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Like most great tales, it began like any other day.

Sous Chef Alex Tinsley, 24, was working his usual day in The Gateway Club’s kitchen — chopping veggies, toasting buns, helping to ensure that any food that left the kitchen was perfect or as close to perfect as it could be. Then, co-owner Art O’Neill asked to talk to him.

O’Neill had received a call from a friend who was lining up personal chefs for golfers competing in the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., this April. Unable to work the gig himself, O’Neill asked Tinsley and Executive Chef Daniel Morris, 27, to take the spot.

“Of course, I said ‘yes’ immediately,” Tinsley said.

Both are accomplished chefs in the area and, as luck would have it, golf lovers.

“Daniel and I are both golfers — poor ones at that,” Tinsley said, laughing.

Tinsley and Morris will spend the four-day tournament bunked up in the same house as their assigned golfer — namely British pro Ross Fisher — where they will eat, sleep and breathe the world of golf while hopefully wowing him and his support entourage with their cuisine.

The gig is being coordinated by Horizon Sports Management, a firm that represents professional athletes and lines up any and all accommodations during the Masters, including renting houses in the Augusta area for them to stay in.

The pair will be responsible for dishing up Fisher’s breakfasts, dinners and snacks for the course. They will also organize a large cookout for 50 to 60 people during their stay.

Amid the excitement lingers another thrilling prospect: what if their food helps Fisher clinch the green jacket — one of the most coveted prizes in all sports?

But on the flip, perhaps burnt, side of that idea is this thought: “I’d hate to be the reason Ross Fisher lost the tournament,” Tinsley said.

For chefs, food is more about personal satisfaction, knowing that they have created something both visually alluring and pleasing to the palate. For athletes, it is fuel.

“I think a lot of golfers really are conscious of what they eat and how that is going to make you feel,” Morris said.

The duo is just starting to receive details of what Fisher, who is currently ranked 118th in the world, does and does not like.

“I know that Ross Fisher loves M&Ms,” Morris said, adding that a bowl must be set out in the house at all times.

The menu items will be up to Fisher’s discretion. During the first day, the guys will meet with the golf pro to discuss his gustatory expectations and preferred eats while playing in the tourney.

“If he wants a grilled cheese sandwich and a can of Campbell’s soup, I am fine with that,” Tinsley said.

However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t prepping their own ideas of what they think Fisher would enjoy.

“I have some things in my pocket that I have done many times,” Tinsley said. Then again, “He might want nothing but granola and lean protein.”

Morris has already started scrutinizing all his culinary concoctions, contemplating whether this or that meal would be a good option to make for Fisher.

“You start looking at everything you do a little differently,” Morris said.

The whole event won’t be work, however. After shopping for groceries and making the meals, Morris and Tinsley will have the chance to walk the course and see some of the game’s greatest players at work.

Tinsley said he plans to walk every inch of the course, if possible, because it could be his only chance, although both chefs are hoping not.

The two compatriots are “crossing our fingers, kind of hoping we can keep going back,” said Morris, who is confident that the notion is possible “as long as we perform like I know that we can.”

“To cook and to be part of this, you’re dotting all of your I’s and crossing all your T’s,” he said.

 

Going pro

Morris, a Waynesville native, got his start in the restaurant business about nine years ago while studying at Appalachian State University. While in Boone, he got a job at a Japanese Steakhouse.

“I absolutely loved it,” he said.

After he moved back to Waynesville, Morris worked at Laurel Ridge Country Club and The Sweet Onion. At one point, he quit cooking and worked for an excavation company but couldn’t stay away from the culinary arts.

“I realized that restaurants were where I needed to be,” Morris said.

So, he signed up for culinary school at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. He is now the big cheese at The Gateway Club — and boss of his former boss Tinsley.

Now a sous chef at The Gateway Club, Tinsley was formerly executive chef at Balsam Mountain Preserve, and Morris was his sous chef there.

“I was his boss first,” Tinsley joked, adding that he constantly reminds Morris of that fact.

Tinsley, of Clyde, got his start washing dishes and worked for his family’s Waynesville restaurant, Sunset on Main, which closed when they embarked on the Gateway Club endeavor. His mother, Suzanne, is currently a part owner of and the events director at The Gateway Club.

Culinary talent throughout Western North Carolina gathered to compete in a single-elimination culinary skills recipe and preparation contest during the Fire & Ice Winterfest this past weekend.

Sweet potatoes, pork tenderloin and Chayote squash were among the ingredients given to contestants in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Star Chef competition.

Area Chefs & restaurants submitted recipes using the star ingredient of sweet potatoes prior to the competition. Recipes were then reviewed by a panel of professional chefs and food critics, and the top four were invited to the Waynesville Inn to prepare and present their culinary masterpiece.

The top two finalists, the Gateway Club & Maggie Valley Club, were selected by a judging panel to compete in a 45-minute star chef cookoff.  Each finalist was given a mystery box of ingredients to prepare their best interpretation of the “Stars of the NC Farms”.

The Gateway Club won the “Top Chef Award” for their braised pork tenderloin with Chayote squash and couscous.

Foodies can have it all at the sixth annual Mélange of the Mountains culinary gala in Haywood County.

Many of the region’s best chefs will assemble at The Gateway Club in Waynesville to show off their finest fare and engage in head-to-head competition. Attendees can see which restaurant’s chef triumphs in each category as they mill about sampling the finest offerings from area restaurants.

Meanwhile, local chefs will face the challenge of creating extraordinary cuisine with basic kitchen equipment. Judges will determine whose dish triumphs in eight categories, including meat, fowl, seafood, salad, soup, dessert, and vegetarian.

This year, chefs will also concoct their best interpretation of the traditional French crepe, as part of a new category, the Folkmoot Exclusive Dish.

After the heat of competition subsides, the chefs will serve up savory samples directly from the menu of area restaurants. Those who attend can also sneak a peek at the expertly presented winning dishes.

There’ll also be a garde manger, or “keeper of the food,” who’ll prepare hors d’oeuvres and carve fruits and vegetables.

Patrick Tinsley, food and beverage director at The Gateway Club, has competed every year since Mélange started six years ago. But there’s little that’s predictable about the competition.

“I’ve thought ‘That’s the best thing I’ve ever made in my life,’ and it doesn’t win gold,” said Tinsley. Other times, Tinsley creates a dish that he’s less than enthusiastic about, and it wins big.

Last year was a phenomenal year for Tinsley, who placed in seven of the eight categories and won five gold medals.

But there’s no guarantee about this year’s Mélange, and many casual establishments have overtaken fine dining restaurants in the past.

Judges are kept in the dark about which chef created each dish. They base their scores solely on taste and plate presentation.

For Tinsley, the competition isn’t any more stressful than a typical evening in the Gateway Club kitchen.

“Most chefs are used to stress, they’re used to getting things out quickly, used to being judged,” said Tinsley. “Everything you put out is going to be judged.”

What is challenging, however, is crafting an exceptional dish on what basically amounts to camping gear. Cooks have to resort to using butane stoves, though they’ll sometimes also use a toaster oven or microwave.

“It’s not as nice as cooking out of your own kitchen,” said Tinsley.

The medal is well worth the effort, though. Winners stand to gain heavily from the exposure.

“There’s 300 people up there listening to see who won,” said Tinsley.

Chefs who participate in Mélange are naturally competitive, and friendly rivalries have sprung up over the years.

“It’s nice to stare down at Doug at Sweet Onion [Restaurant] and flash the gold,” said Tinsley. “But he’ll also do that back to you when he wins.”

Most restaurants will enter into one category, showcasing a specialty they have, like a decadent cheesecake or a hearty soup.

“I personally think it’s a good, healthy competition,” said Art O’Neil, who owns The Gateway Club. “Most of these chefs are stuck in their kitchen all the time. Nobody gets to see them.”

O’Neil, who helped come up with the event, said the Mélange is a chance to showcase local restaurants and allow Haywood County chefs to meet each other.

“The more we do to support each other, the more likely we’re all going to succeed in our business, and keep people from driving to Franklin, driving to Asheville to find food,” said O’Neil.

Tinsley said the competition also gives food lovers a better idea of who’s in the kitchen crafting their favorite dishes at local eateries.

“People have a certain image in their minds of chefs,” said Tinsley, but not everybody shows up to Mélange dressed in immaculate chef’s pants and coats.

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