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    A culinary journey

    Christopher Edwards is the head chef at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg. Photo Courtesy/Salamander Resort
    First impressions often tell the tale. And with the winding drive into Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, visitors instantly understand that they have reached a sort of resort heaven right in the middle of town. Manicured lawns, elegant architecture and splendid trappings help rate this as a five-star destination.

    And then there is the food, a high-end gastronomic adventure whipped together by a large staff in a well-equipped kitchen that most restaurants would envy. After all, the resort has five different dining areas – the Gold Cup Room, Harrimans, the outdoor pool, the spa, plus in-room dining and private events – making this a full-scale, 24-hour work zone. And as an added culinary advantage, the resort has its own vegetable and herb garden that produces seasonal ingredients, from Brussels sprouts to spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, onions, garlic, Swiss chard, four types of lettuce, collards, spaghetti squash, green beans, table grapes, cucumbers, and an assortment of peppers and herbs.

    At the head of this cooking bustle stands the chef de cuisine, Christopher Edwards. A native of Virginia who grew up in Woodbridge, Edwards began playing around with recipes as a preschooler by making Winnie the Pooh peanut butter balls, an activity that seemingly started him on his culinary journey. By the time he was a high school student, Edwards had decided to consider cooking as a career.

    After attending culinary school Johnson & Wales in South Carolina, Edwards spent some time working in chain restaurants before he got the big break: a chance to work with Ferran Adria at his now-closed El Bulli restaurant in Spain. After seven months there, he moved on to work with another Spanish chef, Santi Santamaria, before returning to the Washington, D.C. area.

    As fate and hard work determined, Edwards got hired by star chef Fabio Trabocchi at the McLean’s Ritz-Carlton’s now-closed Maestro restaurant and later by the owner of Lovettsville’s picturesque hilltop eatery, The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm.

    Such diverse training certainly helped to form his knowledge and skills, equipping Edwards to take on the challenge of devising Salamander’s menus that are international in character but formed from many local ingredients. “We opened in August 2013, and I came on board before that as the opening chef de cuisine,” he said, noting that this job gives him the freedom to explore different cultures and different cuisines.

    “We do sushi,” he said, “and we have one Ethiopian dish on the menu, which is from my wife.” In addition, the kitchen serves up tacos, risotto fritters and even a Chinese appetizer called shrimp toast. “We are really able to do a lot of international flavors,” he said. “Cooking takes you around the world, so that is why I enjoy what we are doing.” Of course, patrons find many homespun favorites, such as Edwards’ soft-shell crab sandwich served with sweet potato “tater tots,” burgers, sandwiches and salads.

    Responsible for creating the menus for all of Salamander’s various venues, except its banquets, Edwards does seasonal menu changes. But one of his most popular dishes, and one that he devised, the char-grilled North Atlantic swordfish, remains on the menu. “We serve this with smoked sweet potatoes, collard greens and fermented jalapeños,” he said.

    Outstanding, yes. But patrons surely must find every menu offering unusual, delicious and worth savoring. All that adds up to a big success story for Edwards, who obviously is passionate about cooking, even embracing the long hours and hard work to get it all right.

    Oaxacan Mole
    yields about 2 quarts, and serves 6

    Chef’s notes: Serve this sauce with a whole roasted chicken or even braise a whole cut-up chicken in the sauce. Serve it with steamed rice and garnish the chicken with black and white sesame seeds, a delicious meal.

    1/2 white onion
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    2 cloves garlic, smashed
    1 tablespoon peanuts
    1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
    1 teaspoon pumpkin seeds
    1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1 clove
    4 dried New Mexico chiles
    1/2 corn tortilla, ripped into pieces
    1 green tomato, chopped
    1/4 banana, chopped
    4 dates, pitted and chopped
    1/4 cup chipotle chiles in adobo
    4 cups chicken stock
    1/4 cup dark chocolate

    In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat, and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the smashed garlic, and saute 1 minute. Add the peanuts, seeds and spices to toast for 4 minutes, add the dried chiles and the tortilla, toast for 4 minutes, while stirring. Add the green tomato, banana, dates and chipotle chiles. Pour in the chicken stock, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 1 to 2 hours or longer. Purée in a blender until very smooth, pass through a fine mesh strainer, return to the saucepan to cook for several minutes and stir in the cocoa just before serving.


    The Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg opened Aug. 29 before a large crowd. Times-Mirror File Photo/Beverly Denny
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