A Famed Foodie Destination Replaces Gluttony With Wellness
(Bloomberg) -- At the celebrated luxury resort Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., a jar of pimento cheese welcomes each arriving guest. The next morning, that guest can order a breakfast with one or all of the following: biscuits with foothills sausage gravy, grits with bacon jam and lemon poppy seed griddle cakes with pecan butter and spiced maple syrup.
There are no plans for biscuits at Blackberry Mountain, located 8 miles from Blackberry Farm on 5,200 acres of pristine land in the Great Smokey Mountains. The focus of the new sister property, slated to open in Feb. 2019, is wellness. Owner Mary Celeste Beall anticipates that some guests will hike from check in to the Watchman cabins at the top of the mountain, a 1.5 mile uphill trail. When they arrive at the mountain’s peak, they’re more likely to be greeted with black eyed pea hummus than pimento cheese.
Blackberry Mountain’s healthful point of view taps a wellness tourism segment that grew from $563 billion in 2015 to $639 billion in 2017, a 6.5 percent increase, according to the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute. (The global wellness industry was a $4.2 trillion business in 2017 according to the institute). It represents a major bet from a property who are renowned for their over-the-top Southern hospitality.
“We have seen healthier diets at Blackberry Farm,” says Food and Beverage Director Andy Chabot, who heads up James Beard-winning team. “People are building vacations around events, that might or might not involve a race jersey. They love great food and wine but want to feel good, too.” He adds: “But believe me, we’re not talking roots and berries.”
Programs at Blackberry Mountain will emphasize the terrain. Activities include plenty of mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and trail running as well as aerial yoga on a mountaintop platform, 2,843 feet up.
“It’s like your own private national park,” says Chabot. It’s also a destination for non-elite athletes. “The rooms’ soaking tubs have great views,” says Beall. Likewise, while the cuisine emphasizes local protein, vegetables, and grains, there’s always the option of indulgence. “There are caviar and chips,” says Chabot. “For guests who ask for it, the answer is always ‘Yes.’ ”
Breakfast Bowls and Beyond
In the all-day dining room, Firetower, in addition to the 360-degree lookout above the restaurant, there’s a view from almost every one of its 72 seats—and a lot of bowls, starting at breakfast. Chef Joel Werner’s menu will feature dishes such as sweet potato hash with fried eggs and avocado drizzled with a fermented hot sauce made with Aleppo peppers from the garden. There’ll also be quinoa granola paired with oatmeal and citrus.
At lunch, he’ll offer a curried lentil rice bowl with cashews in addition to fresh vegetables and crisps to accompany that black-eyed pea hummus. Werner will make flatbreads a Firetower specialty, topped with seasonal ingredients, such as asparagus and spring mushrooms, or tomato and fresh cheese with housemade salami.
A Protein-Heavy Definition of Wellness
The property’s flagship restaurant, Three Sisters, is located midway up the mountain, along with the spa and pool. The dining room’s picture windows overlook the mountains with prime seats on the porch.
Chef Josh Feathers, a Blackberry Farm alum, is emphasizing the game and fish that’s abundant on the mountain. He’s offering pumpkin a la plancha (i.e. grilled), served with walnut butter, to start as well as a foragers salad with onion vinaigrette. Feathers is excited about the local trout: among his preparations are whole-roasted with herbed lemon and pan-roasted with marinated crawfish. A house specialty is venison with a coffee-molasses rub that was created by the late owner Sam Beall.
“It’s a protein-heavy definition of wellness,” says Feathers. He is making a burger, of course, available at the adjacent Whippoorwill Lounge and at the pool.
A 10,000-bottle wine cellar will focus on small producers and sustainable wines, as well as a few bottles from big names such as Chave and Gaja. Up at the Firetower bar, there will be a focus on clear spirits.
“Because you know, that’s what’s right for daytime drinking,” says Chabot. He’s also put together a wide selection of Rip Van Winkle bourbon and lager and saison from the Blackberry Farm Brewery.
Blackberry Mountain will also take advantage of the terroir by offering camping excursions at Chestnut Flats, an overnight shelter near water cascades a few hours hike away. There are cots, a fireplace, a large dining table, fire pit, horseshoes, and darts with additional staff available to set up trailside bocce ball courts. Live-fire dinners and breakfast, will all be catered by Feathers.
The Blackberry Mountain property will offer different classes of cabins, from six Watchman cabins to 18 single-unit stone cabins, with amenities such as fire pits, as well as five multi-room homes. Rates start at $895 a night.
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