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Dinner at Blackberry Farm and Lunch by Tim Love

As I wrote in my last blog post, I recently attended the Southern Food Writers Conference as part of the International Biscuit Festival. When I looked at the schedule of the conference, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Blackberry Farm was hosting the conference dinner on Thursday night.

Since I could not attend this year’s International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Los Angeles, I decided to attend the SFWC – yes, the opportunity to have dinner at Blackberry Farm was a really big factor!

If you aren’t familiar with Blackberry Farm, it is considered one of the top destination resorts in the southeast if not the eastern half of the US. They have won multiple James Beard Awards and have one of the top wine lists as well. I’ve looked at visiting Blackberry Farm, but could not afford a stay there. With dinner included in the price of the conference, I was in.

The farm is up in the hills of East Tennessee not far from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It was about a 1 1/4 hour drive from downtown Knoxville. (Here’s a link to a map showing where it is.) When we arrived, we had a reception featuring craft beers made on sight along with some appetizers. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate as we were supposed to be outside. Instead, we went into the construction zone of a new building under construction for events like ours. (Plus, we had to wear the really attractive hard hats.)

We moved to the Barn for dinner. For the dinner, we had assigned tables and I guess they knew I was coming – they put me in the very back corner with three other folks – one person I already knew and two new friends.

The plan was for a 5 course menu with paired wines. Here was the menu:
Garden Volunteer Salad – Cornbread Croutons, Cruze Farm Buttermilk and Georgia Olive Oil
Barboursville Vineyards – Reserve – Vermentino – Virginia 2014
Roasted Golden Beets – Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Beet Greens and Pine Syrup
Linden – Hardscrabble – Chardonnay – Virginia 2013
Slow Cooked Farm Egg – Smoked Chicken Broth, Radishes, Grits and Peanuts
Ankida Ridge – Pinot Noir – Virginia 2013
Elysian Fields Lamb – Farro Verde, Fava Beans, Mint and Sheep’s Milk Yogurt
Boxwood Estate – Topiary – Red Wine – Middleburg 2014
South Carolina Strawberries – Sheep’s Milk Bavarian and Pie Dough
Thibaut Janisson – Xtra Brut – Blanc de Blancs – Virginia NV

We had a discussion at the table about the Volunteer Salad. I of course went with the obvious (Being a Tennessee Grad) – obviously named for the Vols! One of my table mates had a different thought – in gardening, a volunteer is a plant that just grows on its own without having been planted. Seems plants from previous years went to seed and a new plant grew up a year or more later. I was disappointed to learn she was right. In the last post I wrote about the amazing Cruze buttermilk and the dressing was a simple mixture of buttermilk and olive oil. (As a side note – I was enjoying the dinner so much that I sometimes forgot to take some photos of a dish before I ate it — sorry….).

The sommelier talked about the wines. He wanted to feature a set of Southern Wines as part of the Conference dinner and he talked about recent visits to wineries in Virginia and selected some of the top wines from Virginia that would pair with the dishes and were also just very good wines. I was amazed and surprised at how good the wines were. The only one I didn’t completely care for was the Pinot Noir as it was a bit lighter than I like.

After the salad, the beets arrived. For some reason I just don’t eat beets that much, but these was very good. The next dish was the surprise of the evening. The slow cooked egg was served in a small bowl with smoked chicken broth. The broth was some of the best chicken broth I’ve ever had. Including the egg, grits and peanuts was pure genius. The combination was a great example where the flavor combinations just exploded.

Next up was the lamb dish. Now, I love lamb and when I saw the menu was looking forward to this one. The lamb chop was perfectly cooked and very tender and again, the other items on the dish complemented the lamb. Up last was the dessert. The strawberries were sweet and firm sitting on top of a silky custard with a crunchy pie crust underneath. A perfect ending to the dinner.

So, my experience at Blackberry Farm was everything I anticipated and more. I may have to go back to this conference solely for the dinner. If you EVER have a chance to visit and eat at Blackberry Farm – take it!

As if dinner wasn’t enough, our Friday lunch was also an amazing meal. Chef Tim Love of Dallas TX came to Knoxville for the Biscuit Festival and to make lunch for the Foodwriters conference on Friday. (He is in the process of opening a new location of his Lonesome Dove restaurant in Knoxville.) Tim is a Tennessee Alum, so Knoxville is a familiar haunt for him. From the Square Room, we walked several blocks to the 100 block of Gay St. Our lunch was being held at The Emporium, a collection of artist studios and galleries. The center of the building is also used for event space and was set for our lunch. Chef Tim was featuring a number of local purveyors and Whole Foods also provided much of the food. The three course menu was adventurous and very tasty. Here’s the menu:
1st course: Simpson Beef Tenderloin Tartare with Grilled Toast and Deviled Quail Egg
2nd course: Stacked Rabbit Enchiladas, Cruze Farm Ricotta, Ranchero, Avocado Pipian, Citrus Salad
3rd course: Strawberry-Rhubarb Muddy Pond Sorghum Scones, Fresh Cream, Sweet Popped Sorghum

Chef Tim paired the lunch with a fabulous rose which just happened to be one of his own. The Love and Hope rose reminded me of a Provencal rose and went with the food extremely well. I really enjoyed the wine and wished we could get it locally.

As you can tell, we didn’t go hungry. With all of the food we had and the experiences with Blackberry Farm and other chefs wanting to impress a collection of food writers from around the country, the quality and flavor just blew me away. I would consider going back just for the food! Keep an eye next year – come join me in Knoxville….

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