The name Magnolia Ray sounds nice, explains chef Daniel Kaufmann, who co-owns the Woodfin restaurant that opened last week with his wife, Virginia Kaufmann. The words of the name are more important than their broader meaning, says the pair.
Similarly, the menu brings together a variety of dishes that are hard to classify as a group. “It's just good food,” Daniel says. “If I feel like doing a Cajun special Tuesday night, I can do that. If I feel like doing an Italian special Friday night, I can do that. If I get this crazy idea that I want to try, I'll do that.”
Even though Daniel grew up in New Orleans, he doesn't want his Southern roots to define his cooking. He decided to become a chef while working a desk job in Memphis, Tenn., and since he made the career switch 14 years ago, he's worked in kitchens in Hendersonville, Asheville, the Virgin Islands, New Jersey and Louisiana. “I don't like to cook just one genre of food,” he says. “I don't want any labels other than that there's a little bit of something for everybody.”
The Magnolia Ray menu features a tomato ragout with poached eggs; gluten-free, zucchini-ribbon “pasta,” New York strip, shrimp and grits, po' boys, wraps and a signature burger. Ingredients include New Orleans specialties, such as tasso (spicy, marinated pork).
Virginia will manage the restaurant and bring her own interests to the business. “I thought, wouldn't it be nice to have a place, if four people are going out, and their tastes are entirely different, everybody goes, “Ooh! There's good stuff that we can eat,'” Virginia says.
Philanthropy will be part of the business model, Virginia says. Four years ago, she moved to Asheville from New Jersey, where she created projects such as coat drives while managing a chiropractic office. Now, she plans to give a portion of Magnolia Ray’s profits to MANNA FoodBank. Each month, her accountant will determine the exact percentage that gets donated.
Magnolia Ray occupies the former Baja Café building at 72 Weaverville Road. The Kaufmanns have been upgrading the restaurant for about a month. They've modified the space to spotlight its open kitchen and completely repainted the once brightly colored walls.
The restaurant opens Tuesday through Saturday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit its Facebook page or magnoliaray.com