Trout Slayer – Fly Fishing with Chef Joseph Lenn & a Recipe for Sunburst Trout with Cruze Farm Buttermilk Consommé
Mr. B had the opportunity to go fly fishing with Executive Chef Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee during our visit several months ago. Once an avid fly fisherman, Mr. B thoroughly enjoyed his day fishing with Joseph and has dubbed him “Trout Slayer.” Read on to find out why. Joseph has also shared one of his favorite recipes for preparing trout.
This summer, we had the pleasure of participating in an outdoor culinary feast that was prepared with the freshest ingredients, harvested from the adjoining garden, prepared in a pop-up kitchen and served on picnic tables that were dressed for the formal occasion. Blackberry Farm, located in Walland, Tennessee, hosted the dinner. It was the culmination of a three day event with participants from across the country that made their way to the seclusion of this Smoky Mountain resort to enjoy what many call the best culinary experience in the United States.
Dinner had been served. The local band had packed their instruments and departed. Most of the guests had retired for the night. The hardcore devotees of food, wine, and bourbon remained behind sharing favorite memories of bygone days. Sitting around the formally attired picnic tables, the laughter and tales increased with each sip of spirits as the night air chilled and the stars sprang to life. We sat with Joseph Lenn, Executive Chef at The Barn at Blackberry Farm and Holly McNeilly, also of Blackberry Farm and her boyfriend Trei, talking about our best memories of food and travel.
Like a parent sharing pictures of their kids, Chef Lenn was flipping through his iPhone photo gallery showing his prized best dishes when we caught a glimpse of a different trophy, this one a large trout that he caught while fishing. It seems his iPhone has as many pictures of fish as it does pictures of food. He began talking about his real passion, fishing. Not just any fishing, but fly fishing for trout. Now this was a conversation that really got my attention.
Lenn talked about his childhood and how he discovered his father’s fishing rod and reel, in the basement, collecting dust, as his father had retired it due to family responsibilities. He asked his dad if he could use it, as you would expect from a proper young man who grew up in the South. And so began Lenn’s lifelong love of fishing. He talked about how fishing has forged a unique relationship with his father, Jerry Lenn. Joseph’s fishing passion is also now shared by his father. Lenn said, “I go fishing every chance I get and my dad is often my fishing partner. When one can’t make it, we share our stories by phone.”
I told him about my love of fly fishing and how, as a boy, my family would travel from New York to Idaho and we would fish the Snake River for brookies, browns, and cutthroat trout. The fondest memories of those years were the shoreline lunches of just caught fish served pan fried. My dad and Uncle Garland would clean the catch while mom and Aunt Mae prepared the dishes. Food creates such deep and lasting memories.
I told him that nowadays I fish the mountain rivers of North Carolina for rainbow trout. I was so energized over this conversation that I didn’t want the night to end. That’s when Joseph said, “Well, tomorrow is my day off and I’m going fishing. Do you want to go?”
Early the next morning, not long after our late evening conversations ended, we made our way to the fishing cottage at Hesse Creek. Located on Blackberry Farm property, we chose this location as I didn’t have the license or equipment needed to fish public rivers. The fishing cottage contained all the equipment necessary to make me a weekend warrior of the river. Boots, rods, reels, flies.
I looked through the bin of flies and the wall of rods and reels. I told Joseph that I still had my Uncle Garland’s handmade bamboo fly rod, which is now close to 80 years old. While not the best of rods that I own, it holds a special place, not because it is now considered a collector’s item, but for the wonderful memories of my uncle. It was my uncle that encouraged me to fly fish.
It was as a preteenager, on my family’s first trip to Idaho, that I learned to fly fish. It requires a unique skill, compared to other forms of fishing. In many ways it is an art that can take a lifetime to perfect. Fly fishermen appreciate the beauty, serenity, and strategy of fishing as much a prize as the fish that they might catch along the way. I remember the first time I threw a fly in the cold, swift moving current of the Snake River at Macks Inn, Idaho. I was twelve years old. Admittedly, I struggled to cast the fly properly. The first cast, strike. With a lot of coaching from my fishing guide, Robert, I landed my first trout. Imagine your first cast with a dry fly, landing an 18-inch cutthroat trout. I was hooked.
Hesse Creek has both native and stocked trout. Joseph sat on the steps of the fishing cottage and searched through his fly cases looking for the fly that best matched the bugs that were naturally falling on the water and feeding the trout. He passed on the Adams Parachute, the most popular dry fly in the world, and the Wooly Bugger, one of my personal favorites. He ran his fingers across the many Caddis, Nymphs, and Coachmen that he had tied himself. Case after case of flies, each was a small work of art and each with a story to be told. It was as if I were walking a gallery with an artist telling me of his work.
As he was sorting through his collection of flies, he shared with me how this one case was very special. It was his father’s fly case that he first discovered as a teenager. Now, the case was filled with his handmade creations, but you could tell, it was the case itself that was important to him. Joseph is very sentimental and deeply cares about tradition and his family. His flies were merely the canvas that allowed him to tell his story.
Digging deep in his bag of fly cases, he pulled out another case and laughed. “This one’s pretty interesting,” he said. He opened it and it was filled with white flies with silver streamers. Having something of a background in trout flies I was really curious as to what a white fly would catch, as none of the flies looked anything like a natural bug or insect. “My wife,” he said. “I took her trout fishing and when we were rigging our gear I offered her one of these flies. In the case, alongside the feathered and furred streamers, was a diamond ring that I had placed there.” You see, Joseph hand tied each of these flies for this occasion. Needless to say, she said, “yes.” Kathryn and Joseph fish together often. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that if Kathryn didn’t fish, they wouldn’t be married. The life of a chef demands long hours and travel and for Joseph, fishing is what he does when he is not at work.
Joseph and I fished and took pictures for several hours. We made our way down and back up the river. We waded along the rocky bottom and cast our flies between and under the overhanging limbs that framed the shoreline. I was looking for shadows, rocks, branches, and deep pools with swirling water as these are likely hiding places for trout. Joseph, who has fished this stretch of river hundreds of times, was focused on his fly and its presentation. His concentration was not to be broken. His casts precise. His retrieval deliberate.
A routine morning of trout fishing netted Joseph many nice trout ranging in size from 16 to 20 inches. For Joseph, the weather, temperature, water level, all the things that most fisherman would use as excuses for not catching fish, are nothing more than the conditions to be met. His expectations are high. Today was not a failure but also not up to his expectations.
Wading up river, I placed my camera on a tripod and set it to remote control. I wanted to capture a few pictures of the two of us fishing. I was able to catch my share of 16, 18, and even a 20 inch trout.
We were wading the river and nearing the fishing cottage when I noticed a large shadow thirty feet in front of us, nested on the edge of a large submerged rock. The shadow was motionless, except for its tail, that gave it away. I motioned to Joseph and he caught site of the prey through his polarized glasses. It was much larger than the other trout we had seen that day. He calmly settled in and said, “ I can get him.” He had to drop the fly just past the trout to break water to get its attention and allow the fly to drift close enough to either agitate or invite a strike. I was glad I set the camera to remote control.
All morning I witnessed Joseph’s expertise in laying a fly on the precise target, however, this was a Babe Ruth moment; pointing to center field and calling a home run. His first cast was three feet past the shadow and in the current. The fly drifted towards the trout as Joseph maintained tension on the line. The strike! With a snap, the hook is set and the fight begins. The fly rod was bent under the strain as the trout made it’s way down stream seeking the safety of deeper water. Joseph threaded the line through his fingers to keep it taunt. The trout jumps, twisting in an attempt to release the fly. Rod tip up. The fish pulls to no avail. One last burst to break the bond, but weakened, the trout submits and Joseph lands and gently cradles the fish.
You can purchase this song (River – Glee Cast Edition) on iTunes or Amazon.
Twenty-four inches! This is a prize, but a prize to be returned to the river to fight another day. With the care of a surgeon, Joseph removes the hook and moves the fish back and forth in the water to provide oxygen to its weakened body and ensure it can safely return to its habitat. With that catch, expectations for the day had been met as evidenced by the big smile on his face as he released the trout.
With a thank you for a wonderful day of fishing and companionship, we returned to the cottage where we stored the gear for the next guest to test the waters. Somehow, I think that particular trout will be waiting, and this time, with more experience, ready for the challenge.
We walked back to the restaurant and shared our stories of the day’s catch with the other chefs in the kitchen at The Barn at Blackberry Farm. For me, a 24-inch trout is a trophy and the idea that Lenn called the catch was really remarkable. What I learned was that Joseph’s fishing prowess is well known and not to be underestimated. With that I dubbed him “Trout Slayer.” I actually think he liked the moniker.
In the kitchen, we sorted through the fresh deliveries that were arriving through the back door. I asked Joseph, what is your favorite dish to prepare. With no hesitation, he said “trout.” Chef Lenn has provided a recipe for his favorite preparation of trout to share with our readers.
I want to thank Chef Lenn for a memorable experience. Next time, I’m bringing my own gear, and we’re heading out to his special spot by the, oh, I’m not supposed to tell.
Below, is the recipe for Trout with Buttermilk Consommé. In his own words, here is the inspiration for the recipe.
This dish was inspired by Hesse Creek, which runs through the property. Each ingredient can be found or represented by something in the creek, except the radishes. When I was conceptualizing the dish, I was thinking about what the broth was going to be and thought that the buttermilk consommé would be a good fit. The acidity in the broth was a great match for the trout and the story works to describe the dish.
The consommé represents the clear water going through the creek. Watercress can be found in different areas along the shoreline and lastly, the radish added an extra spice, but we added a funny story to that. Even though the creek is fly fishing only, I was telling Jeff Ross, our Garden Manager, the story and he brought me some radishes and said, “Use these, they look like a “bobber radish.” I laughed so hard and said I’m using that as part of the story of the dish.
Thank you to Mr. B and Joseph for this lovely article. While they were fishing, I was enjoying the scenery from the chairs on the terrace at the Main House and lunch on the patio at Blackberry Farm.
Make the buttermilk consommé the day before serving the dish to allow enough time to chill, freeze, and then thaw in the refrigerator. I did one final straining through a damp kitchen towel to get the consomme perfectly clear. The rest of the dish is very simple to prepare and makes a beautiful presentation. We really enjoyed the unique flavors of the trout and buttermilk consommé together. It was a very light dish, which was refreshing.
Sunburst Trout Farm is situated in the shadows of Cold Creek Mountain in Canton, North Carolina. Their fish is farm-raised in raceways with waters that are fed into Lake Logan from the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in the Pisgah National Forest. Their trout are firm fish with a pinkish tint. It is very different from other wild-caught trout and is outstanding. You can order their trout which is harvested four days a week and packed immediately and shipped. You can also find their trout in some markets in North Carolina.
I was able to find Cruze Farm Buttermilk in Atlanta. Star Provisions just started to carry their buttermilk. If you are in the Knoxville, Tennessee area, you will probably be familiar with Cruze Farm. If you cannot find Cruze Farm Buttermilk, any good buttermilk will work for the consommé.
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Sunburst Rainbow Trout with Cruze Farm Buttermilk Consommé, Watercress and Shaved Radishes
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 24 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 24 hours, 15 minutes
You will need to allow at least one day to prepare the buttermilk consommé. The mixture needs to freeze and then thaw in the refrigerator. I strained the consommé through a damp kitchen towel to ensure that it was completely clear. Once you have made the consommé, preparing the fish and plating the dish takes just minutes.
For the buttermilk consommé:
1/2 Gallon buttermilk
3 1/2 sheets gelatin (bloomed) * I used gold sheets
5 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
5 parsley stems
For the trout and plating:
2 Sunburst Trout Fillets (7-9 ounces) each cut in half
2 Tablespoons Canola oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 bunch watercress (washed and tough stems removed)
1/2 Cup radishes (shaved on mandolin)
For the buttermilk consommé:
1. In a medium sauce pan, bring buttermilk and herbs to a simmer. Once curd forms, turn heat off and allow herbs to steep for 15 minutes.
2. Next, strain the buttermilk into a bowl, and then fold in the bloomed gelatin. Freeze the buttermilk in the bowl.
3. Remove bowl once buttermilk is frozen and remove frozen buttermilk. Place frozen buttermilk in a cheesecloth lined colander with another bowl under to catch buttermilk as it thaws. Place in refrigerator and reserve thawed buttermilk.
For the trout and plating:
1. In a cast Iron skillet, over medium high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Place seasoned trout fillets skin side down in the skillet. Cook until skin is golden and crispy, turn fish and continue to cook on flesh side.
2. In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, bring reserved buttermilk to a simmer. Season the broth with salt.
3.Divide buttermilk consommé into four bowls. Place fish in bowl with consommé, and garnish with watercress and radishes.
Executive Chef Joseph Lenn
The Barn at Blackberry Farm