Gambas al Ajillo ~ Asheville’s Cúrate Tapas Bar

Gambas al Ajillo from Curate Tapas Bar in Asheville, North Carolina.

Some people wonder aimlessly through life, responding to whatever trial or happiness drifts their way. Others look at the world as a giant classroom; finding the lesson in each stage of life, seeking to learn and grow from every new experience, continuously acting rather than reacting.

I would say Katie Button is the latter; a student of life and all it offers.

Katie Button’s culinary journey started in a curious place. She finished her undergrad at Cornell, then moved to Paris to get her Masters in Biomedical Engineering. Although she excelled in math and science, Katie’s educational pursuit left a void in her life. Engineering offered her praise and potential prestige, but no real fulfillment.

While studying in Paris, Katie lived in a little apartment around the corner from Rue Mouffetard, famous for it’s glorious food markets. Fascinated by the Parisian way of savoring ingredients and giving proper respect to the foods they prepared, she spent endless hours practicing cooking techniques and experimenting in her tiny kitchen.

Katie tells of a time she was determined to make puff pastry from scratch. She had very little counter space to work with, so she taped off a section on the floor, sanitized it, then rolled out her puff pastry for a traditional French Saumon en Croute.

In Paris, cookery rested it’s beguiling claim on Katie’s future.

After returning to the states, Katie was accepted into a PhD program for Neuroscience. Yet, two weeks before she was due to arrive,  Katie QUIT something for the first time in her life. She had a deep resolve that this was not the path meant for her. To the astonishment of friends and family, she took a wait staff position at Café Atlántico in Washington DC.

From a certain career in Neuroscience to a first-time waitress? Had Katie lost her compass? No. Katie looked at this as another opportunity to learn. Café Atlántico is no run-of-the-mill restaurant. It is one of several celebrated restaurants from renowned Chef José Andrés, one of the most respected chefs in the US. It should be noted that José Andrés trained in Spain under famed Chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, a Michelin 3 star winner, and considered the world’s BEST restaurant for 5  years. (Ferran Adrià is also thought of as the father of molecular gastronomy and culinary deconstructionism.)

Although Katie wasn’t allowed to work in the kitchen at Café Atlántico, for lack of formal training or experience; she would take her days off to come in to work… simply to watch and learn. Interest became fortitude; fortitude became passion.

During this time, Ferran Adrià sent several of his employees to Washington DC to help his friend José Andrés with training. In this party came Felix Meana, El Bulli’s “Chef de Rang” or head of the dining room. Katie and Felix developed a strong bond and when it was time for Felix to return to Spain, it was decided that Katie would go with Felix and work at El Bulli. She still was not allowed in the kitchen, due to lack of experience, but she was the first American to ever serve at El Bulli and was able to study Chef Ferran Adrià’s flawless technique and ingenuity.

When Katie left Spain, she had the approval and recommendation of Ferran Adrià and was finally able to work in a professional kitchen, first at José Andrés’ The Bazaar in Los Angeles and then at Jean Georges in New York. To Katie’s delight, now that she had EXPERIENCE, she was offered a position back at El Bulli. There she finalized her “education” as a line cook in one of the most sought after restaurants on the planet.

So what is she doing now, you ask? Katie Button and fiancé Felix Meana are in little ol’ ASHEVILLE! When they returned to the states, they searched for the perfect place to open their first restaurant together. After a long road trip down the east coast, they decided Asheville, North Carolina had just the right feel and food culture in which to birth their dream.

With the help of Katie’s family, Curate Tapas Bar opened its doors March 4th, 2011 and is feverishly making it mark. Katie and Felix focus on high-quality ingredients, simple authentic Spanish preparations, and painstaking attention to detail.

This casual eatery, serving rustic dishes, exudes elegance in every way. The perfume of sherry and garlic wafting from the kitchen is intoxicating. The servers fully understand the menu and go out of their way to help you. And the details… the little elements that turn your experience from good to magnifique are all there. Felix has made sure of it, down to the size and shape of the ice cubes.  Curate Tapas Bar brilliantly mingles a cozy atmosphere with the sublime dining experience. I am most certainly a fan. *smile*

I’m delighted to tell you that Executive Chef Katie Button has offered two recipes to A Spicy Perspective. These simple Spanish dishes are a perfect example of Katie’s philosophy that superior ingredients provide the best flavor, with very little fuss.

If you aren’t a local but plan to be in Asheville this spring, Curate Tapas Bar is definitely worth checking out!

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Yield: 1-2 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp sauteed in garlic)

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic whole w/peel on
1 clove garlic sliced thin
1 arbol chili (a dried whole chili pepper, this can be substituted by a small pinch of chili flakes or cayenne pepper)
1 bay leaf
8 shrimp, cleaned, peeled and butterflied with tail left on
2 T light olive oil or an olive oil blend
2 T dry sherry
Salt

Directions:

Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat with the whole clove of garlic skin on, just until the skin on the garlic starts to brown.

Meanwhile salt the shrimp with a half a teaspoon of salt. Once the whole garlic clove has started to brown, add the sliced garlic, and as soon as the sliced garlic just barely begins to brown, add the arbol chili, bay leaf, and the shrimp.

Toss everything together in the saute pan cooking the shrimp. When the shrimp is halfway cooked (still raw in the center), remove from the heat and add the sherry, mix well, and return to the stove over medium heat.

As soon as the shrimp is just cooked through, remove the shrimp from the pan with tongs and place on the serving dish. Return the sauce to the stove and reduce a little bit, tasting and adjusting the seasoning for salt.

Pour the hot sauce over the shrimp and serve immediately.

Complements of Curate Tapas Bar in Asheville, North Carolina

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58 Responses to “Gambas al Ajillo ~ Asheville’s Cúrate Tapas Bar”

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    1
    lindsey@lindselicious — April 20, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

    Both dishes look amazing. I’ve always been a fan of tomato bread since I visited spain. Thanks for sharing your amazing expirence!

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    The Cilantropist — April 21, 2011 @ 12:52 am

    I loved reading Katie’s story, and honestly, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken her path instead of being in my PhD program! ;) Both of those dishes from their restaruant look fantastic, but I am really drooling over that tomato bread.. mmmm…

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    daksha — April 21, 2011 @ 1:19 am

    I’m so impressed. tomato bread is yummmmmmm I feel like I’m looking at a picture in a food magazine. thanks for sharing ur amazing expirense.

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    Cherine — April 21, 2011 @ 1:49 am

    I love Spanish food and both dishes look fabulous!

  5. #
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    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — April 21, 2011 @ 2:33 am

    What a truly inspiring story, it really drives home the importance of following your passion.

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    Winnie — April 21, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    Fantastic story…you had me eagerly reading every word! The restaurant looks fantastic…thanks for sharing these stories and recipes :)

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    Alison — April 21, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    Can’t wait to try it. Have been dying for authentic tapas. Spoke with Eberhard at Asheville Wine Market a week or two ago and he said Curate is the real deal.

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    Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum — April 21, 2011 @ 5:30 am

    How fun! I studied abroad in Spain for about 5 months… so it is really fun to see all these familiar foods. :) Loving your blog!

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    Maris (In Good Taste) — April 21, 2011 @ 5:38 am

    What awesome photos! I have never seen tomato bread and oh have I missed out!

  10. #
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    Belinda @zomppa — April 21, 2011 @ 5:58 am

    What an incredible story!! So inspiring – and definitely one to try!

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    Dmarie — April 21, 2011 @ 6:29 am

    very much enjoyed reading her story. If someone who trained at El Bulli now has a restaurant in Asheville…definitely worth the trip! You folks in Asheville are sure lucky. Many thanks for your research and work on this post–thanks for sharing, Spicy!

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    Kasha — April 21, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    OMG that tomato bread looks amazing! I can’t wait for tomato season here in NY.

    What an inspiration Katie is. Thanks for telling us her story.

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    Cécy — April 21, 2011 @ 7:11 am

    Thank you for the behind the scenes story, I heard a little about them but this makes me even more curious. I’ve been thinking about trying it because it looks like real spanish food. I love Zambras but they are more spanish inspired than spanish.
    I love pan con tomate, we used to make it at home every summer and my mom would get us this soft chorizo (soubresade) from Andorra that we would add to it. MMh. Can’t wait for tomatoes to start popping, with some bread from the farmer’s market.

  14. #
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    Amy | She Wears Many Hats — April 21, 2011 @ 7:17 am

    Look forward to checking this one out soon!

  15. #
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    Lisa @ Tarte du Jour — April 21, 2011 @ 7:32 am

    I love this story of someone listening to her heart and not her head and following her dreams! Looks like a magical place to dine. And your shrimp look mouthwatering!

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    Parsley Sage — April 21, 2011 @ 7:47 am

    Fascinating story! Its always so inspiring to hear about someone who takes a chance and does something extraordinary. Well done. Love the recipes as well. When we were in Spain, we proly ate our weigh in Pan con Tomate.

  17. #
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    Katie Button — April 21, 2011 @ 8:51 am

    Thank you Sommer for such a wonderful article! Come visit us again soon.

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    The Flourishing Foodie — April 21, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    Your article was very enlightening. Thanks.

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    Tricia @ Saving room for dessert — April 21, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    Wonderful story, great photos, awesome recipes! I should have waited until after lunch to read this, I’m so hungry now! Next time we’re in Asheville we’ll be visit Curate. Thanks!

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    fooddreamer — April 21, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    What a fantastic story…and a fantastic recipe to go with it!

  21. #
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    carolinaheartstrings — April 21, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    Oh what a great post. I loved all the pictures and the next time we come to Asheville I am visiting this restaurant. Looks fabulous!

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    Angie's Recipes — April 21, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

    A fascinating story about Katie. I love that tomato bread :-)

  23. #
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    Magic of Spice — April 21, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    What a great post and story…sounds like a wonderful cafe. Love the Gambas al Ajillo recipe, fantastic!

  24. #
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    Gwen~healthymamma — April 21, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    What a wonderful story. You gotta do what you love in life, I’m glad she had success.
    I so wish I lived nearer I adore Tapas!

  25. #
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    Geni — April 21, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing such a great story, and congrats to Katie for following her passion and opening up Curates Tapas Bar. Both dishes look delicious!

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    Liz — April 21, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    Oh, my…I want to hop in my car and head to Asheville right now! But since I have to go tux shopping with my teenager, I will just have to print off these fabulous recipes and keep my fingers crossed that I can make them. Gorgeous photos…and fun story.

  27. #
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    Hester Casey - Alchemy — April 21, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    What a great story. I think life is too short to take just one path. Katie is an inspiration. She really embodies Capre Diem!

  28. #
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    Ann @ Apples and Twinkies — April 21, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    This really looks wonderful! Great post – very interesting!

  29. #
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    Kankana — April 21, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

    It was so nice to read about Katie .. very inspirational! Thanks for sharing her recipes too :)

  30. #
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    Priya Sreeram — April 21, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

    Katie & her story had me hooked ! thanks for sharing sommers !

  31. #
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    oscar — April 21, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    Felix!!! q pasa???? me encantaría trabajar allí una temporada cuando cierre el bar, que dius???? un abrazo y cuídate!!!!

  32. #
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    pam — April 21, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

    What an amazing story! I am hoping to get to Asheville sometime this summer!

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    JJ — April 21, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

    Wow, I didn’t realize how lucky we are to have this restaurant in our little city in the mountains! Thanks for the background information and the fabulous pictures. Food (and local beer too :-) is our passion in Asheville and its no wonder why we call ourselves a “Foodtopia.”

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    Sara — April 21, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

    I loved this story! And of course the recipe too…but the story…I love when passion prevails….I am little biased maybe ’cause I also dropped out of my phd to follow a completely different life but Katie’s success is astonishing! Very inspiring.

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    Dave Erickson — April 22, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    It’s a great story, to which I will add only that in addition to offering tasty bites in the style of Seville (It is said that “tapas” was invented at El Rinconcillo, a bar in that city), Cúrate has a truly wonderful all-Spanish wine list. Escalivada con anchoas (eggplant salad with anchovies) with a glass of manzanilla (crisp, dry sherry) is an experience not to be missed. There are also several wonderful red wines by the glass, reasonably priced. Try the Peique Mencia Bierzo–soft, easy-drinking, and appropriately food-friendly.

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    Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen — April 22, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    What an inpiring story. Thanks for sharing!! I hope you have fun making the marshmallow cakes and frosting this weekend! I confess to eating the frosting straight from the spoon!!! It was tasty! lol ♥- Katrina

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    Steve @ HPD — April 22, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    as always, great camera work to go with the captivating story. happy easter and cheers!

  38. #
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    Chef Dennis — April 22, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    how lucky you are to have so many wonderful foodies in Asheville! I do need to come visit, perhaps a good place to retire…..sigh
    did I tell you that my favorite place to stay is right off the Rue Mouffetarde….what a glorious place!

    Cheers
    Dennis

  39. #
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    sonia — April 22, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    Hi There, This is looking absolutely delightful. Very nicely made and presented. Have a great day !!!

  40. #
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    Pachecopatty — April 22, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    Such an interesting read, I am often curious about what brings people from other career paths to cook professionally. I love the simplicity and the flavors of both recipes, thanks for sharing Sommer;-)

  41. #
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    Eileen — April 22, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

    Great story Sommer. I love all the neat people, and place you find. Thanks!

  42. #
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    Cookin' Canuck — April 22, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

    What a wonderful and inspiring story. Those shrimp are making me salivate.

  43. #
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    Devaki@weavethousandflavors — April 23, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    What an inspirational story about life’s turns and curves, not knowing what is round the corner and opening oneself to new possibilities. Love it!

    Coo Ra Tay – Fabulous! I love your foodie scene in Asheville.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  44. #
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    Parsley Sage — April 23, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    By the way, I’ve given you an award today over at Deep Dish :)

  45. #
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    Kate@Diethood.com — April 23, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    I LOVE Katie’s story! I feel inspired, in fact. Thank you for sharing this with us, Sommer!

    That tomato bread and I will be hanging out this afternoon….yum!

  46. #
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    Victoria @ Mission: Food — April 23, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    That is a really great story! I know quite a few people (including myself) who have gone down one path only to come back on another, following another passion altogether. It’s great to know it can result in success! And what fortune that she opens her restaurant in your town!!

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    Ilke — April 24, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    What a great way of saying “follow your heart”! I love reading Katie’s story and will definitely visit the restaurant next time I am in Asheville – which I hope is soon!

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    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris — April 25, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    Wow!! What an interesting life story..It encourages me, that am trying to change my life too..
    And the photos are great! Thanks for sharing the experience!!

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    Julia @ DimpleArts — April 27, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

    This is a wonderful story. It takes real guts to leave a solid career to follow your passion. These dishes remind me of my trip to Spain and look delicious.

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    ftw — May 4, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    Would go read the rest of your blog posts now.

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    rofl rofl — May 5, 2011 @ 5:04 am

    Would go read the rest of your blog posts now.

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    Ruby — May 6, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    Great post – makes me want to visit Asheville!

  53. #
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    Cécy — May 8, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    Mmh, can I say I love you right now? Not only you have 12 Bones Corn pudding recipe. But now the gambas al ajillo. We ate at Curate last night and had the pan con tomate (could have had more garlic for me but it was a good filler), the eggplant dish (oh so tasty) and the gambas, so good that I drank the broth and ate all the garlic.
    So thank you, thank you, can’t wait to try it at home and can’t wait to go back to curate.

  54. #
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    I been dying to look at this recipe but life’s kept me hopping for the last few weeks so it’s sat in my box. But now I’ve seen it and printed it and can’t wait to make it. I also look forward to heading to Asheville sooner than later so I can visit the restaurant myself. Thanks for sharing the story of Katie (and Felix).

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    Denise @ Creative Kitchen — May 21, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    Very much enjoyed reading this post and all the great pics! I have family in Asheville & surrounding areas and get up there quite often. My father in law is right in the historic area of downtown AVL. This restaurant is on my MUST TRY list now!! Thanks for sharing!!

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    Marie Cole — September 21, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    Wow, what a story..I wish Austin, TX had the food that Asheville has….

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    displaysmania.com — August 29, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

    Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m
    undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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    Pinterest.com — September 2, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

    Rope makers are inclined to enjoys confusing us with science
    and/or extraordinary polysyllabic names. I can try to cut through the guff a little.