King of the Mountain
By Hope S. Philbrick
One of the Southeast’s favorite chefs returned to the region in 2009 after spending time in Ohio as Executive Chef of the Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden, Inc. Chef Johannes Klapdohr, whose resume includes stints at Nikolai’s Roof in Atlanta and The Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia, is now heading up the culinary program at the Old Edwards Inn and Spa in the mountain town of Highlands, North Carolina. The German native, born into a family with four generations of hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs, has worked in the hospitality industry for over 25 years.
What are some North Carolina food products that excite you and weren’t available on the Georgia Coast?
It’s springtime now in the mountains and we have some wonderful morel mushrooms, chanterelles, stinging nettles, wild watercress, ramps, fiddlehead ferns—all of which were not available on Sea Island.
What’s your goal with the menus at Old Edwards Inn and Spa?
Honest food. I think there’s so much confusion with molecular food and all different kinds of directions. The most important thing is to prepare products with care to keep their nutritional value. Food can be flavorful and also healthy at the same time. I call this honest food.
How do you balance customers’ expectations of fine dining with health goals?
I think the guests don’t know the food they’re eating is healthy; we don’t advertise that too strongly on the menu. It’s really how items are prepared: We cook sous-vide, use lower temperatures, prep with a lot of care and also research where the product is grown. We’re growing our own produce and also working very closely with farmers so vegetables are freshly harvested with the highest possible nutritional value—research is the first step to having excellent food. There are no growth hormones or antibiotics in our meats. I think nutritional value is something that has been underrated in our culture for a very long time and it’s something we need to pursue more strongly with the public, chefs and farmers working together.
How do you deliver value without sacrificing quality?
Product research and creativity is the best way for chefs to deal with food cost. It’s a challenge. We look at more economical cuts of meat and how to use everything (we buy whole pigs), how to prepare products differently and buy products in season. We give farmers an estimate of what we need so they can grow the right amounts; that way they have a guarantee and don’t have to calculate product loss into price.
What’s changed since you first joined Old Edwards in 2009?
We have our own vegetables on the menu. We have a two-acre farm and I think that’s exciting. We grow lettuce, radishes, root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, melons and more—we’ll be adding herbs. I’d been buying lettuce from Dave Taylor and now he’s our head farmer—he and his wife still run their own farm; he also heads ours. It’s been a huge success—last year we grew 500 pounds of Fingerling potatoes! We continue to also buy from farms in Georgia and North Carolina. My dream is to provide all of our own vegetables, but we start slowly. We are supplying most salads and vegetables in Madison’s Restaurant.
Being an executive chef is a lot of work. Why also start a farm?
We wanted to be in charge of the quality of our produce. And also wanted to make sure the education part is covered—we aren’t so much offering seminars yet, but I envision garden tours for guests and also using the farm as an education tool for our chefs, employees and guests. If you can see what’s possible it will change your mind faster.
A lot of exciting things are happening and the food industry is changing. As one example, when more chefs ask for organic milk then suppliers like Sysco start to carry it and then as more chefs buy it that helps bring down the price. We are making a serious effort every year to move on and do the right thing. Food is the single most important thing in our lives and yet we spend a small amount of our income on it and the least amount of time. Our ancestors did nothing but think about and source food! It’s about choices. People need to stop talking about health and walk the talk.
Do you enjoy being a chef?
I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was a child. As a chef you have the great opportunity to reach a lot of people and you can’t lie through food. I wake up in the morning and I want to go to work because I love it.
Old Edwards Inn and Spa
445 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
-Photo Courtesy Old Edwards Inn and Spa