What People Get Wrong About Appalachian Food, According To Chef William Dissen - Exclusive

Let's be honest about something: Most people don't know a lot about the region known as Appalachia, which spans from northern Mississippi up to southern New York, touches 12 states, and encompasses the whole of West Virginia (via Appalachian Regional Commission). And while we're being honest, most assumptions people hold about the region are pretty inaccurate. That's true when it comes to the history, topography, culture, and the cuisine of this distinctly and uniquely American region. 

Award-winning chef and restaurateur William Dissen should know. Proudly born and bred in West Virginia and today a North Carolina resident, he told Mashed during an exclusive interview: "This region really gets kind of a rap for being backwoods and dueling banjos country, but really has an amazing food culture and just history and heritage here."

What makes Appalachian food so amazing? One major factor is simply geography. "I think one thing that's really set our cuisine apart is that here in Appalachia, we have natural boundaries with our mountains," Dissen said. "It's created this area that really has been uncharted and untouched. And because of that, we have a lot of heirloom and indigenous produce and fruit and wild ingredients that you don't find anywhere else."

Chef Gordon Ramsay, who spent time with Dissen in Appalachia while filming an episode of "Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted," compared the untapped region and its heritage cooking with places like Tuscany, Italy. Dissen revealed: "To me [that] was a pretty astounding comment!"

The Appalachian foods chef William Dissen wants everyone to try

You can't visit Italy without trying some of the amazing fresh pasta or cheeses. It would be a shame to visit Japan and not try sushi in the land of its provenance. The Appalachian region also has its share of foods that chef William Dissen feels are not only exemplary of the area's cuisine, but that are also simply excellent.

"This part of Appalachia [in western North Carolina] is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with flora and fauna and types of animals and reptiles that you only find in this region," Dissen said. "It really is a special place and it's a temperate rainforest part of the region. So we get a lot of rain, a lot of moisture. There's a lot of wild mushrooms." Mushrooms are just one of the foods the chef forages for himself and serves in his restaurants. "In the springtime, we get a lot of wild ramps, [and] we'll preserve the greens into a pesto that we will vacuum seal and freeze to have for the entire year," he added.

Dissen also ticks off ingredients like locally grown arugula, a native heirloom bean called the greasy bean, mountain trout, crawfish, and more. And of course, there's always room for some griddle cakes, too.

New episodes of "Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted" air on Sundays on National Geographic. To explore more dishes from Appalachia with chef William Dissen, follow him at @chefbillyd.