Game on for Gamekeeper chef
If you'd asked him 30 years ago, Gamekeeper chef and 2010 Fire on the Rock Challenge champ Sam Beasley would never have said he'd still be cooking, much less alongside an esteemed chef like Biltmore's Rick Boyer.
"It was a matter of convenience at first, probably, to tell you the truth," he laughed.
The real reason he stepped into that kitchen for the first time? Snowboarding.
"I was a snowboarder," he said, "so it was a good means for me to travel around the country and get a job anywhere at a resort."
Snowboarding soon, however, took second slope to culinary passion as he started working in fine dining restaurants.
"I guess it's my love of eating, my love of smelling the food," Beasley said. "I realized I could actually make a living out of it."
There's a reason it comes naturally. "I think it's in my blood," he said.
With relatives in Georgia whose "lifestyle involves food" and hunting, Beasley found the perfect home in the Gamekeeper, which specializes in game and local produce. "It's just easy to pair me with the Gamekeeper," he said.
And, after working there on and off since 2005, it looks like he's found his culinary home.
It's the versatility of working with a wide variety of ingredients that pushed him ahead last year, and he hopes this year's competition will work out the same way.
In the meantime, he's mentally prepping for an exhibition dinner alongside WNC Food Challenge champ Boyer of the Biltmore. And, if you're planning to attend, here are a few hints about Beasley's technique.
"I like to go a little crazy with the food," he said.
Think comfort foods with a little twist. "I think if you're going to get crazy with the food, there's something you like about it, and people can identify with it," he said.
A favorite? Signature ethnic dishes. And he's always coming up with new favorites.
"Cooking is just something that you're never going to learn all you know about it," Beasley said. "There's always going to be more."
His win last year was, in part, due to his experience at late vegan restaurant The Mothership.
When the mystery ingredient came up as vegetables, he knew he had the edge and can't wait to cook in this year's challenges. While he admits he'll be nervous when the competition starts up again, he's not feeling the heat from the exhibition.
"I'm just honored to be able to cook beside the chef from the Biltmore House," he said.
Beasley and Boyer face off in the first ever Winterfest Fire on the Rock Cooking Exhibition Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 each, plus beverage and tax, and are expected to sell out. Call Crippen's Country Inn at (828) 295-3487 to make reservations. The competition itself culminates with the Wine Festival. For more information, check out fireontherock.com.
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