of her life. She began to bring me up here when we started dating over ten years ago. There’s just something about it, something in the water.
“I don’t know exactly what it is but it’s really special — it gets in your blood. To see how things have grown and progressed in those ten years is astonishing. It’s a great time to be here.”
Eat Pique will distribute at the Flat Rock Farmers Market Holiday Market (2724 Greenville Hwy.) on Saturday, December 2, 2-6pm. (Also find Eat Pique at the holiday markets in East and West Asheville.) Products are sold year round at Dogwood of Flat Rock and Manna Cabana Local Organic Market in Tryon. www.eatpique.com