By Hope S. Philbrick
Chef Adam Hayes, the award-winning North Carolina native who has served as the executive chef of Canyon Kitchen in North Carolina’s Lonesome Valley (near Cashiers) this season, has now been tapped to direct and oversee the culinary operations for the restaurant and community, including special events and weddings.
Chef Hayes won Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” in 2014. In 2013, he was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City. He was also the first place winner of the Best Dish of N.C. (Fine Dining Mountain Region) from the N.C. Department of Agriculture; 2013 Fire on the Rock Champion; Final Fire Cooking Competition; and Kessler Collection’s Rising Star Award and Leader of the Year Award.
Hayes has worked in leading restaurants and hotels for more than 15 years. His résumé includes stints at Barnsley Gardens Resort in Adairsville, Ga., the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, N.C., Quaintance-Weaver Restaurant and Hotels and Proximity Hotel, both in Greensboro, N.C. Chef Hayes began his culinary career with Harper’s Restaurant Group in Charlotte, where he worked in several of the organization’s restaurants. He earned his culinary arts degree at Guilford Technical College.
Canyon Kitchen was launched in 2008 by Chef John Fleer, one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century” by the James Beard Foundation and a three-time finalist for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast” Award. Fleer turned the reins over to Adam, saying, “The distance and time required to operate my restaurant in Asheville limited my ability to be in Cashiers as much as I wanted to be, but the talented Adam Hayes will continue the development of Canyon Kitchen into its next phase. Chef Hayes is one of the real treasures of western North Carolina, with a deep appreciation of our native larder as well as being an eager participant in tradition of innovation.”
Already fans of Canyon Kitchen, we recently revisited to check it out with Hayes now at the helm.
What is Chef Hayes’ vision for Canyon Kitchen? “I’ve got ideas,” he says. “Sometimes unrealistic.” He told Getaways for Grownups that he’d like to expand the on-site garden and eyes making the restaurant and Lonesome Valley community “more sustainable than we are.” He’d also like to utilize the large fireplace in the dining room for cooking, build a smokehouse and a root cellar, and “all kinds of crazy ideas” like expanding the chicken coop and possibly even bringing livestock onto the property.
“I’m probably a farmer at heart,” he says. “That’s probably what I’d rather do at the end of the day: work in the garden. It’s really hard work, but farming is similar to the restaurant business—the long hours, all the variables including rain and water restrictions, it’s hard to find good help sometimes….”
At Canyon Kitchen Hayes’ menu changes frequently. “I’ve changed the menu here four to five times a week,” he says. “Basically daily, that’s how you move product and make everything around the best it can be.”
It’s hard not to fall in love at first site with Canyon Kitchen: Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s framed by trees and meadows and faces a 1,000-foot granite cliff. In 2014, the restaurant was recognized with an Open Table Diners’ Choice Award for “Top 100 Scenic View Restaurants in America.” The airy dining room features light wood, metal-topped tables, a stacked-stone fireplace, massive exposed beams, and a series of barn walls that can be opened in temperate weather.
Once food and drink are presented, you’ll be swooning at every bite and sip.
On the evening of our recent visit, the four-course prix-fixe ($53 per person) menu started with a to-die-for “summer’s end” tomato pie with garden greens, pickled summer vegetables, and buttermilk ranch dressing. It’s a celebration of the season that is so flavor-perfect that you’ll practically burst into tears at the thought that the season is coming to an end.
Next up was a choice of oysters with creamed collards, bacon crumbs and hot sauce or barbecue quail with cornbread stuffing and lady pea chow chow. Whichever option you chose, you could not go wrong.
Entrée options included North Carolina hybrid striped bass with chorizo risotto; braised Fatback Pig Project pork shanks with heirloom tomato braise sauce, parsley salad and Swiss chard; and fire-roasted Painted Hills tri tip steak with Yukon potato ragout, roasted carrots, tobacco onions and truffle chimichurri. All dishes impressed, each cooked and seasoned to perfection with thoughtfully well-balanced flavors, though the pork was a personal favorite.
Dessert was a choice between caramel apple cake and biscuits and honey. The best bet is to bring along a dining companion so you can order each option—whatever they may be—and taste both.
Our advice: Get to Canyon Kitchen before the 2015 season ends and plan to visit in the Spring when it reopens.
For the 2015 season, Canyon Kitchen is open Wednesday through Sunday nights for dinner, mid-May through October 31. Check back for news on the 2016 season.
150 Lonesome Valley Road
Sapphire, NC 28774
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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