Chef Russell Hays
Chef Russell began his career almost thirty years ago at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris, France. After leaving this Three Star Michelin icon, he went on to work for the Ritz Carlton, St Regis and Loews hotels. He was on the opening team of two Ritz Carltons and several restaurants from Arizona to Georgia and Florida. In Atlanta he worked at JOEL, Trois, The Spence. Linton Hopkins chose him to run Eugene Kitchen and work with Delta to provide the menu for First Class customers flying to Europe. He was also an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu. His latest projects include in home instruction, culinary tours abroad and multimedia culinary concepts in development. Currently he is writing a collection of culinary travel stories from his trips around the world. As always he continues to consult for hotels, restaurants and resorts.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404.906.1835 or instagram russellhays1
All food and photography by Russell Hays
Nov 8th 2015 L’Hotel Barberieri
Sometimes the perks of being a Chef feel few and far between. We ruin our bodies working 15 hrs a day, we commonly eat standing up out of 1 quart deli containers or sitting on milk crates. We work every weekend night and holiday. We tattoo our flesh with hot oil and cut our fingers. Chefs are the modern-day freak show, traveling circus of misfits. But once in a while something special drops in our lap.
I had just joined on to open Storico Fresco in Buckhead, GA. After a few weeks of getting acclimated in the original location and I got the offer to go to Italy with Mike one of the owners. We would fly to Rome and pick up Leonardo our local guide extraordinaire. Mike had let Leonardo know what we wanted to see and do, and he had made all the plans for us. We landed in Rome got in the silver Peugeot two door rental and we would not be back for a week.
Adele “Hello” was on constant rotation during the cross-country trek. I found it hauntingly beautiful as I sat in the passenger seat looking out the window. I remembered that Lamborghini started out as a tractor company and Mr. Lamborghini got so mad at the clutch going out in his Ferrari that he got into the supercar game.
All of our visits were calling on artisan businesses. We had meetings with olive oil producers, lentil farmers, truffle wholesalers and Callipo tuna to name a few. One small town to the next. The Peugeot was a 1.5-liter turbo diesel. It had personality; it did not have leg room. The Calabrian coast was our turn around point.
We met dozens of people on the trip. Everyone was happy to meet Chefs from the U.S. who were opening an Italian restaurant and market back home. Leonardo translated and they were free with their smiles and information. People love to talk about food. I love that moment when people know you get it, when they expose themselves to a common interest. When I watched a man butcher a whole hog with a 2” knife in 10 minutes for Porchetta I was amazed. It showed, he saw, and I think he was proud of himself. He should have been. His white lab coat was still clean when he was done. He told me to go outside at the back of the parking lot and pick some wild fennel. It was the base of the puree rubbed in the pork. He put in liberal amounts of garlic, salt and pepper and finally olive oil. He was not shy seasoning the pork. They had the number one Porchetta food truck in a town of many.
After several small towns and many amazing locals, we stopped in Altamonte at L’hotel Barberieri. This would quickly become the epicenter of what we were there for. A winding groomed driveway of huge pavers lead to the front drive of the fifty-room luxury family owned hotel. But that was just the beginning. The hotel was about two hundred feet above the valley floor. Large white limestone blocks made up the first floor and the front doors were dark green but had huge glass. The lobby was very small, efficient. It had lots of duces or tables for two to hang out and talk and have a drink. Most of the floors were stone also and the walls were cream colored and the whole lobby was splashed with late afternoon sun. Make sure you get a seat with your back to the door. At dinner that night we would meet the man behind this operation. Enzo Barbieri. His logo was a simple pen drawing of his face with half of it cut out vertically down the middle. That was enough. We held court in any part of the property. His look reminded me of Dale Chihuly minus the eye patch. Enzo had deep wrinkles across his forehead, wiry curly hair and hand that were forged from hard labor. He was unable to speak without using his hands. Like Enzo Ferrari this Enzo had passion in his dna. Passion for food and cooking instead of cars. He was very kind to take myself and Mike on a tour of the entire property. Nothing was very high tech, but everything was thought out fully. That part reminded me of Thomas Keller and his garden outside The French Laundry. It was strategic. Have excellence around you.
Besides the hotel there was a cooking school, a cantina farther up the hill, a garden, a farm, horses and rabbits, a production kitchen for curing and canning. As we walked through the orchard, he pulled out a pocketknife and cut off fruit for us to try. Of course, he had a knife. Of course, the fruit was ripe and warm from the late afternoon sun. Of course, it was delicious. He would walk around with an ease that only comes from knowing what you want to do every day. Rabbit sounded good for the menu, so he built a rabbit pin. Figs for dessert, plant fig trees. Grandkids like horses? Buy horses.
What they couldn’t sell in the restaurant they would pickle, cure or can and sell in their retail shop next to the hotel. I guess this was his answer to controlling the vertical supply chain. I loved his passion and respect for what he did. Enzo was like Willy Wonka in that he wanted you to sample everything, he wanted you to love it as much as he did. I drank the cool aid.
At dinner that night he joined us and refused for us to order from the menu. Another small perk for people in the business. We would have small plates and bowls. Rustic but spot on with textures and flavors. White beans stewed down with chicken stock and a torn Calabrian chili and toasted bread. Pastas made there of course with a little tomato fondue on top, a whisper of parmesan cheese. Black Focaccia made with carrot ash and back yard tomatoes on top. Stewed rabbit legs with artichokes and tomato. A simple salad of shaved trumpet mushrooms arugula and a lemon vinaigrette. Charcuterie, cheese, bread. And on and on. Perks don’t suck.
The next day we met his daughter and son who run the hotel while dad is off playing brand ambassador. I would imagine it would be hard to match his level of enthusiasm on a daily basis.
Part of being a Chef is of course buying food. People try to tell you why their food is so good so you will buy it. Try this smoked salmon, try this cheese. Sometimes it feels like I am in the middle of buying a used car. It is very rare to walk around with an owner with no agenda. No sales pitch and nothing to sell. He just walks around with that old brown folding pocketknife and says, “here try a piece you will love it.”