A Chef’s Table with Ali Utley of the Historic Brookstown Inn
Changes are in store for the beautiful Historic Brookstown Inn, and there is no better way to introduce folks to what is to come than by having one of our Chef’s Tables. Last week’s Triadfoodies Chef’s Table featured Chef Mary Allison Utley, who was recently brought on as chef at the Inn. Our Chef’s Table series and my podcast, “At the Table with Triadfoodies,” are all an opportunity to introduce a chef that you need to know. Chef Utley, who we know as Ali, has worked in many capacities at many iconic restaurants in Winston-Salem.
“I started out at age 14 or 15 at Rainbow News and Cafe and basically worked my way up,” she said.
Utley worked at the former Christopher’s Global Cuisine and ran the Millennium Center kitchen. Most recently, Utley was employed at Meridian Restaurant, where she was a sous chef for Chef Mark Grohman. She said she loved working at Meridian and was able to hone-in many of hers skills from working there.
“Things have changed over the last seven years or so in this industry,” Utley said. “I learned early on that I’d learn more just by watching. But now, people are much more willing to share their knowledge, and that’s how I’ve been able to grow.”
Utley is the reserved and quiet-type, so this was a big moment for her. She’s not one to go on-and-on about herself, and you can tell her passion is in the food, the experimentation and the experience. Chef Utley dazzled us with Baltic and Turkish flavors in a departure from any other Chef’s Table that we’ve had.
It’s a Greek dish (similar to spanakopita in outward appearance but stuffed with cauliflower) with Tasmanian farmer’s cheese, fava beans, spices and a tart and tangy gastrique.
Garden Salad with Pickled Vegetables
A simple salad to cleanse the palate served with beets, peppers, olives and feta cheese.
Also known as a zeppelin, for its shape. This course was a wonderfully comforting little dumpling filled with pork and potato. Rather than traditional sour brown gravy on top, the chef topped it with chardonnay butter and sautéed mushrooms. I could’ve eaten an entire plate of it.
Lamb Lollipops with Chickpea
and Apricot Tagine
The lamb rack lollipops were tender and perfectly cooked, and the chickpeas were aromatic. It felt almost stew-like but not heavy at all on a hot summer day.
Semolina Cake with Greek Yogurt,
Rose Gelee & Pistachios
A lightly sweetened cake that had almost the texture of corn meal due to the semolina. It was slightly floral with the jam, and the pop of tartness from the yogurt made for a lovely contrast of flavors. It was also topped with some pistachios to add a crunchy texture.
Utley wears many hats at the Inn; In addition to being a chef there and cooking for multiple events, breakfasts, luncheons and dinners, she’s also taken on the title of food and beverage director. On the night of our Chef’s Table, Utley had been in the kitchen since 6:30 a.m. and had serviced two other huge meals earlier that day.
That’s quite a day, and despite that, the chef took the opportunity at Brookstown because of her husband, Paul Magee, who stepped in as executive chef. He was also a part of the culinary team at our Chef’s Table. Now, the couple can spend more time together and have more time for their daughters at home outside of the busy restaurant life.
“It’s nice because we kind of have a blank slate here,” she said. “We’re revamping the menu for catering, and I will be able to try new things.”
The Brookstown Inn is known for being a revamped mill for Salem Manufacturing, one of the first mills in the south to use electric lighting. Now, it is a hotel with 70 guest rooms and conference and catering space, and its history is apparent every where you look. Many wedding receptions and parties have been held there, including special holiday, chef-driven dinners for Valentine’s Day.
But just two weeks ago, Brookstown’s Cotton Mill Lounge opened its doors in a test run of serving small plates along with a full bar of libations. Ben Weber, of American Premium Beverage, attended the Chef’s Table said, “It’s exciting what they are doing. They have a vision of becoming part of the amazing food scene here.”
We’d say the Brookstown Inn and The Cotton Mill Lounge are well on their way. Utley told us she’s looking forward to how the Brookstown Inn’s future will take shape, as she likes the challenge of trying new things. “If you’re not trying to grow, to find the next challenge or the next new thing or to learn, it’s all a waste of time.”
The Historic Brookstown Inn is available for guest suite bookings, receptions or conferences. The Cotton Mill Lounge full bar with pub fare is open Thursday through Saturday in the evenings.
Our next Chef’s Table heads to Greensboro’s Tessa Farm to Fork, where we’ll get to know Chef Caleb Smallwood a bit better and he’ll surprise us with a tasting of multiple plates. For details and tickets, check out the event on the triadfoodies Facebook page.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.