The Chef’s Kitchen > Winter Fare to Warm the Soul

On his way to begin an assignment in Ireland, John Russ fell in love with the Mount Washington Valley. A chef who had opened hotels in Dubai, Mexico, Germany and Thailand, among other places, for his Alabama-based employer, Russ’s job had kept him on the move two or three—or sometimes four—times a year. By fall 2007, he was ready to find a place and stay put for a while.

Russ says the Inn at Thorn Hill in Jackson Village “felt right. Everyone was nice and the place was comfortable.” It turns out he isn’t the only one with those feelings.

Chosen in 2006 by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the top places to stay in the world, the inn has a rich history in the hospitality industry—its original building was designed by noted architect Stanford White in 1895 and has been awarded an AAA four-diamond rating every year since 1997. So when innkeepers Jim and Ibby Cooper offered Russ the position of executive chef, he didn’t hesitate to accept.

An avid fan of winter activities despite having grown up in New Orleans, Russ says, “If we can continue having winters like last year’s, I’ll be OK.” During his first winter in Jackson, he learned how to telemark and skied Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington— a few times. Russ says he’s a firm believer in “making the best of what you’ve got.”

And that’s how Russ approaches his work in the inn’s kitchen, where he says it’s “all about what’s in season.” While spring, summer and fall give him more freedom as far as what’s available from the four or five farmers who provide fresh produce, Russ likes variety in his menu throughout the year and looks forward to serving a bigger menu this winter. “I will be doing lots of braising, which is perfect for people who have been skiing all day,” he says. “I think food should fill the belly and warm the soul.”

Since winter visitors like to eat more meat, Russ’s menu will feature beef that he dry-ages. “Last winter, guests responded very well to the beef ribeye and New York strip that we dry-aged for forty days,” he says.

He also plans to offer five-course, prix fixe dinners, where winemakers speak about their wines. Winter wine dinners are scheduled for Friday, January 16, and Thursday, February 19, and Russ suggests making reservations early, as tables fill up fast.

He also believes in “stepping up” desserts in winter, to impress the international guests that visit the inn at this time of year. “Since we make some of our own cheeses—ricotta, cottage cheese, cream cheese and mozzarella—one of my favorites is a Creole cream cheese cake that will be served with stewed dried fruit and chestnut velouté.”

His pièce de résistance, however, is his Chocolate Pot with Apricot-Glazed Cherries. This layered dessert includes a chocolate savarin, a flourless cake made from a locally produced organic chocolate called Aphrodite. Russ says women love this particular chocolate because of what it does to the brain. “It heightens all the senses, not just taste,” Russ explains. That sounds like a perfect valentine!

Recipes From The Inn At Thorn Hill

Gnocchi with Alaskan Crab and Pecorino Sardo
Serves 4 -5

2 tablespoons butter
28 pieces Gnocchi
3 tablespoons tomato water
3 tablespoons heavy cream
A drop or two of truffle oil
4 ounces Alaskan crab, or Maine crab or lobster
Pecorino Sardo cheese for garnish

1. In a nonstick skillet, add the butter and cook until golden brown.
2. Add the Gnocchi. Allow the gnocchi to become golden brown on all sides.
3. Once colored, add the tomato water to deglaze, and add the cream to reduce and thicken.
4. Add the truffle oil just for scent and flavor. Add the crab or lobster, and stir. Remove the pan from heat, garnish with cheese and serve.


2 1/4 pounds baked, riced potato, hot
1 whole egg at room temperature
4 egg yolks at room temperature
2 ounces butter at room temperature
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 strokes of fresh nutmeg on a grater
1 large pot with boiling water that has been salted for poaching the pasta

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the potatoes with the egg, egg yolks and butter. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
2. Mix in the flour with your fingers to produce thick dough. Be careful not to over-mix the dough as it will become stiff. When satisfied with dough, pinch a small piece off and poach it until it floats at a rapid pace. This is your test piece. Once the test piece is successful, cut the dough into several balls.
3. Using your hands, roll the balls into tubes of pasta about the diameter of a dime. Using a knife, cut the dough into ½-inch barrels. Using a fork, roll the barrels off the fork onto a floured tray. Once all of the barrels are in gnocchi shape, poach them in the boiling water. As the float, skim them off into an ice bath.
4. Dry and oil them as you would regular pasta and use when ready.

Note: This process should take about 1½ hours from start to finish.

Black Cod with Cauliflower Purée and Sautéed Cabbage
Serves 4

1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
4 filets of black cod, 4 ounces each,
pin bones removed
2 tablespoons salted butter
Cauliflower Purée (recipe below)
Sautéed Cabbage (recipe below)
and Carrot Turmeric Jus (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using two baking sheets, sandwich one sheet of puff pastry between two sheets of parchment paper. Bake with a cast-iron skillet on top for about 30 minutes or until golden brown (check it beginning at 20 minutes). Allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the pastry into 1-inch-by-3-inch rectangles.
2. Sear the cod in a nonstick skillet, starting with a high heat that is slowly reduced. Once the edges of the fish turn a golden brown color, add butter and allow it to melt and begin to foam. Turn the fish to the flesh side and cook for just a moment. Remove the fish from the pan and reserve it in a warm area.
3. To serve, add the Cauliflower Purée to the plate, and stack the puff pastry and Sautéed Cabbage. On top of the cabbage, arrange the cod and a spoonful of the Turmeric and Carrot Jus to garnish.

Cauliflower Purée

4 gallons water, divided
1 head cauliflower, cut on the
cheese grater
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups heavy cream

1. In a large stockpot, bring 2 gallons of water to a boil. Season with salt and blanche the cauliflower. After 15 seconds, strain the cauliflower into a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the heavy cream. Cover the bowl several times with plastic wrap and finally once with aluminum foil.
2. Bring the remaining 2 gallons of water to a boil. Using this pot as a double boiler, add the bowl with the cauliflower on top and cook for 30 minutes.
3. Transfer the cauliflower and cream to a kitchen blender and purée until smooth. Re-season with salt and pepper. This can be cooled and reserved for 3 days, or kept warm and used immediately.

Sautéed Cabbage

½ head of cabbage
(Napa, Savoy or purple)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup crushed walnuts
Zest of 1 lemon
2 ounces finely grated parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Finely slice the cabbage, removing any large rib sections.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the cabbage. Sauté the cabbage until wilted. Add the walnuts, lemon zest and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, and reserve warm for use.

Carrot and Turmeric Jus

Chef John Russ says that the following recipe—the smallest quantity he suggests preparing—yields between 1 cup and 1½ cups jus. What’s leftover can be used as the basis for a salad dressing, in another fish dish, on cous cous or any way you wish.

2 onions, julienned
3 pounds carrots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, whole
4 ounces butter
2 tablespoons fresh ground turmeric
½ tablespoon curry powder
2 quarts carrot juice
14 ounces coconut milk
Salt, to taste

1. In a large saucepot, sauté the onions, carrots, garlic and butter on a medium heat until onions are translucent. Add the turmeric and curry powder, and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Add the carrot juice and allow to boil.
2. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and skim the foam off the top. Reduce to 50 percent of the original volume.
3. Add the coconut milk and return to a simmer. Reduce for 5 minutes and strain through a fine sieve. Reserve the liquid and discard the solids.
4. Return the jus to a smaller saucepot, and simmer until the sauce is a deep orange color and has a deep carrot and turmeric flavor. Season with salt. Reserve warm until ready for use, or cool and keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.