The Chef is Inn
Once a dishwasher, now he’s in charge of the kitchen
By Linda A. Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
For Chef Brian Woods of Colby Hill Inn in Henniker, the adrenaline rush is what’s attractive about his line of work.
“It’s the controlled chaos,” Woods said. “You control it. When you get really busy and you have to do a lot of things at once, it’s a rush.”
Woods has worked for innkeepers Cyndi and Mason Cobb for the past year and a half, creating what they describe as contemporary New England cuisine.
“We take traditional ingredients and give them new, updated twists,” Woods said. “I put our own little spin on the classics.”
Woods noted that in this area of New Hampshire some ingredients click and others don’t. Lobster, haddock and other seafoods are popular, as are, surprisingly, game choices such as venison, buffalo and boar. The menu changes seasonally, which “keeps it from getting old for us in the kitchen,” Woods said.
A Hopkinton native, Woods started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at the Riverview restaurant (now the Covered Bridge restaurant). He worked his way up to prep and line cook before attending the International Institute of Culinary Arts in Fall River, Mass. There he got to rub elbows with greats like Julia Child, Charlie Trotter and his personal favorite, Anthony Bourdain.
After graduation, Woods “did the chain restaurant thing” to boost his personal finances, but “it drove me crazy following a specific recipe all of the time,” he said.
Then the Cobbs gave him the chance to expand his skills. Colby Hill Inn was already well-known for excellent cuisine and an extensive wine cellar, which has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for several years. There are approximately 120 wine varieties from which to choose, from inexpensive to high-end, and many offered by the glass.
Mason Cobb is a master when it comes to paring wines with the entrees, which he notes right on the menu. He also welcomes the opportunity to answer guest questions and to make suggestions to better fit their tastes.
Besides the nightly dinner offerings, the inn also hosts a number of food-related activities, especially during the fall, winter and spring months. The Winter Wonderland Wine dinner will take place on Jan. 27 and will feature Italian wines, with a commentary by Sophie Daniels of Opici Import Company. (The five-course dinner costs $85 per person, which includes the meal, wine, tax and gratuity.)
Woods also conducts two styles of cooking classes. The first is his Cooking Inn series, where guests enjoy a two-night stay complete with a cooking class. Jan. 13 through Jan. 15 will focus on slow cooking and braising, and April 6 through April 8 will feature bread-making and desserts. (The cost is $499 for two guests sharing a guest room, $379 for one guest, which includes lodging, dinner, and breakfast each morning.)
There are also the Cooking Confidential classes, where students spend the evening preparing and enjoying a three-course meal with Woods, complete with their own monogrammed chef’s jacket. (Classes are scheduled for Feb. 4 and April 21. The cost is $125 per person, which includes the dinner, wine, jacket, recipes, tax and gratuity.)
At first Woods was a bit nervous with the title of teacher, but now “it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I don’t make it too complex. A lot of the guests seem to be strong foodies who want to see behind the scenes of a restaurant. Others just want to be better cooks.”
Woods takes pride in knowing that, out of his graduating class, he is the only one in command of his own kitchen.
“People look and look for that job where you like coming to work,” he said. “I’ve finally found it. It is worth the work to have [my] family and Cyndi and Mason be proud of me and the food I put out.”