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Blackberry Farm: Cooking Demonstrations, Lexus Test Drives & Award-Winning Cuisine

In order to really get a feel for the culinary offerings of Blackberry Farm, my fantastic rep, Michael, set us up with a cooking demonstration this morning. After our incredible breakfast (we had to try the griddle cakes that landed the property on the cover of Bon Appetit – they were amazing!), we wandered over to the Barn, where the cooking demo was to be held. When we entered the room, we were surprised to see only two chairs as Chef Michael, the expert charcuterie chef on property, welcomed us to our own private lesson. We had no idea we’d have a private, 3 hour demonstration of a 3-course meal from Chef Michael – what a surprise!

Chef Michael Sullivan (or, as he’s affectionately known in the culinary scene, the Reverend of Fat) began our demonstration by sharing his own philosophy on food. “Cooking should be inspired,” he told us, explaining his love for cookbooks as instruments to spark his own creativity. He detailed how he prepares his menus – nothing too planned out, always influenced by the ingredients currently in season. His passion for cuisine was beyond evident. As he shared the menu we’d be creating today, he pointed to the fresh strawberries and said, straight faced, “It’s finally strawberry season – I’m so happy I could cry.”


Thus began our adventures with the Professor of Food, who provided us with culinary insight far beyond what I could’ve imagined, from the anatomy of cutting a Lamb Leg (he is the resident butcher, afterall) to the correct way to slice fennel (land the knife like a plane, don’t chop down repetitiously) to tips and tricks for preparing healthy, natural meals (I now know how to make my own vinaigrettes and vanilla extract – two items Michael advises to never buy from a store shelf when they are so simple to make fresh).


My mother and I were fascinated. Seriously, I could have sat at the demonstration table all day and watched Chef Michael cook and explain just about any ingredient possible. At the end of our demonstration, we discussed restaurants around the globe (I have a new arsenal of must-try restaurants to share with clients for various cities!) and Chef Michael offered to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the property, introducing us to Ryan, the man behind Blackberry’s to-die-for homemade cheese selection, as well as Jeff, the Garden Manager, and Shannon, the Preservationist. Michael explained that Jeff and Shannon both offer private cooking demonstrations to guests – Jeff’s takes place in the garden, where he showcases their freshly-grown produce, and Shannon provides more of a traditional Appalachian-style of cooking. Guests could take a class from each of these instructors and walk away with a wealth of knowledge, all different and unique to the teacher – I wish I had longer on property to do just that!

After a quick stop to see the truffle puppies (these puppies are so rare – there are only 400 in the US!), we made our way to the front desk, where we were given the keys to the property’s Lexus IS C 350 convertible. Much like the Mercedes test drive at the Four Seasons Vail, taking this beautiful car out for a spin is complimentary to guests staying on property. I can’t believe that just because I have a driver’s license, they let me behind the wheel of this car:


I’ve come to learn that when you take out a car for a test drive, about a thousand different scenarios can play out. The only scenario you really want to see happen: returning the car in one piece with no scares whatsoever after an easy two-hour drive along the winding roads of the Smoky Mountains.

Alternatively, one of the other scenarios could be that you pull your beautiful Lexus IS C 350 off to the side of one of those winding roads because you see a wonderful viewpoint of a bubbling stream. You then put your car in park, turn it off, take some photos, and hop back in. As you throw your car into reverse, it seems that the car decides instead to move forward – inching ever so closely to the hill that you have parked on, which leads only downward toward said bubbling stream.

Beautiful view – until your rented convertible is inching closer toward it…

Oh, my God. I have never felt such panic. The Lexus wasn’t working – it wasn’t working and we were on a Tennessee backroad with no cell service. And every time I tried again to put the car in reverse, it would quickly roll forward, downhill, toward impending doom.

It’s hard to tell if you’re only a reader and do not personally know me, but I have very animated facial expressions. Apparently, in this moment, my facial expressions were obviously screaming for help, so much so that the couple parked beside us got out of their car and offered their assistance. After a few minutes of pure panic, the man – an engineer by trade – informed us that our car was not cranked. Somehow, in our excitement of learning how to put the convertible top down and change the radio stations, we missed the lesson on how to start a car with a keyless ignition.

Yes, I am naturally a brunette. No, I am not proud to share this story on my blog, my mother told me I had to for the sake of a good story and lesson learned. Always learn how to start your rental cars before driving away and parking on downhill inclines toward a rocky stream. Always.


After our crisis was averted, we continued merrily on our way to Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains where we saw eleven black bears. Eleven! At every bear sighting (we saw three separate mother bears and sets of cubs – no, these were not all the same bears), tons of tourists were pulled over to the side of the road. Many of these tourists were carelessly disregarding what should be a natural instinct to not approach a wild animal, specifically one that is a predator, specifically a black bear. A few of them even had their children within feet of the black bears. These crazies made us feel comfortable driving near the bears with our convertible top down, as we all know the most efficient way to avoid a bear attack is to run faster than the other people nearby. Our Lexus could definitely handle that challenge.

Caution: please do not approach bears and ask for a photo



With all of the bear sightings, Mom was a happy camper – no pun intended. She was beside herself excited over the cubs (I was just fearful of putting our car in park again) and, when I lacked the same enthusiasm, she looked at me and said, “Just imagine that you’re back in Africa!”

This would’ve been a great argument considering all the bears I saw while in Africa…but I kind of understand her point and, after seeing her excitement, I think a trip to Africa should be next year’s Mother’s Day present.

Mama Bear & Mama Bear

This quick getaway to celebrate Mother’s Day has been above and beyond what I would’ve imagined we would experience at a property that’s such a short drive to enjoy. Blackberry Farm is a great excuse to nestle into the woods, eat some award-winning cuisine (congrats to Chef Joseph Lynn of Blackberry for winning the James Beard Award last night for Best Chef in the Southeast!), and spend some time enjoying the beauty of disconnecting from the outside world. We certainly have enjoyed just that and can’t wait to come back!

Interested in a stay at Blackberry Farm? Don’t forget: guests who book through me receive a $100 spa credit and an upgrade if available. Email info@epperlytravel.comto begin planning your own getaway to anywhere in the world!

And for your viewing enjoyment, baby bear cubs:


Lindsey Epperly

My name is Lindsey Epperly and I’m a travel consultant and owner of Epperly Travel, a national affiliate of Century Travel. I’m most passionate about building lifelong relationships with my clients and suppliers, discovering the globe in a way that makes me a better agent, and celebrating with my team when we reach a new milestone. One of our core values at Epperly Travel is to create fun and celebrate constantly – and I’m fortunate to be in a career that allows me to do just that. I’m proud to announce my recent achievements: landing a spot on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List as their Caribbean expert, being nominated for Virtuoso’s Rising Star Award and receiving a place on Jezebel Magazine’s Trailblazing Ten list.

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