Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



November 2015

Pros and Pecans: The Secret to a Stellar Bread Pudding

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There’s a lot more going on at Serenbe than meets the eye. In addition to our arts and culture scene, resident life, vacationers and visitors to the Inn and hundreds of weddings, Serenbe also draws meetings and conventions from all over the country.

The National Pecan Shellers Association recently chose Serenbe as their spot to bring together top chefs in the field of large-scale production—corporate chefs, caterers, etc.—to discuss pecans and come up with new dishes.

And lucky me: I got to judge their cooking contest. Each of the three teams had a mystery bag full of ingredients that they had to use to create an appetizer, main dish, side and dessert.

I was blown away with the level of creativity that went into things like chai soba noodles with chopped lettuce and pecans, pecanwood-smoked tenderloin and an absolutely amazing pecan burger. Atlanta’s own Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian and food writer, made a pecan mojito with fresh ginger ale, lime LaCroix water and mint and Kami Rose of Kami Rose Baking Company made this bread pudding studded with pecans and dried fruits.

Instead of cow’s milk, she moistened the day-old bread with milk that had been steeped with pecans overnight. You can skip that step, but it’s worth the extra time for the subtle nuttiness throughout. This dish makes a wonderful addition to the brunch table or an exquisite Thanksgiving dessert for those who aren’t partial to pumpkin pie.

Seared Sweet Pecan Bread Pudding

  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups milk or pecan milk (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 ½ cups small pecan pieces
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • Day-old bread, torn (1 ½ baguette; 10-15 small dinner rolls; or 8-10 large croissants)

1.     Whisk heavy cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, kosher salt, cinnamon and milk in a medium-sized bowl.

2.     Add torn bread, nuts and dried fruits to the mixture. Using your hands, begin work and mash the bread mixture together to ensure the liquid is thoroughly soaking through each bread piece.

3.     Cover bowl with cling wrap and store in cooler overnight.

4.     Unwrap and, using a wooden spoon, turn mixture to re-incorporate any loose liquids. Pour into a greased large casserole baking dish.

5.     Bake at 325 degrees F for 40-50 minutes or until center is no longer jiggly and top of pudding is golden brown.

6.     Pull from oven and let cool 1 hour. Serve immediately with maple syrup for a brunch item or with ice cream and caramel sauce as a dessert.

Pecan milk: 

  • 2 cups medium pecan pieces
  • 2 ½ cups water

1.     Combine pecan pieces and water in a bowl and store overnight in a refrigerator.

2.     Remove and put into a food processor. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher.

3.     Discard what is left in the strainer, or use in other recipes, like muffins, pancakes or oatmeal.



November 2015

Smooth Talker: New Ideas Take Root at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

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12052466_10153370430948409_213810574262237371_oWhen most chefs do cooking demonstrations, they make dishes they know well to ensure everything goes smoothly. But I love experimenting on people, being in the moment and fixing mistakes on the fly if need be. So when I cooked for a sold-out crowd recently at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the only thing I cared about being smooth was the turnip and ginger soup.

And was it ever. One of the participants said it was the smoothest soup he’d ever tasted. What makes this soup special is that it sits well, freezes beautifully and tastes better after a few days in the fridge. It’s a serious contender for the Dinner Party Hall of Fame.

It all starts with sautéing scallions in butter.  I am not a green onion snob, separating 10619996_10152593820458409_4694439096343488767_othe green parts from the white—they’re all perfectly good. They cook down until brown and flavor the chopped turnips and fresh ginger root that get added to the pot. Serenbe Farms manager Ashley Rodgers’ ginger has a wonderful pungency and skin so thin you can almost peel it off with your fingernail.

While the green onions, turnips and ginger cook in vegetable stock until tender, I blanched the turnip greens quickly in a cup of stock in a separate bowl, then drained off the stock and chopped them up. The soup got a solid spin in the Vitamix and returned to the pot, where I added the chopped greens for texture and color.

It was perfect, as things that start with 8 tablespoons of butter often are.

Turnip and Ginger Soup

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 6 cups turnips, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups turnip greens, julienned
  • Hot sauce
  • Kosher salt

Melt the butter and add green onion. Saute over medium heat until wilted. Add turnips, ginger and five cups of stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Cook turnips and ginger until fork tender. Add the soup to a blender and puree. Return to the pot and add hot sauce. Taste to season with salt.

In a separate pan, bring the remaining cup of stock to a boil, reduce the heat then blanch the greens briefly. Drain off liquid, chop blanched greens, add to the soup and serve.



November 2015

Thank You, Lard: The Art of Art Smith

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When Maya Angelou died, 1,000 people found comfort in Art Smith’s fried chicken after her memorial service. He’s whipped up batches for everyone from politicians and peacemakers to celebrities the world over, including his former employer, Ms. Oprah Winfrey. And last Sunday night, he made the same fabulous fried fowl in my kitchen, as part of his visit for the Southern Chefs Series.

Art SmithHe brined the birds for a few hours, double dipped them in the breading and fried them up in a mixture of oil and lard. I just happened to have a few cups of lard in my refrigerator and added a little to the oil. He saw me and shook his head, took the jar from my hand and scooped out every last bit of that lard into the oil.

That’s my kind of chef.

The chicken was unbelievable. I devoured two pieces while listening to Art give all the credit to the lard. It was like an old-school tent revival for rendered pork fat.

This was Art’s first visit and I loved everything about him. Despite all his celebrity connections and personal accomplishments—cookbooks, TV appearances and many restaurants, including Homecoming, a new spot opening in Orlando’s Disney Springs this summer—Art is pure sincerity. To him, food is love and he wants to give out as much as he can. And let me tell you, the participants and I were very well loved. Even Steve said, “Damn, that was some good food.”

He did shrimp and grits, goat cheese drop biscuits, a Brussels sprouts salad and chicken and dumplings soup with fresh dumplings he rolled out with an actual rolling pin.

 To use Art’s words: Lord Jesus. It was slap-your-mama good. I don’t redo a lot of the recipes I see at these demonstrations, but I’m making that one again. Soon.

Addie Mae Chicken and Dumpling Soup

  • Ingredients
  • One 3- to 3 ½-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, medium dice
  • 2 quarts water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  Dumplings
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  •  ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


Place the chicken, onion, celery and carrots in a 5-quart Dutch oven or covered casserole dish, and add the water, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce, occasionally skimming the broth, until the chicken is tender, about 50 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter (keep the broth and vegetables simmering) and cool it until it’s easy to handle. Discard the skin and bones and cut the meat into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, increase the heat under the broth to high and cook until the liquid is reduced to 6 cups. (If you’re in a hurry, strain the broth, reserving the vegetables, and measure 6 cups of broth, reserving the remaining broth for another use. Return the 6 cups of broth and vegetables to the pot.) Skim off any fat from the surface of the broth. Stir the chicken back into the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the dumplings, place the flour, salt and oil in a medium bowl and gradually stir in the water to make stiff dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Roll out ¼ inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1-inch-wide strips. Slide the strips into the simmering soup, placing them next to each other without stacking or crowding. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the dumplings are cooked through and tender, about 10 minutes.



October 2015

Over and Out, Part 1: Poking Around At The Pig

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Four days after Kara’s last wedding guest left, I boarded a plane to the UK. I’d devoted most of my energy over the summer to two things—Inn renovation and the wedding—and this trip could not have come at a better time. Travel always invigorates me.

Steve was by my side, determined not to let me visit The Pig again without him. I first read about the “restaurant with rooms” in a travel magazine in 2011 and have been completely captivated during the three visits I’ve made since. It’s in the New Forest, my favorite area in all of England, and is the epitome of English cottage style in that incredibly comfortable, non-ostentatious way.

IMG_0811They’re known for their kitchen garden, which is the most exquisite I’ve ever seen. The energy is wonderful, the staff is precious and the grounds are absolutely gorgeous—some of the trees have to be 800 years old.

Steve snapped pictures like crazy. And every time he did, I’d say I’ve shown you my pictures of this before. To which he’d reply, “Yes, but now I’m seeing it for myself.” He was completely blown away and I could see his mind cataloging ideas to bring back to Serenbe.

After a few days of quaint English splendor, we traveled on to Bradford-Upon-Avon to see Woolley Grange, the B&B we stayed in during our first trans-Atlantic trip with the girls in 1993. Years ago, travel wasn’t nearly as child-friendly as it is now and Woolley Grange had a whole building dedicated to entertaining children plus child-friendly menus at the restaurant. Our girls played with the owners’ children, picked vegetables in their garden and felt at home.

At the time, we still lived in Atlanta and visited our Chattahoochee Hill Country property on the weekends. Woolley Grange’s owners left London’s rat race for the country with their family and their path served as one of the inspirations for the Inn and Serenbe. We moved to our property full-time a year after our stay.

It was interesting to revisit.  The food was delicious—head and IMG_0807shoulders above the ultra-chic but underwhelming 25-mile menu we had at The Pig. But 22 years later, the space was tired and needed refreshed. And once again, Woolley Grange inspired Steve and I—this time to be mindful of the need for a keen eye.

We said a fond farewell to Woolley Grange and I left for Scotland sans Steve, who headed home. Check back next week for more about the land of Peter Pan, the sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy and the Green of Scotland—yes it really is that green.



October 2015

Lettuce Play: Turning New Leaves Into A Fun Fall Salad

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When the organizers of Serenbe’s weekly Farmers and Artisan Market told me it was time to do another chef demo, I immediately called Ashley Rodgers, manager of Serenbe Farms, and said, “Whatcha got?”

IMG_3554Ashley said she had lots of fresh ginger, turnips and Asian greens.

Now remember: I’m the daughter of the grand dame of Southern cooking. When it comes to greens, I know mustard, turnip and collard greens a lot better than mizuna, yukina savoy and komatasuma. Dealing with unfamiliar ingredients might feel scary to some, but to me, cooking is like playing. Those Asian greens were my new toy and I wanted to learn how to have fun with them.

So I turned the turnips and ginger into an exquisitely delicious soup. And instead of cooking the greens, I decided to treat them like lettuces. I washed and gently tore them apart and headed to the store to look for vinaigrette inspiration, which I found in a bottle of sorghum.

To me, sorghum means fall. A lot of people don’t use the sweet syrup made from grassy grain, but it’s a good base for lots of things. Instead of honey, I mixed the sorghum with lemon and orange juice for the vinaigrette. It also inspired me to roast some fresh pears for the salad with a little sorghum and pinch of salt on top.

Then I got a pork loin from Double T farms and let it sit overnight in a mustard-soy marinade. The nextIMG_3570 morning I took it out, let it come up to room temperature, cooked it, sliced it and served it at room temperature on top of the Asian greens and pears.

The same thing that made this dish perfect for the demo also makes it a great for dinner parties: Everything can be made ahead. Washing the greens, making the vinaigrette, marinating the pork—even the soup can be made the day before. You have a first and second course, so pick up dessert somewhere and be done with it. You’ve made two of the three things—who says you have to make everything?

In the middle of the demo, I realized I had a little more vinaigrette left so I threw it on top of the pork, which needed a little more oomph. And then it was perfect. Two key ingredients you’ll never find in any recipe but are essential to a good meal: spontaneity and oomph.

Soy Mustard Pork Loin, Asian Greens and Sorghum Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 lb pork loin


Mix first four ingredients. Place pork loin in a Ziploc bag. Pour liquid mixture over, close tightly and place in refrigerator to marinate overnight.

Take pork from refrigerator several hours before roasting to bring to room temperature.

Heat oven to 375. Remove pork from marinade, reserving the marinade and place pork on roasting pan. Place in oven. Roast pork for 25-30 min. Remove from oven, reheat marinade to boiling and pour over pork. Let sit 30 -45 min to rest. Slice and serve.

Asian greens

  • 6-8 cups mixture of mizuna, yukina savoy and komatasuma, washed and spun dried


  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons peanut oil
  • Kosher salt

Add first five ingredients in jar and shake. Season to taste with salt.

To assemble:

Set out a large serving platter. Toss greens with vinaigrette. Place on platter. Then place pork on side of greens. Serve.



October 2015

Moving Experiences: Basking in the Glo at Serenbe

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“Marie, you’ve just got to go,” Monica Olsen, Serenbe’s director of marketing, told me after seeing Glo perform in Atlanta.

I was intrigued. Glo is — and this is the understatement of the year — a dance troupe. I have always adored dance and movement and felt a special connection with maenads. Back in the days of Dionysus, maenads were female followers who performed passionate dances in nature. Glo is made up of modern-day maenads.

Their first performance at Serenbe was at Art Over Dinner, a monthly event at Serenbe’s Art Farm. The View More: gathered in Grange, where there were already a few dancers, with others dancing their way out of Swann Ridge. I had no idea what to expect but was quickly caught up in their performance, which happens completely without music and looks spontaneous but is completely choreographed by founder Lauri Stallings.

It was entrancing and unlike anything I’d seen before. As they say on their site, Glo is “part choreographed bodies, interactive art installation and catalog of relational, migration and choreographed systems of fleshed out textures and inner sensations that summon you to think about how you being here makes a community.”

And that last part about community is what makes Glo’s purpose special to those of us at Serenbe. Lauri’s mission is to bring spirit and art into communities through her dance troupe. She takes her passion on the road while ours is right here on terra firma in the Chattahoochee Hill Country.

After the performance, which led the guests up to the Art Farm, I sat with Lauri at dinner and immediately knew I’d met a kindred spirit. We had an amazing, instantaneous and very soulful connection—it was like a bubble descended over the two of us and we sat and talked for hours.

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Glo’s Serenbe performance was a rehearsal for a six-week residency of performances in New York’s Central Park as part of Drifting in Daylight: Art in Central Park, an art project commissioned by the Central Park Conservancy. When they returned, we invited them back to Serenbe, this time for a two-week residency, which they used to polish The Traveling Show: Beautiful Stranger, a performance supported by a SEED grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to bring hope through art to five small towns in Georgia.

I continue to be awed and inspired by Lauri and Glo. Hers is a message of hope, beauty and grace. She believes everyone should have access to art and the opportunity to see to the beauty that can be created through movement.



October 2015

Magic Behind The Matrimony: Kara’s Wedding, Part 3

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Another energy came in and graced us for the entire four-day celebration that was Kara and Micah’s wedding—and not just the one that kept the rain at bay. Everyone felt that we were witnessing something bigger, better and more beautiful than we could’ve ever imagined.

As the mother of the bride, and one of many working behind the scenes, I experienced another kind of grace in the days leading up to the event. I was visited by many angels exactly when I needed them. They came bearing hammers, blow dryers and big bowls of panzanella and added another layer of love and magic to the entire experience.

View More: Thursday morning, I realized I’d forgotten to plan lunch for the bridesmaids before the wedding. So I called Hilary White, executive chef at The Hil, and asked if she could put together a luncheon in less than 48 hours. She replied, “Marie, I’ll take care of it. What time would you like it on Saturday?”

The food was Hilary at her best: beautiful, simple and full of the best ingredients. She sent a platter of grilled vegetables and chicken breasts, green salad with vinaigrette, two bowls of the most delicious panzanella I’ve ever eaten and fresh handmade apple turnovers. She truly went above and beyond.


View More: On Saturday, my house was Bridesmaid Central. Candy Shaw Codner from Jamison Shaw Hairdressers arrived at 11 a.m. with four assistants and set up three hair stations and two make-up stations complete with lighted mirrors and rollers in hotel pans. When Kara approached her about payment for her services, Candy—whose father did my wedding party’s hair and makeup years ago—said, “You can pay my assistants, but my time here is a gift to you and your family, all of whom have meant so much to me and my family over the years.”


When I ran the Farmhouse, Lori Corley and Joy Belyeu were my kitchen supervisors and the heart and soul of the operation. After years of working together, we got to that wonderful point where we understood each other’s needs and methods so well that we barely needed to speak. When 80 family members and the bridal party came to our house for dinner on that Thursday night, Lori and Joy completely took over. All they said was, tell us what you want then stay out of the kitchen and enjoy your party.


In the midst of all the planning, Quinn, Garnie and I were still dealing with Inn construction. On Thursday afternoon, Steve turned to me and said, “When are you putting up the art in the bar?” And I said, well, not tonight because we’re having 80 for dinner.

So I called Serenbe resident, and my best buddy Karen Fitzgerald first thing Friday morning and said, can you meet me at the Farmhouse in 5 minutes? She came on the run. I also rerouted a few workmen who were on their way out the door for the Labor Day weekend and we all spent the day hanging art.

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Two more blessings

We host hundreds of weddings at Serenbe ever year and I always counsel brides to hire a wedding planner so that, when wedding day comes, they can take over so the bride can be the bride. Kerri was Kara’s lead person—her general in charge. On Thursday, a group text came in about some wedding detail and we all got a reply from Kara saying, I’ve handed everything over to Kerri. If you have any questions, please contact her. Thank you.

I just sat back and said wow. There’s a woman who has it all under control and has declared that she’s going to enjoy her wedding. And she did. Every second.


When we asked Kristin Genet, Serenbe resident and former set designer, to design Kara’s wedding, she cried. She was grateful that we trusted and had faith in her—and we were grateful to have her talented hands style the celebration.

View More: the wedding began, Steve and Kara walked through the woods and paused under the heart Kristin had made from recycled wood and hung. In that moment, the clouds opened up and the shone down directly on Kara. Everyone gasped.

There’s magic you can create and magic you can’t—and when the two come together it is, at least for this mama, the beautiful thing in the world.




September 2015

Weather Or Not: Kara’s Wedding, Part 2

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Months before Kara and Micah’s wedding, they sent out invitations to close friends and family members. But as the week of the wedding approached, rain threatened to be an uninvited and very last-minute guest.

The entire family was glued to the weather report, giving each other up-to-the-second updates on weather patterns. To tent or not to tent was very much the question for this outdoor celebration. Much later, Micah confessed that he and Kara woke up every day for a week and a half and checked every weather site they could find. Even the Serenbe administrative office staff checked obsessively and they weren’t even part of the festivities.

11960191_10153472753832626_3987030546726494322_nThe day before the wedding, there was a 60 percent chance of rain—a very literal gray cloud hanging over our heads. We talked about moving the reception to the pavilion on the Inn grounds, but that was worst-case scenario for Kara, who uses it as home base for Camp Serenbe every summer. If you work in an office, it’d basically be the equivalent of hosting your reception in the conference room.

My sweet Kara works all year to make 8 weeks of summer camp look effortless. She has it organized to a T: 70 children, 24 counselors and spreadsheets to the max. She knows her budgets and schedules and approached the logistics of this wedding in much the same way. She worked for the better part of a year to make it look effortless and when we had no choice but to talk about tenting the reception space versus moving to the pavilion, Steve and I shut it down shortly after we saw the look of disappointment on her face. We’re here to help make her dreams come true, not settle for Plan B.

So we tented. And did it rain? Not a drop. It rained all around us—literally right down the street in Newnan—but it was like there was a bubble over us that rain didn’t dare penetrate.

On Monday, after the last guests left, Steve took the newlyweds to the airport to catch the first of two flights that would take them to Greece. As he pulled off the gravel road of the Inn and onto the paved road that borders Serenbe, the skies opened up and it poured. And it reminded me of Field of Dreams, that wonderful movie about baseball players from different eras, when Burt Lancaster crosses the line and changes everything. When Kara and Micah left, the universe somehow knew it was okay for the rain to come.

And it did. 11995736_10103444724067253_1882328120751072956_n

Join me next week for the final installment of the Kara’s Wedding series: A grateful look all the angels that came together to make her day magical.



September 2015

Before and Ever After: Kara’s Wedding, Part 1

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This time next week, my sweet daughter Kara will be married. While others are happily heading into the holiday weekend, Wedding Week at Serenbe is heavy on the hustle and bustle.

10418233_10154758695950023_5316102243126598467_nThe bride has arrived from Seattle. The weather is being watched closely to see if rain will make a cameo appearance. Steve, Garnie, Quinn and I are finalizing last-minute details while our dear friend, neighbor and former set designer Kristin Genet and her father, who’s visiting from Germany, wrap lights around small trees. He’s been having the best time and starts to tell us all about it with the few English words he knows, then lapses into enthusiastic German. It’s quite endearing.

And so it begins:

On Thursday, guests will start to arrive and Steve and I will host dinner for 80 at the house. Friday is the bridal party lunch at the Inn, followed by a barbecue-themed rehearsal dinner given by Micah’s parents.

Our house will become party central on Saturday morning, when all 12 members of the bridal party come over to have their hair and makeup done. The lead stylist is the daughter of the man who did the hair, makeup and nails for my wedding party decades ago.

Meanwhile, Micah and his buddies will have a soccer game in the fields.

Shortly before 6 p.m., we’ll walk from our house, across the wildflower meadow, to the ceremony site, where a trumpet player and a string trio from Woodward Academy (my and my daughters’ alma mater) will play everything from classical music to the Beatles and Allman Brothers. At one point, Steve’s cousins and their spouses—all of whom have incredible voices—will serenade the couple and their guests.


the new in-laws

Afterwards we’ll have cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, then a sit-down dinner. Micah’s cousin, one of 8 family members flying in from Israel, will do a traditional blessing with challah bread made by Garnie’s boyfriend, Matty.


And on Sunday, Steve and I will host 150 at our house for a friend chicken lunch. Can’t come to the South without having some fried chicken.

I’ve been crying for weeks. Months actually. I’ve threatened to get fake eyelashes for the entire weekend. Kara’s dream is coming together and very soon there won’t be any more last-minute details to finalize. It’ll just be time to sit back, smile and watch it all unfold.



August 2015

Welcome Matt: Getting To Know Serenbe’s first Chef-In-Residence (and Garnie’s boyfriend) Matt Adolfi

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Marie and Matt at the Cluck Off

Last year at our annual Les Dames d’Escoffier “Afternoon in the Country” event, Matt Adolfi, who was then the chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia, caught my daughter Garnie’s attention. And almost immediately, Anne Quatrano and I started texting like modern matchmakers.

Me: How can we get them back together? 

Anne: I’ll bring him out for the Cluck Off! 

Me: Perfect. 

They officially met at the Cluck Off—the multi-chef chicken battle we hosted late last year—over honey bourbon roasted chicken thighs. Then they talked. Then they went out soon after that. And again. And again. And again. In the following months,  Matt ended his eight-year tenure at Bacchanalia and made the move to Serenbe, where he’s now the chef-in-residence, focused on creating lines for Serenbe Foods, new restaurant concepts and other culinary experiences.

A leap of faith in more ways than one, I asked Matt to describe what led him to move his career and life out into the country. Here’s what he said:

I love Bacchanalia and AQ for teaching me how to cook and I’ll always remember where my Southern roots started. I started as an intern and worked countless unpaid hours to get a sous chef position, I did that for a few years until I had the opportunity to be the baker for Star Provisions for about a year. Being the baker is the hardest job in that building, hands down, but is also one of the most gratifying. After being the baker, a position at Floataway Cafe had opened and I was the co-chef with a friend for about a year. 

Floataway was a great learning experience, but was not the food I love. Bacchanalia was the cuisine where my passion started. So AQ gave me the opportunity to come back as a sous chef, where I remained for a couple years until she gave me the chef de cuisine role. After a couple years of chef de cuisine, I still wanted more and the executive chef position was held by my friend David Carson. It was his time to shine. So a chance to climb up the ladder wasn’t really there in the immediate future.  

The restaurant industry can wear on you mentally and physically. Garnie saw my frustration and, as the problem solver she is, she created a way for me to come to Serenbe and have a role, which was win-win. I get to see her more and contribute to a remarkable place. 

Since he’s been with us, Matt has already done the VIP brunch for May Day, a few pop-up dinners, dinner at the Art Farm and several cooking classes at the Bosch Experience Center, in addition to revamping the menu at the Blue-Eyed Daisy.

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Matt cooking for Art Over Dinner

But what’s most delicious about him is that there’s no boasting to Matty at all. He’s amazingly talented and equally gracious and kind with an easy-going personality.

Garnie, on the other hand, is a type A personality all the way, but falling in love has softened her a bit. I’m not going to say she’s become laid-back—she’s still driven—but love has a way of getting in your system and reminding you that work’s not everything.

And it makes so much sense to me that my firstborn—the one most like Steve—would fall in love with someone who cooks and nourishes others for a living. There’s a real poetry in the history that’s repeating itself there.


Though he says he originally thought our little community was “some weird place in the middle of nothing where rich people lived,” Matt has, through Garnie’s eyes, seen what makes it special.

“I grew up in a small town outside Syracuse, so Serenbe brings that feeling of community back home for me,” he says. “I love to see how it changes and progresses everyday and how a place can change people’s lives so drastically. People want a community like Serenbe—the majority of them just don’t know it.  It creates inspiration and blossoms amazing natural relationships with neighbors. It’s a place that lets you be connected with nature and community while being aesthetically gorgeous. I never want to leave. I’m truly blessed to be a part of such an amazing thing.”


Garnie and Matt hosting their first dinner party in their townhouse


I’m mindful of the uniqueness of his situation—that Matt has chosen to live and work in a place created by his girlfriend and her family. I imagine most men would consider this odd, but not our Matty: “I believe in the entire Serenbe mentality and I believe in Garnie’s family—I just want to be sure that our personal relationship and our work relationship can work together positively,” he says. “But as I’m sure everyone already knows, in both of our relationships Garnie is still the boss.”