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trust the spirit


keeping house

my knees are bent, with my caps pressed hard into the tiled shower floor.  an unnatural Gatorade-blue mist is raining on my exposed hands and forearms and the choke of ammonia is scratching at the back of my nose and throat.  my eye itches, and had this been any other day I would scratch it, but just moments ago I took a tissue around the inner rim of a toilet bowl to check for discoloration.  for the last three days I joined the housekeeping staff at blackberry farm

to me it was like farming.  it’s an incredibly hard job made up of thousands of simple tasks.  the eye for detail required to see a vine-colored pest chewing on a vine, and the eye required to see the shimmer of a single cob web in a light fixture overhead—they're identical.  pushing grime off the counter--pulling a hoe.  hunched over the bed and tugging on a sheet—hunched over the earth and tugging up potatoes. 

also like farming, the customer’s appreciation of the finished product doesn’t recognize the unsung and dirty labor that goes into it.  sure, when you buy an heirloom tomato, or lie down onto a king size feather top, you know somebody grew the food or made the bed—but you still don’t really know what that means

each cottage at blackberry farm takes nearly two hours to turn over in between guests.  every surface in the entire room is cleaned, wiped, dusted, tested, touched, tilted, and brushed.  housekeepers are tested not only on their ability to clean, but also on the quality of the job done, and the time taken to accomplish it.  two hours per cottage.  sixty two room hotel.  do the math on that and complain about cleaning the dishes. 

as her and I continue to rotate through each department at blackberry, learning and working our way through a year long apprenticeship, building towards the confidence required to tackle our own dreams in this business, we are constantly challenging ourselves to understand not only the front lines, but to think from the bird’s eye as well.  housekeeping, for example, is one of the hardest departments in the hospitality business to manage.  extremely high turnover—relatively low paying—dirty, dirty work that most people don’t want to do.  how do you motivate? 

the woman who trained me at blackberry has been a housekeeper for sixteen years—eight of them at blackberry.  she cleans toilets, dirty beds, and trash.  while some who are not initiated to the world of luxury hospitality, you might assume that guests paying large sums of money for a hotel room must be well mannered enough to keep quite clean—and you’d be wrong.  the job is inglorious, to say the least, and she loves almost every day of it.  she is prideful, and a perfectionist, and untold thousands of guests in the last sixteen years have been the unknowing beneficiaries of her hard and sometimes disgusting work. 

to her, it’s not just a bed—are you kidding me??—a two foot thick tempur-pedic mattress topped with nearly two feet of feathers, multiple layers of linens of the highest thread count, and a feathery duvet.  fluffed, and tucked, and tugged, and smoothed.  it’s a mini masterpiece, is what it is, and it’s one of the most noticeable and memorable aspects of how a guest judges their hospitality experience—a good night sleep. 

but that’s just at the bottom of the barrel.  a good night’s sleep is what Abraham maslow would call a base need.  every hotel provides a bed, and the potential to sleep.  a guest, of course, needs that.  but to take that guest from a hotel experience, to a transformative hospitality experience, requires going above and beyond those recognized needs of a guest—food and shelter—to the unrecognized needs of a guest—like feeling valued, or having their favorite snack waiting for them in their room.  and a housekeeper who loves her job is attributing to that experience as much as the executive chef in the culinary barn—it’s just nobody knows it. 

it’s the aggregate that gets em’, you see.  it’s not the mouth watering filet in the dining room, or the knowledgeable guide on the fly fishing stream, and it’s not the fleet of lexus hybrids shuttling bodies too and fro.  it’s the sum, and it’s greater.  guests leave here having felt the level of service but can’t quite put their finger on when or how.  here, they call this phenomenon the blackberry state of mind—Elsewhere, by another name with the same meaning.  each little bit and speckle of the experience should flow together from one ripple to the next until it builds a tidal wave of good feelings and genuine hospitality to wash over the guests as they tuck themselves to sleep at night full of food and drunk on wine.    

to make a long tale short:  no matter where you are in life, or what you do, take a minute to stop and appreciate the housekeeper.


a very offal christmas

this is what happens when my brother and I have a casual conversation over the phone about maybe having some sort of holiday dinner party.  what started as a good excuse to bring in our farmer/chef friend francois from the halls of athens georgia turned into a one hundred person gala, with staff and vendors totaling well over thirty people. 

new york is a crazy place, and this dinner would probably be much different had it been in any other location.  the amount of people in one singular space, such as manhattan, is an astonishing fact of modern life.  but to live in a space so void of nature, which at the same time has unparalleled access to all of the products and food stuffs of the entire planet, is an equally as confusing accomplishment. 

to celebrate sustainability, and whole animals, and small producers while surrounded by steel and concrete, is as unnatural as it is necessary.  the industrialization of this country, and of the world, has driven the biggest population shift in human history from country to city.  although the hustle and bustle of the city was too much for her and I to handle,  it does not take anything away from the sustainable and good food movement which has gone to new levels since our departure from the city. 

people in new york who seek the balance and energy of a more farm driven lifestyle have to go to creative and extreme new heights to counter the stress and the grit of city life.  what makes me the happiest, is to see the sheer number of people who are gainfully employed and emotionally fulfilled by a career whose foundation is holistically raised food. 

it’s a positive feedback loop.  it’s good for the city, it’s good for the country, and it’s good for the earth.  while this dinner might be a long distance removed from nature, it’s in line with its’ principles.    

elew rock jazz

david garibaldi arts


town house, chilhowie, va--happy new year

it’s two am, and two thousand twelve is but minutes old.  standing there in full embrace, my chest to her back, she’s engulfed by my arms.  arching backwards, with our heads titled up to the skies, her body acts as a counter weight to my backwards arch and we stand suspended in an effortless gaze at the stellar canopy overhead. 

we haven’t seen stars like this in any recent memory.  welcome to southwestern Virginia.  welcome to Chilhowie, home to about two thousand people—home of a metal scrapper that can chop two midsize vehicles into marbles in under ten seconds—and, home of town house, a tiny thimble of a restaurant on an equally as tiny main street, where the food rivals the best in the nation.     

on thirty six acres, buffered by a quickly flowing stream, her and I are spending our anniversary, as well as the new year, nestled into a two bedroom prohibition era cottage in the hills just outside Chilhowie.  the house and the restaurant are of the same husband wife duo, and the man himself was our personal chauffer when it was time to leave the cottage and head “downtown” for dinner—a most gracious host, he was. 

a several hour, multi course, extremely creative and intelligent display of artistically crafted plates composed from well sourced ingredients.  town house was described to me by more than one person as “one of the best meals in the country”, and now I would nod in agreeance.

while our future plans are to exhibit hospitality, with food service as a pillar, town house is exhibiting brilliant food, with hospitality as a supplement.  to reach the cottage one must first stop at the restaurant to pick up a key.  at the house, no steward or concierge is available, but instead, a few delicious homemade snacks, wine and water in the fridge, breakfast already prepared for the morning after, and a warm note, asking us to make ourselves at home.  an honesty bar of other local and homemade treats awaits behind a cabinet, with a pad to jot down what you take. 

left to our own devices we were instantly whisked away into the romantic solitude of the surroundings.  it wasn’t but a few moments once we had settled into our bedroom before we found ourselves beckoned by the surrounding acreage, frolicking through the fields to the stream by the tree line ahead.  a wooden swing hangs out front, almost insisting you indulge.  it was still three hours before our reservation at town house, and we were already deep into the experience. 

the meal and the cottage both were inspiring.  with just a handful of strangers, and the extremely talented staff at town house, her and I rang in the new year about as peacefully and quietly as we know how—a table, some amazing food, and drunk on wine. 

as much writing as I do about our experience, and planning for the future, it’s not nearly as often as it should be where I just press pause and verbalize how amazingly fortunate I am.  I am in love with my soul mate, and together we are pursuing our dream.  2011 was an entire lifetime for us, and I am grateful and excited for the rebirth of 2012—it’s got big shoes to fill, and I look forward to it’s lessons.  


tis the season

ihoc is shutting down for the holidays, so i wanted to take a moment to send you all much peace and love for the new year.  i am, however, traveling to two of my favorite places--puerto rico, and new york--so im sure ill have plenty of content to share if i find but the time.  

with the winter solstice approaching, we humans have reached the annual shift where nearly all things change.  the coming weeks have been important to man long before baby jesus popped out of the womb.

this is the time for slaughter, the time for preparation, and the time for gathering.  this is the time for worship, and the time to draw awareness to the interconnectedness of us all. the soil, the seas, and the stars above.  we are one.    

the lean winter months ahead will cull the weak, and reward the strong.  

in modern days we have boiled this down to just a few silly things:  material gifts, fluorescent lights, and the inevitably broken new year's resolutions. 

i urge you to reflect on much more.  

if you are already not doing what you love, regroup and take action.  you can achieve whatever you think you can achieve.  

peace, love, and blessings to you all.




new "about me" section

howdy y'all.  a bit overdue, but here is an updated "about me" section for the site.  if you have been following the story from the get-go, this might all be old hat, but for more recent guests, this will help place me in time.  hope you enjoy the story as much as we do. 

presently, her and i are based out of Maryville, Tennessee, in the rolling foothills of the great smoky mountains.  After leaving our lives in brooklyn behind, and spending the interim learning how to farm in Athens, Georgia, we are now apprenticing under the direction of the executive management at Blackberry farm—rated by travel and leisure as 2011’s number one resort in north america. 

we are searching for land in northern california, and developing plans for a farm driven hospitality, culinary, and wellness experience called be here now farm. 

Click to read more ...


cry me a turkey

listing the things I am thankful for feels a bit like a contestant on tv grabbing for dollars inside a wind tunnel.  I might grab one or three or ten of the bills swirling and flopping around by my head, but the vast majority of the winnings will be lost in the frenzy. 

as we circled the table, finishing our feast, we each took as much time as was desired to vocalize the variety of things we were individually thankful for.  as tears, and laughs, and prayers, and thanks were given around the table, an abrupt break in time was delivered by my brother’s succinct message:  “I’m thankful for grandma and grandpa, and the food.” 

that’s it?  a short silence filled the room as everyone at the table eagerly awaited the rest of his message.  and right when some chuckles and some sarcasm spiked the air to poke jest at his seemingly circumcised speech, I realized he was right (while still taking the moment to zing some sarcasm as any good kid from jersey would do). 

generations gathering around a pre-winter feast is as old as the human himself.  culture, itself, was born at such gatherings, and around such tables. 

grandparents, and grandchildren, and food.


two turkeys--one quartered and braised in homeade bacon, sausage, and root vegetables--one, rubbed with oil and garlic the night before, roasted with onions and herbs and wine.

carrot slaw with cranberries, cured gravlax, roasted sweet potatoes and a roasted garlic aioli, root vegetable salad, greens and sprouts tossed with a citrus vinegarette, and a freshly baked loaf taken from one of our old favorite's:  sullivan street bakery in manhattan.