Chef Paul F. Gagne rises in rank after five years as sous-chef
By Amber Watson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
This year marks two major milestones for Fearrington Village, the quaint residential community in northeastern Chatham County surrounded by fields dotted with Belted Galloway cows. The Fearrington House Restaurant celebrates its 40th anniversary this fall and welcomes a new executive chef, Paul F. Gagne, who succeeded Colin Bedford in May.
Colin spent 16 years at Fearrington and built a rare reputation for collaboration among his whole team. Paul, who worked closely with Colin as his sous-chef for the past five years, confidently steps into his new role. As for the rest of the team, Fahrad Matthews moves into the role of sous-chef; Jose Rios takes the junior sous spot, and Olivia Walsh is in the pastry sous position. Other staff members include Chad Hardin, who leads The Belted Goat’s casual dining for breakfast and lunch, and John Tate, who is in charge of the event menus.
Paul’s culinary journey began when he was a high school student working as a line cook at a landmark eatery called Violi’s Restaurant in his hometown of Massena, New York. The establishment had been open for more than 60 years and was owned by a prominent family in his small town.
Paul grew up in a family of fantastic cooks. “I think it’s a combination of their impact and the experiences I had growing up in a large family that influenced my cooking overall,” he says. In 2008, Paul moved to be closer to family in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he became a sous-chef at Sweet Basil’s under chef Tad Engstrom. After about three years working with other kitchens in the area such as Green Valley Grill and Proximity Hotel, he decided to attend New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. In 2012, he entered into his first paid internship at Fearrington, where he first worked with Colin over the course of five months.
“I realized I had a lot to learn,” Paul says. “It was very motivating.” He returned to NECI to complete an associate degree. He then began work at The Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, under chef Michael Rayfield, whom Paul credits as “instrumental in teaching good leadership qualities” and had a profound impact on how he handled himself in the kitchen. “Chef Rayfield was a fiery guy but would fight tooth and nail for his employees,” Paul says. “It was impactful to see someone willing to go above and beyond for people that worked for him. It made you want to work hard, knowing he had your back.”
Paul, who lives in Morrisville, worked in North Hills before joining the Fearrington team in 2016. He officially took the reins on May 28 – a plan that had been in the works for a while.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Fearrington’s General Manager Theresa Chiettini believes Paul’s long-standing role at the restaurant, along with his creativity and drive, makes him uniquely qualified to take over for Colin.
“We have always believed in looking within our team for any opportunities that arise, and when chef Bedford let us know he was leaving, he felt it was a good opportunity for Paul to take the helm and for others in the kitchen to step into new roles as well,” Theresa says. “Paul has always been very dedicated – [he is] always one of the first people to arrive and get the team going for the day. He has always brought ideas to the table and collaborated with chef [Colin] Bedford on the menu.”
Paul is ready to take the lessons he’s learned from his mentors as he takes over. “Working with chef Bedford has been the most fun I’ve had in a kitchen to date,” he says. “We always had interesting projects in the works, and this was constantly pushing me to learn and grow. If chef Rayfield taught me leadership, then chef Bedford honed it to a fine point. I learned humility and grace under pressure and to never be complacent – always fine-tuning recipes, techniques, knowledge and leadership. I wouldn’t be here without chef Bedford’s hand guiding me. I truly believe that.”
Paul says Fearrington offers a rare opportunity for chefs. “It’s an amazing place to work because it’s such a supportive work environment – the team and every person who is a part of the inner workings of the restaurant are truly valued by everyone involved,” he says, “and I can say from experience, that is somewhat uncommon in the restaurant industry.”
Having creative freedom with the menu is also a draw. “In both our main dining room and our bar, we intentionally evolve our menus with the seasons,” Paul shares. “We want to keep it fresh, new and interesting for guests who visit regularly. And we’re always excited to share new dishes we’ve been working on.”
The Fearrington House Inn – named by Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Awards” as one of the “15 Best Resorts in the South” – will mark the restaurant’s four decades with a series of events. Here are some highlights:
40th Anniversary Luncheon Honoring Jenny Fitch’s “The Fearrington House Cookbook”
Sept. 25, 11:30 a.m.
Attendees will get handwritten menus, just as they were originally offered at The Fearrington House Restaurant, thanks to the book illustrator, as well as flower arrangements from Fearrington gardens. With purchase of a ticket, each guest will receive a copy of Jenny’s historical cookbook – recently introduced with a new cover.
Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé Class
Oct. 16 and Nov. 13, 11:30 a.m.
Learn to make this decadent, classic chocolate soufflé – introduced to Fearrington by Edna Lewis during her tenure as one of Fearrington’s early chefs. Pastry chef Lydia Arnold will demonstrate this recipe, and participants will indulge in the soufflé.
40th Anniversary Tasting Menu
Beginning Sept. 25 through the month of November,
Chef Paul Gagne will offer a seven-course elevated wine- and Champagne-paired tasting menu, which will include the decadent chocolate soufflé.