Small Bites: Changes on the horizon

Welcome back: Chef Duane Fernandes is up to his old tricks at Horizons — and that’s a good thing. Photo by Max Cooper
Welcome back: Chef Duane Fernandes is up to his old tricks at Horizons — and that’s a good thing. Photo by Max Cooper

Duane Fernandes has returned to Horizons at the Grove Park Inn after departing to helm the food program of a South Carolina resort just four months ago. Why the quick return? It's as much about the new food-and-beverage program at the GPI than anything else, he says. (The Grove Park Inn, as you may already know, was purchased by KSL Capital Partners this spring.)

"There's a lot in the works," says Fernandes. "It's very, very exciting."

Fernandes attended Johnson & Wales University and graduated with an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from the The Culinary Institute of America in Charleston, S.C. Fernandes worked at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, Lemaire in Richmond, Va., and Thomas Keller's revered restaurant, Per Se in New York. So, as you can imagine, the GPI shares in the excitement over his return.

Next year, the Grove Park Inn will hit the century mark, having hosted an amazing array of notables such as Thomas Edison and a slew of presidents, including the current one (stroll the halls of the GPI to see historic letters, post cards and signed photos). Over the years, however, the place has become somewhat outdated (even as Horizons was freshening up the menu). "The way I see it, she's getting the facelift she deserves," Fernandes says.

The Grove Park Inn already feels better and morale is up among employees, says Fernandes. "Initially, everything was sort of shaken up a little bit … but now that the dust is slightly settling, everyone here is really pumped."

All employees, from the top to the bottom, had to reapply for their jobs. "I had to reapply as well," says Fernandes. "I had to cook a six-course tasting menu. I guess it went well," he laughs.

Positive changes include a further movement toward Southern, locally sourced cuisine for the Blue Ridge Dining Room. The Sunset Terrace will still maintain its steakhouse feel, and is receiving a significant renovation in both the kitchen and dining room. Horizons is also up for a complete redesign, with the project headed by a designer who's worked extensively with Gordon Ramsay's restaurants — and Madonna, too.

Horizons offers an ever-changing tasting menu for $75 (it featured a half-dozen courses including diver scallops with Maine lobster, shellfish emulsion and pea-shoot puree when Xpress visited). While that may be too much dough for everyday dining (for the non-ballers among us, at least), it's a great special-occasion value. "It's a good price point," Fernandes acknowledges. "Over half of the guests are ordering the tasting menu now, which is great," he says.

The menu also includes a number of small plates, ranging in cost from $11-$26, the most expensive features foie gras served two ways — grilled and as a crème brûlée — with a black pepper-thyme cookie and apricot jam. Entrees start at $20, or diners can really blow it out on a filet of kobe beef for $91. Oh, and locals get 20 percent off on weekdays (Tuesday through Thursday).

And the visiting chefs dinners, as in those that brought to Asheville culinary heavy hitters like Sean Brock of Husk, are coming back. The dinners will feature some high-profile celebrity chefs, Fernades says, although no one is confirmed (and the names that we’re likely to see are hush-hush — for now).

Resort-wide, the beverage program is improving too, says Fernades, noting that a “master mixologist” will train the staff for a week or two.

Suffice it to say that the new ownership group is very restaurant-oriented, with some exciting connections. [The new owners] appreciate the value of food and beverage and what it can bring to the resort. I think they want to turn Horizons into a great restaurant," Fernandes says. 

For more about Horizons, visit http://www.groveparkinn.com.

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