New and “innovative” trends in food and dining often have deep roots in traditional cooking, Chef Philip Donall says as he explains recent menu changes and additions at Tierney’s Cavern restaurant inside the lodge at Carter Caves State Resort Park.“I grew up cooking beside my grandma – baking cakes and making chicken and dumplings, just like everybody else,” Donnal said, explaining his lifelong appreciation of distinctly Appalachia flavors and recipe variations.
Born, raised and educated in nearby Barboursville, West Virginia, Donall said his initial interest in food came from his love of science. After earning degrees from the Culinary Institute of America, he was given externships in Naples, Florida to provide experience in an array of foods and cooking styles.
He smiles as he confesses a years-long obsession with locally-sourced foods and modern dining concepts including “farm to table.” He explains he would rather adapt a menu to the offerings of local farms and seasonal produce than to have the same meal choices 12 months a year.
When he began selecting sources for the buffet at Carter Caves, Donall said he asked for as many “Kentucky Proud” options as he could get.
Grinning, he says his food service agent then provided 56 pages worth of goods grown and crafted in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
For the upcoming “Call of the Wild” dinner, Carter Caves State Resort Park’s new chef said his goal is “showcasing cuts people do not usually get a chance” to taste.
“Alligator, for example, is one many have not tried,” he said, later describing the meat’s flavor as “almost a combination of the big three” with a notable nod toward chicken. The evening’s bison will be minimally seasoned to allow diners to enjoy the meat’s natural flavor and texture.
Adding to the evening’s attraction, Donall said he will use the locally-familiar taste of venison in an unexpected form – Cottage Pie. “I want to bring the local tastes as people are used to seeing, “but also with a twist to them.”
The “Call of the Wild” menu includes roasted root vegetables including purple carrots, quinoa, selections from the “second pick” of the season’s peaches, paired with options including Elk Rib Crown (served in medallion form), Duck prosciutto and Wild Boar.
Chef Donall was quick to say the talent of the staff at Carter Caves have allowed him to implement many changes in a short period of time.
“My staff is amazing. They see the direction I want to go with ‘fresh and local’ and the slow addition of new things. I am so lucky to have a staff like this.”
When he is not in the kitchen, Donall said he enjoys hiking, playing guitar and golf, as well as canoeing with his son, Ayden. Again smiling, he notes he visited Carter Caves “probably 50 times” as a teenager.
“And now I have the opportunity to help them build something new. It is amazing,” he said.
The “Call of the Wild” buffet will be open from 5 to 8 p.m., July 26 with a price of $8.95 for children between 6 and 12, and $18.95 for adults.
For more information, call (606)286-4411.