The Full Nelson
Over the past decade, the High Country has earned a reputation as a culinary destination for the discriminating palate.
Chef Chuck Nelson has done as much as anyone to elevate the status of fine dining restaurants in the Blowing Rock region.
Now the executive chef at the Table at Crestwood, located on Shulls Mill Road, Nelson has previously earned accolades as the chef at Storie Street Grille.
This month, he traveled to Raleigh to receive the second place award in the 2010 Best Dish in North Carolina Competition, returning to compete in the 2011 Fire on the Rock Chefs Challenge in Blowing Rock.
"For the Best Dish in North Carolina competition, I came up with a four-course dinner that emphasized locally produced foods," Nelson said.
His four-course dinner included a tomato bisque with crab and basil salad, local field greens with an almond encrusted goat cheese, grilled rib-eye steak with goat cheese whipped potatoes, and a white chocolate goat cheese cheesecake.
"The annual contest is designed to promote local farmers and food producers by using North Carolina products, such as meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces," Nelson said.
Nelson also placed third in the Best Dish in North Carolina Competition with a menu that included ice cream made from the North Carolina soft drink, Cheerwine.
When Nelson was the executive chef at Storie Street Grille, his team took first place in the inaugural Fire on the Rock event three years ago and two years ago his team finished in second place.
According to Nelson, he got his first taste of cooking by working alongside his grandmother as a young boy in Oklahoma.
"Some of my earliest memories are of being in the kitchen with her," he said. "I think that's where my passion for cooking first started."
After a four-year stint in the Air Force, Nelson enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, a cooking school in Scottsdale, Ariz., and later worked at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix, Ariz.
"I've spent the last 15 years working my way up the food chain, so to speak," Nelson said.
During his years in the Air Force, Nelson served in the Pacific region, including some time in Okinawa, Japan. He credits that time abroad with helping develop his appreciation for Eastern fare, and stated that Asia and the American Southeast inspire his dishes in equal measure.
Nelson's menu of signature dishes includes shrimp and grits with tasso gravy, a Cajun-style sauce made with spice-rubbed ham.
"A lot of what I come up with depends on what is available from the garden at that particular time of year," he said.
In May, Nelson will represent the Southeast in an international food show in Shanghai, China. "It's the largest food show in Asia," he said.
Nelson was first contacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the food show earlier this year.
"An international contact from Asia wants me to come and cook for her and a party of about 30 people," Nelson said. "The event will include the governor of the city and other dignitaries."
Nelson will fly to Asia on May 16 and return to the States on May 24.
Currently, Nelson is in the process of revamping the menu at the Table at Crestwood.
"The new menu is going to have more bistro-style fare," he said. "It won't be quite as formal as it is right now. We're putting burgers and sandwiches on the menu. The price point will be slightly lower than it is now, with new fish and steak dishes.
"But as always, the emphasis is going to be on fresh and local products to appeal to more people. We'll have a little bit of everything."
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