Chef Ken Naron is no stranger to the kitchen, particularly Lonesome Valley's Canyon Kitchen, located in Sapphire Valley. Having served as Sous Chef, or second in command, for the last two years under Chef Adam Hayes, Chef Ken’s new role as Chef de Cuisine or Executive Chef will breathe fresh life into the traditions emanating from this highly respected farm-to-table restaurant. Patiently working his way up the ranks during nearly twenty years of culinary experience, he has achieved an impressive resumé. And while he looks great on paper through his culinary accomplishments, it is his Louisiana heritage along with his magnetic personality that will bring a fresh heart and soul to Canyon Kitchen’s seasonal debut.
As a kid, if he wasn’t on his skateboard, he was getting the cultural education of living off the land in the bayou. He was unaware at the time that this down-home training would shape him for his culinary path and current role. “Although my passion for cooking was realized later, I was always involved with the gathering process and gained an intense appreciation for the land.” Steeped within his memory are happy times spent hunting, trapping, and fishing with his grandfather. Harvesting from the family garden, they ate seasonally in the days when the term “farm-to-table” was not yet a culinary trend. They ate whatever they caught or grew. It was Ken’s Creole-Irish grandmother who would spend hours creating spontaneous yet traditional dishes from their bounty. He recalls carefully watching her preparations and waiting patiently for her mouthwatering plates to land on the family table. He was always impressed with her ability to pay homage to the land and craft food that radiated passion.
When Ken’s teenage aspirations to be a professional skateboarder fizzled, he soon found his next step as a dishwasher to earn money to buy his first car. What he quickly discovered was a fascination for the restaurant life, particularly in the kitchen. The energy, the creativity, the camaraderie, and enthusiasm drew him in, and he soon found himself working under such notable chefs as Tom Wolfe and James Beard award-winning Chef Gary Danko. As a mentor, Gary Danko wielded a great influence on Ken’s career while he worked at Danko’s Relais & Chateaux restaurant in San Francisco. Ken was encouraged by Danko to pay attention to the finer details. Aside from learning how to best manage a kitchen team, he was taught culinary and kitchen secrets that became a turning point in his path and gave him the tools to become a truly great head chef.
Now taking the helm at Canyon Kitchen, Chef Ken and his team introduced an expanded tasting menu, offering more choices of Canyon Kitchen’s signature menu items and incorporating new twists to past presentations. Gracing the menu is gastronomy influenced by Ken’s Creole roots, as well as Mexican and Asian infusions. Thoughtful and inventive, Ken draws inspiration from around the world and the local land. His vision is clear on striking a balance in his culinary creations by marrying flavorful spices with seasonal ingredients. Canyon Kitchen’s practice of using local ingredients from sustainable suppliers along with fruits and vegetables harvested from their own garden will continue to serve as the basis for Chef Ken’s prix fix menu. New features include pasture-raised Lady Edison pork and farm-raised bison from Carolina Bison. You might find these dishes imbued with essences of fresh chamomile and coriander that are new to the garden this season, while heirloom squash, Seminole pumpkin seeds, arugula, and cauliflower with touches of radish and nasturtium brighten the plates.
Above and beyond everything else, Chef Ken is all about making his guests happy. “It’s important that the food is flavorful and balanced with every bite,” says Ken. “Our guests can expect an elevated dining experience.” Creative gastronomy guided by Ken’s heart and soul will be the driving force behind his authentic cuisine. If you haven’t managed to visit Canyon Kitchen this season, make sure to make your reservation soon! Not only will you enjoy your experience, you will love getting to know Ken as he meets and greets.
About Canyon Kitchen
Located in the scenic Lonesome Valley community in Cashiers, North Carolina, Canyon Kitchen is a seasonal restaurant featuring exquisite dishes in a relaxed setting. The nightly prix fixed menus utilize fresh, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden and other local food sources, including Sunburst Trout Farms, Brasstown Beef, and Looking Glass Creamery, to name a few. At Canyon Kitchen, guests enjoy the local flavors of North Carolina while looking upon the thousand-foot granite cliffs and lush forests. Situated in a craftsman-style barn, Canyon Kitchen’s interiors include traditional post-and-beam architecture, stacked stone fireplaces and sliding barn doors throughout allowing guests to take advantage of the crisp mountain air. For more information, visit www.lonesomevalley.com.