John Fleer

Chef / Owner


Photo by Lynne Harty

What is your favorite part of being a restaurant owner in Asheville?

The fact that both our residents and those who visit seek and expect great food and drink everywhere they go. 

What is the background of your restaurant’s name?

There is a serendipitous backstory involving my father reminiscing about his mother’s rhubarb pie and my wife, Katy, insisting on keeping the name simple which I won’t share.  As for the name we ended up with, Rhubarb says things on many different levels.  First, it is one of a few perennial plants that we eat, so it has a strong root system that lives through the cycle of the seasons.  In its country of origin, China, it was traditionally seen as a tonic-a health promoting plant.  I also love its ambivalent character—a tasty stalk with poisonous leaves, a tart tasting plant that’s most often used in desserts.  I love that around the world where it does grow that it is championed as a food of people and that even though it does grow in many places, the attitude people have toward it is always very provincial.  Southerners, Midwesterners, Scots all claim rhubarb as their own and one of their regional specialties. 

What ingredient could you not live without?

There are so many, so I won’t choose one.  But acid, in the form of vinegar or citrus, is something I couldn’t cook without.  So much in the food world is rich in character.  Acid helps keep the palate lively so we can keep eating.

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

Wood Roasted Hen-of-the-Woods Mushroom, Curried Kabocha Squash, Pickled Chanterelles, Pumpkin Seed Oil

What is your favorite dish from a fellow AIR restaurant’s menu?

Any vegetable that Brian Canipelli puts on a plate.

Why did you choose Asheville to open your restaurant?

It’s an area immensely rich in resources—wonderful farmers producing flavorful produce, meat and fish; an energetic foraging community that has educated me about the wonders of the woods; talented makers from cheese to distilled spirits; and a community of free-thinking, talented chefs

What is your favorite chef’s tool and why?

The spoon.  From tasting to stirring to basting to saucing, it’s the restaurant equivalent of a multi-tool.  And they look great displayed on the wall.