Cooking and Plating Techniques with Executive Chef Colin Bedford at Fearrington House Inn – Pittsboro, NC
The first bite is always with the eyes. ~ Unknown
In our fast-paced world that now favors casual dining, the vast majority of home cooks, and even many restaurant chefs, have abandoned the arduous task of creating dishes with layers of flavors that excite all of our senses; innovative dishes that are visually appealing and complex in taste and technique.
When we have the opportunity to dine where chefs focus on the ingredients as well as technique, we are elated. We understand the time and the talent that it takes to create extraordinary meals.
One of these chefs is Colin Bedford, Executive Chef of Fearrington House Inn, an award winning Relais & Chateaux property in Pittsboro, NC. We first met Chef Bedford in August 2011, when we attended one of his culinary classes at Fearrington House Restaurant. Bedford made quite an impression on us. Of course, his six foot six inch frame and English accent would make a lasting impression on anyone. It was, however, his personality, memorable food, and inspiring cooking techniques that caused us to stay in touch with him over the past year.
We were thrilled to learn that Chef Bedford’s culinary excellence was recognized, just this past week, at the International Relais & Chateaux congress in Italy. Chef Bedford has been awarded the title of Grand Chef, the top culinary accolade affiliated with Relais & Chateaux. Chef Bedford joins an elite group of approximately 160 chefs from around the world and just 21 in the United States.
Other Grand Chefs in the U.S. who you might recognize are: Thomas Keller of Napa Valley; Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten of New York; and Gary Danko of San Francisco. They are legendary chefs. And now, Colin Bedford has been added to this list. The only other Grand Chef in the Southeast is Joseph Lenn, Executive Chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. This recognition is truly an honor.
An evening of dining at Fearrington House Restaurant is an exceptional experience. Fearrington House has the distinction of receiving both the AAA Five Diamond Award (1996 – present) and Forbes Four Star Award (2000 – present). They have also been the recipient of Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence (2004 – present). In addition to superb food and wine, their service and staff at the restaurant are outstanding.
We recently returned to Pittsboro, NC to speak with Chef Bedford about his vision and inspiration for the dishes he creates. The menus at Fearrington House Restaurant change seasonally. Once Bedford writes the new menu, he and his culinary team take a full day to prepare every dish on the menu. The entire staff tastes each dish; from the chefs to Sommelier to the waitstaff. Bedford said the first few weeks of the new menu take some time to adjust to, but everyone then gets in a groove in the kitchen. With another season comes new inspiration followed by a new menu. Everyone is ready for the excitement of the change in seasons. While he told us that chefs are “creatures of habit,” they also get bored.
“Your name is on everything, “ Bedford said. “I judge myself as a manager when I’m not here, however, you have to dial back and let it go. The two Toms (Executive Sous Chef Tom Whitaker and Sous Chef Thomas Card) are fantastic. We have built a real cohesiveness. You are only as good as the staff you have around you.” And that staff is excellent. We had dinner at the restaurant the evening before we recorded the video with Chef Bedford. He was on a plane returning home from vacation and the “two Toms” were in the kitchen. Dinner was absolutely spot on and you would never know Chef Bedford was out of town. That kind of consistency is critical to the success of a chef and his restaurant.
Proper cooking techniques, sourcing the best ingredients, uniqueness, and innovative plating are important elements of each and every dish that is on the menu at Fearrington House. We asked Chef Bedford to show us some of the techniques he uses and teaches in his kitchen that have elevated him to Grand Chef status. I have already incorporated many of the tips and cooking suggestions I learned from Chef Bedford in our culinary class in my own preparations at home.
“Chefs are very visual. It is difficult to create from a blank canvas, but if you have all of these beautiful ingredients and colors you can begin to build a dish. If you have decent product to start with, you are halfway there.” His plating techniques are like a work of art and the combination of tastes and textures playful.
In this video, Chef Bedford shows us how to prepare Seared Duck and Fois Gras with Pickled Blackberry Sauce. This is an impressive dish that is ideal for fall entertaining. I love the colors and the rich flavors he incorporates. You could replicate this recipe in your own kitchen if you prepare some of the ingredients ahead and follow the step-by-step instructions for plating the final dish. If you do not want to include the fois gras, the dish would still be excellent with just the seared duck breast, vegetables, and sauce.
Watch the techniques (preparation and plating in particular) and think about how you can apply them to dishes you prepare for your family and when entertaining guests. Take a few minutes to think through the flavors, colors, textures, and presentation of your food. Cooking and eating great food should excite all of the senses, but remember, the first bite is always with the eyes.
Chef Bedford has shared his recipe for Pickled Blackberry Sauce. With the holidays quickly approaching, you might want to prepare a jar of this sauce to serve while entertaining this season. The sauce would be a nice accompaniment to roast turkey, grilled or pan seared chicken or pork, as well as the duck.
We are currently in the planning stages of doing a culinary class with Chef Bedford as part of our On The Road culinary adventures. Stay tuned!
* Disclosure – Fearrington House Inn provided a media package for our visit. I was not asked to write any articles about my stay and have in no way been compensated. The opinions expressed regarding our experience are my own.
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Pickled Blackberry Sauce
Yield: 1 quart
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
1 pound Fresh Blackberries
1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Red Wine
1/2 cup Port
1/2 cup Raspberry Vinegar
1/2 cup Sherry Vinegar
2 Shallots, rough chopped
1 teaspoon Mustard Seeds
1 Garlic Clove
4 Thyme Sprigs
1 Large Mason Jar
1. Place washed blackberries in a sterilized mason jar. Have a saucepan ready to preserve jar that will cover the top of the jar with water. Have either a screen or rack in the bottom of the pan so the jar does not directly sit on the bottom of the pan.
2. Then combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Allow to sit for 30 minutes then strain. Reboil pickling mixture and pour over blackberries.
3. Hand tighten the lid then turn back a quarter turn. Submerge in the simmering water for 10 minutes. After ten minutes remove and I like to turn the jar upside down to help with the sealing process. * Once the jar is cold if you press the top of the jar and there is some movement and a clicking noise then the jar has not sealed, so you will need to reprocess the jar.
Executive Chef Colin Bedford
Fearrington House Inn