Posana chef de cuisine David Van Tassel takes pride in the restaurant’s seasonal, local, gluten-free menu


A
 case of Napa cabbage was the unlikely key that opened the door to Asheville native David Van Tassel’s first cooking job. Now chef de cuisine at Posana, Van Tassel realized two years into college that the medical career he had always thought he was destined for was not his passion. Taking some time to clear his head, he first worked at a farm outside Columbia, South Carolina, where, among other things, he plowed behind draft horses and dabbled in blacksmithing. From there he moved to a job at a natural food store.

“I was working in produce one day and a chef came in,” he remembers. “He looked tired and stressed and said, ‘Please tell me you have some Napa cabbage.’ Now, I know the day he was having — someone burned something or he was shorted on the order. Luckily I had just gotten a case of nice Napa cabbage. I brought it to him and asked him for a job. I was 20 and didn’t know anything.”

Clearly, the cabbage and Van Tassel’s youthful chutzpah impressed the chef who suggested Van Tassel help him with a catering job the next day. When Van Tassel reported for duty, he passed the first test. “Chef was surprised,” he recalls. “He was like, ‘Oh, you showed up!’ Except for some basic knife skills, I had no idea what I was doing.”

He took a job at the chef’s restaurant, which was subsequently sold and segued into Terra. Van Tassel remained, mostly by virtue of being willing to do anything, from painting walls and assembling tables to learning how to grind meat and make mayonnaise. “Terra was the gateway to the first time I had good cheese, the first time I made sausage and duck confit, where I learned to make foie gras and butcher a chicken,” he says. “It made me realize I wanted to go to culinary school.”

Van Tassel  returned to Asheville and enrolled in A-B Tech’s culinary program. “I knew enough from working in a kitchen to be a decent line cook, but I needed the other parts,” he says. While in school, he interned at The Market Place under founding chef Mark Rosenstein and chef Michelle Bailey. There he immersed himself in the restaurant’s ethos of seasonal, local cuisine, learning about Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia purveyors. He landed his first sous job within a year, but purposefully migrated regularly for a time from restaurant to restaurant to expose himself to different cuisines, chefs, systems, and sources.

In July 2023, Van Tassel accepted the chef de cuisine role at Posana, chef Peter Pollay’s highly regarded restaurant in the heart of downtown Asheville — right between John Fleer’s Rhubarb and Katie Button’s Cúrate.  “I was drawn to Posana in part for its reputation and in part because of its dedication to gluten-free cooking — I had played around with it some in other places I cooked. To be able to come into a place that has it down to a science sounded fascinating to me,” Van Tassel says.

To avoid any preconceived notions about gluten-free food, Posana doesn’t announce itself as a 100% gluten-free restaurant, but that has been its unwavering mission since opening in 2009. (Pollay’s wife and business partner, Martha Pollay, maintains a gluten-free diet due to having celiac disease.) Though the menu does change seasonally, the biscuits, breadsticks, and a few other items are untouchables. “People with celiac often don’t get to eat those things,” Van Tassel says. “We figured out how to make really good gluten-free onion rings, and we always have an excellent pasta.”

For fall and heading into winter, that pasta is a pumpkin alfredo with house-made black pepper fettuccine. The sweet potato gnocchi starter offers a choice of duck confit or local Black Trumpet Farms mushrooms to widen options for guests who eschew meat. Another small plate Van Tassel likes is the grilled apples with three local cheeses three ways — with black pepper, pecans, and Smoking J’s hot maple drizzle.

“We did grilled peaches in the summer,” Van Tassel says. “I think fruit is underutilized on menus. It doesn’t always have to be in a salad or a dessert. It can be front and center, especially the apples we get from Henderson County.”

The octopus dish he and his staff created is art on a plate — in this case a black bowl. “We were using a white bowl but switched to black to make the green of the herb-whipped ricotta, the dark red of the agrodolce, and the orange from the sweet potato chips really pop,” the chef explains. “The agrodolce gives a little heat to it, and the ricotta adds dairy fat to the octopus, which is lean. The sweet potato chips are the crunch. I’m a big fan of crunch.”

When it comes to big plates, Van Tassel likes to think in themes. The Sunburst trout almondine, for example, is “Frenchy,” he says with a laugh. “We do the herbs de Provence roasted red potatoes, the haricot vert, and the sauce is lemon brown butter Dijon. It tastes very French and very fall.”

The pork shank also gets a thematic turn to create a pot roast vibe with Hispanic flavors and products. “The posole checks the stick-to-your-ribs thing, the cotija cheese has a little bite, the pickled cactus a little acid, and the corn tortilla hay has the crunch,” Van Tassel says.

He enjoyed figuring out a way to make a vegan version of pho, which normally relies on meat bones and pork belly for flavor. “The mushroom pho is really, really good. It’s got those aromatics and dried spices,” he says.” There’s something just universally appealing this time of year about a bowl of piping hot broth with a bunch of really good fresh vegetables and rice noodles.”

Though Posana has a dedicated pastry chef, Van Tassel likes taking an occasional turn at the station. “With savory, you’re tasting as you go,” he says. “With breads and pastry, I need to get out the measuring spoons, scale,. and timer. It’s fun to shift gears and challenge myself.”

When his parents bring friends to eat at Posana and he greets them in the dining room, they often ask for his favorites. “I just can’t say. I’m proud of all of them or they wouldn’t be there,” he says. “It’s a collaborative effort from everyone who works with me, and all of us have hands in each of the dishes.”

For more on Posana, visit posanarestaurant.com.

— Kay West

First four photos courtesy of Mandara Hospitality Group; fifth photo courtesy of the chef
First photo
: David Van Tassel, chef de cuisine at Posana
Second photo: On the menu this season at Posana is pork belly with smoked amarena cherry glaze, parsnip soubise, arugula, and crumbled cashews.
Third photo: Located in the heart of downtown Asheville on Pack Square, Posana is a festive dining destination for the holidays.
Fourth photo: Shrimp and crab hushpuppies with caper remoulade and purple horseradish slaw. All dishes at Posana are gluten-free.
Fifth photo: Raised in East Asheville’s Haw Creek neighborhood and a graduate of A.C Reynolds High School, Chef Van Tassel enjoys kayak fishing when he’s not at work in the kitchen.