Local Food With Flair: Hilton Earns Top Food & Beverage Award

Hilton Hotels and Resorts Worldwide recently announced that the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park was recognized for excellence in food and beverage service for 2016.

The hotel was number one, out of 281 properties in the Americas region, for overall customer satisfaction in the areas of breakfast experience, restaurant lunch/dinner experience, and in-room dining service.

Chef Randy Dunn has been executive chef at the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park since it opened its restaurant, Roux, in 2009. Dunn said to receive the top honor required the dedication of all 28 Hilton employees who work in the kitchen or ‘up front’ in the restaurant and bar.

With so many excellent restaurants in Asheville, Dunn said he is especially excited about the award.

“We have tried to listen to our customers and give them a great dining experience.”

That often includes offering locally-grown foods.

“Customers are looking for foods that are grown here,” he said. It started with a single condiment and has grown to include meat, fish, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, grains and beverages. “A few years ago, when the south Asheville Tailgate Market was just a few vendors, I found Claire’s ABC Gourmet Preserves and added them to the turkey club, and we’ve kept it ever since.”

“A few years ago, when the south Asheville Tailgate Market was just a few vendors, I found Claire’s ABC Gourmet Preserves and added them to the turkey club, and we’ve kept it ever since,” he said.

Now the menu at Roux lists locally-sourced menu options like Hickory Nut Gap Farms’ Pork Tenderloin with citrus rosemary butter; Three Graces Dairy and Cane Creek Creamery local charcuterie board; and Sunburst Farms Trout with toasted almond pesto. The weekend brunch features bread from Annie’s Bakery, grits from Lakeside Mills and Lake Lure honey.

Chef Dunn knows about local food and about staying healthy. A native of Sparta, Tennessee, he grew up on a dairy farm where his family also kept a 5-acre garden.

“Fresh food was always available,” he said. “My mother would send me down to the barn for milk, and it was whole unpasteurized milk.”

He helped out with cooking chores at home, but post high school he selected civil engineering over culinary arts. It was a supper club he started with some classmates in his senior year that helped him see his real love was cooking. Just a semester away from graduating with a degree in engineering, Dunn made a decision to completely change the course of his career.

He remembered some anxious moments when he had to call his father and tell him what he planned.

“I didn’t know how he would react, since I was so close to graduation, and my father had helped me with financing college,” he said.

Dunn said he was relieved when his father’s advice was to pursue whatever direction would leave him with no regrets.

Receiving the encouragement he needed from his family, Dunn enrolled in Johnson & Wales in Charleston where he completed his culinary studies.

His first years in the profession proved challenging because of the lifestyle. “I was working 16 hours days, six days a week, in cities nowhere near home.”

“I was working 16 hours days, six days a week, in cities nowhere near home,” he said.

With little time to exercise and eat well himself, Dunn gained weight and at one point weighed 365 pounds on his 5 foot 9-inch frame.

For the sake of his health and his sanity, Dunn took another big risk. He quit his job without having another one lined up. An opportunity arose in Asheville, a city he knew from working at Young Life in Weaverville while at Johnson & Wales, and he immediately accepted. That was 2008 before the Hilton had even opened, and Dunn started work while the kitchen was just being completed.

At the same time, he received encouragement from a local doctor to improve his health and fitness. With hard work, he lost 180 pounds in 18 months and has kept it off.

Dunn’s attention to fresh food helps him maintain his weight.

“I’m 110 percent passionate about everything I do, from cooking to exercising and eating well,” he said.

When he is not at Roux, Dunn can be found growing some of his own food and eating eggs from his backyard chickens.

Changes are in store for Roux, including renovations that will continue to make it a top destination for local food. “We want Roux to be a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant,” he said.

Roux is open to the public for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

By Mary Koppenheffer