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KNOXVILLE — A nationally renowned chef. Locally grown and produced food. Great bluegrass entertainment and a silent auction of terrific items.

All of this is on the menu at Appalachian Spring, to be held at 6 p.m. March 28 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 401 W. Summit Hill Drive, Knoxville.

The event, organized by students, is a fundraiser for the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

John Antun, assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and tourism management and the founder and director of UT’s Culinary Institute, said the event is not only a wonderful evening out, but also an opportunity to provide significant assistance to students.

“This event gives our students hands-on experience in planning and running a high-profile, elegant event,” he said. Students in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism 435 operate as the event planners while students in Retail and Consumer Sciences 495 manage the auction, which will be held during the cocktail hour and which will feature items including weekend cabin stays in the Smokies, original paintings, handmade furniture chests, dance lessons, horseback rides and Pigeon Forge tourist attractions and stays.

Money raised through the event is used to support student participation in class field trips, internships, leadership and team building courses, study tours and simulation exercises.

Last year’s event raised more than $55,000.

“Many deserving students would not have been able to take advantage of these opportunities without this level of support,” said Nancy Rutherford, professor and head of the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Chef for the event is John Fleer, former chef at Blackberry Farm, who was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef in the Southeast” in 2006 and 2007. Fleer is now a consultant on several projects in Southern Appalachia, including working with the Riveridge Development Group opening rustic fly-fishing and hunting lodges that feature outstanding vittles; Blue Ridge Development Group working on urban and resort residential projects; and Lonesome Valley Development Group on its community in Cashiers, N.C.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Fleer’s past work includes being actress Mary Tyler Moore’s personal chef.

National food publications, such as Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Southern Living, have praised Fleer’s ability to bring world-class flare to Southern dishes.

“He’s a highly talented guy and his specialty now is sustainable food,” Antun said, explaining that Fleer will present a “locavore” meal — a meal featuring foods raised or produced within 100 miles of Knoxville — for Appalachian Spring.

A variety of cold and hot hors d’oeuvres will be served during the silent auction reception along with local artisanal products including Benton’s Tennessee proscuitto and local cheeses. The dinner will include an appetizer of smoked North Carolina trout, spring salad of locally grown greens with deviled eggs, an entrée of locally raised lamb, and a “cornbread and buttermilk” dessert featuring Cruze Dairy buttermilk in a vanilla panna cotta and in a lemon chess pie with Tennessee blackberry wine reduction.

For individual tickets and sponsorship information, call (865) 974-6614 or e-mail


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,