A mountain getaway is always in season, and Half-Mile Farm in Highlands rules as one of my favorite places to stay in western North Carolina. Sister property (along with several others) to the Old Edwards Inn, which began as a boarding house in 1878, Half-Mile Farm dates back to 1882 when it was a private farm. Its myriad modern charms include the farm’s setting amid green lawns rimmed by rhododendrons and mountain laurel, placid Apple Lake for canoeing, and the comfy parlor where settling in with a good book and a glass of wine in front of a crackling wood fire is de rigueur in winter.
And that’s not to mention the recent renovations that added 12 spacious rooms and a spa suite to the existing accommodations, as well as a lovely window-walled dining room, a cozy bar, and the stand-alone Garden Room for gathering or lounging. A rustic-chic lair to bunk in any time of year, Half-Mile Farm ratchets up its appeal during the Chefs in the House weekends.
Unfurling a Southern theme, the series of dinners, which premiered in January, recruits chefs from across the South to come design a five-course menu on a Saturday evening in concert with Chris Huerta, executive chef for the Old Edwards properties. “Chefs in the House is our way of providing a more up-close and personal experience for guests,” says Jack Austin, the general manager of Old Edwards Hospitality Group. “Participants at these dinners have the opportunity to rub elbows with renowned chefs and vintners—that’s what makes them special.”
I was fortunate enough to attend the February dinner, crafted by Michael Wilson, executive chef of Domenica in New Orleans, which spotlights Italian cuisine. Wilson’s menu for the evening straddled the line between Italian and Southern. “I was trying to bring a little bit of New Orleans up to North Carolina,” the chef says. “I try and cook Italian food like Italians do; they cook with what they have. So I try to paint a picture of where we are in southern Louisiana and use those ingredients as my palette to paint within the framework of the Italian repertoire.”
While the dishes were rooted in Italy, Wilson took delectable liberty in adding Southern twists. There were fried gulf oysters atop green-tomato salsa verde, and Wagyu short ribs with black-eyed-pea gremolata. “I’ve found an interesting voice by combining Southern and Italian cuisines,” notes the chef, who puts his plates in the context of a musical arrangement. “Who’s the lead singer? What’s the focal point of the arrangement? And what are the supporting players that come in and help to elevate and give depth and character to that element I’m trying to feature?” Wines echoed the Italian refrain, expertly paired by Advanced Sommelier Nick Demos.
Kevin Gillespie, of Revival in Atlanta, will take the culinary stage on April 26. After that, the dinner series takes a hiatus for the summer and resumes again for three months in the fall, beginning in September with an oyster roast featuring Virginia’s White Stone Oyster Company. Any of these events will make a delicious introduction to the enchantments of Half-Mile Farm.
Half-Mile Farm, 214 Half-Mile Dr, Highlands, NC; (828) 787-2620, halfmilefarm.com/chefsinthehouse