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LAUREL FORK — Olde Mill has kicked its culinary offerings up a notch with Chef Ed Badgett heading up the kitchen.
The golf course continues adding housing and an array of amenities as it transitions to a fully fledged resort community, and the vision for the place has captivated the chef.
Not only does Badgett serve as chef and live onsite, he's taken the lead in blogging and tweeting about happenings and has even shown the new housing to clients. "I do as much as I can without sacrificing being in the kitchen."
Before he got the job in Laurel Fork, Badgett felt content working as chef at a resort in Cashiers, N.C.
He learned about the position from Olde Mill's golf pro — the two had served together at Cross Creek Country Club in Mount Airy, N.C.
At first, Badgett didn't think he'd be interested, but decided to stop in at Olde Mill the same week he came back to Mount Airy to celebrate his goddaughter's birthday.
After meeting manager Hagan Giles, Badgett found his enthusiasm for the projects at Olde Mill infectious.
With the golf pro, the tennis pro, and sous chef J.C. Botero joining him in the kitchen — plus all the enhancements going there — Badgett felt compelled to join up.
"You could just see it coming together," he said. "It's like we're putting an all-star team together."
The transition means the current 4.5-star golf course is adding more homes and activities for the residents, and the staff has asked the Golf Digest folks for a review of the recently redesigned course to try and bump that up to 5 out of 5.
The history of Olde Mill links back to 1972. A resort community was planned from the outset, but it's only been within the last few years that the effort got started in earnest.
The amenities include lessons offered by a tennis pro, a hot tub and spa, a nature walk with park-like areas, events like the BBQ for the Fourth of July and two flavors of restaurants.
One is The Tavern, featuring old favorites like beer-battered fish and chips, strip steak with red potatoes, meatloaf, grilled portabella sandwich and an Angus burger.
The other is Maples, with its offerings of fresh mountain trout, shrimp polenta, veal chop and grilled pork tenderloin covered in a cherry demi-glace with whipped sweet potatoes on the side.
Badgett has always liked working at resorts, where a chef can see the same faces more often and get to know the people better.
He cut his culinary teeth at a five-star restaurant in Greensboro, and went on to kitchens at the Green Valley Country Club with its top notch golf course in Greenville, S.C.; at Asheboro, N.C., Country Club as part of a rebuilding effort there; back to Greensboro to work with his best friend at Undercurrent, another five-star restaurant; and then to Cross Creek before moving on to Cashiers.
He's spent most of his adult life in North Carolina, and he had specific notions about Virginia food when he got here.
"When I think of Virginia I think of pork," Badgett noted, citing Smithfield hams and other examples. "I needed a spectacular pork dish if I was going to be in this area."
To him, it would be like running a restaurant in Maine and not having a killer lobster dish on the menu.
Though the Niblick's sign remains out front, changes are evident at Olde Mill in the new landscaping, the new signs, the rock accents in the construction, as well as inside The Tavern with its recently installed hand-made Amish built cabinets, showcasing the growing selection of wines that Badgett likes to pick out.
"When I came in they really had no sense of wines. I'm a wine connoisseur. I want people to choose a wine to go with the food."
He has chosen wines from all over the world, including local wines. The place has 50 bottles and labels and the list is growing.
"Before I came here, if somebody bought two bottles of wine it was a big deal."
He's pleased about the local wine selection, too. With all the vineyards in North Carolina and Virginia, he compared it to being in California's Napa Valley. "Being right here in wine country, it's very important to have that."
He even worked with Old North State Winery to blend a wine from the chef's point of view, that would go with the food he serves.
"It means a lot when people come in and see what's going on, they get really excited about it."
Badgett placed complete trust in his sous chef, who hails from Columbia and worked in resorts in Florida before coming to the mountains.
Botero decided he didn't want to be in the rat race or have his kid in the schools in the Sunshine State.
"So he blindly moves up to Southwest Virginia where his in-laws are from." Badgett said.
Botero moved here for the same reason others continue to — because of the high quality of life people can enjoy here.
They want to look across the rolling hills and hear nothing but birds chirping first thing in the morning.
Badgett looks forward to doing more in the kitchen, like being able to offer cooking classes and bringing in guest chefs.
Classes for kids would probably provide a lot of fun moments, he expects. "Just get your video camera ready."
Olde Mill remains a work in progress with some exciting developments ahead, Badgett said.
It's exciting to be passionate about something, and it's easy to be passionate about this project created by owner Norriss Mitchell. The 65 employees at Olde Mill will be able to work at a project that will sustain itself for years.
"He wanted to leave a legacy, create jobs and support families," Badgett said.
For more information about Olde Mill and goings-on there, call (276) 398-2211 or visit www.oldemill.net.