Hospitality Awards: Those Going Above and Beyond

By Andrew Harper Editors

The Hideaway Report | January 4, 2018

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Grand Awards 2018

Andrew Harper's Favorites from the Past Year of Travel

Without trained, motivated and hospitable staff, no hotel or restaurant will ever meet the Harper standard. In 2017, we were overwhelmed by the boundless enthusiasm of the young staff members at the explora Valle Sagrado in Peru. At the Château de Mercuès, near Cahors in France, Yann Potet proved himself a hotel manager of the old school — a constant, engaging presence front-of-house, not an invisible back-office executive. And at Jacob’s Restaurant in Hamburg, Germany, sommelier Torsten Junker made our meal truly unforgettable.

Chef of the Year

Kyle Connaughton

SingleThread Farms, Healdsburg, California, U.S.

Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, California Eric Wolfinger

Kyle Connaughton has followed an interesting culinary path, having spent years cooking in Hokkaido at Michel Bras TOYA Japon. (Bras is also noted for his three-star Le Suquet in southern France.) On a trip to Japan, British chef Heston Blumenthal met Connaughton and offered him a position at his three-star The Fat Duck near London. In 2016, he opened SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg. During our 11-course meal, there wasn’t a single dish that we did not find compelling. Among our favorites were the wild yellowtail with barrel-aged ponzu, Cara Cara orange, komatsuna (the greens of a type of Japanese mustard) and saikyo miso; and Japanese wagyu beef over eucalyptus with salsify, snow peas and burnt onion. It was a memorably sophisticated meal.

Hotel Manager of the Year

Yann Potet

Château de Mercuès, Mercuès, France

Yann Potet of Château de Mercuès in Mercuès, France Photo by Andrew Harper

Like all top-notch general managers, the personable and engaging Yann Potet always seemed to be around, and whenever he spotted us, he greeted us by name. His love for the Château de Mercuès became clear over the course of the private tour he gave us of the on-site winery: He had in-depth knowledge of the hotel’s fascinating history and clearly enjoyed sharing it with us. During a subsequent tasting, Potet also proved extremely knowledgeable about the wines and the Cahors terroir in general. Had we not known he was the general manager, we would have guessed he was a sommelier.

Sommelier of the Year

Torsten Junker

Jacob’s Restaurant, Hamburg, Germany

Sommelier Tortsten Junker of Jacob's Restaurant in Hamburg, Germany Ydo Sol Images

During our dinner at Jacob’s Restaurant in Hamburg’s Hotel Louis C. Jacob, sommelier Torsten Junker went beyond the call of duty to ensure that our wine pairings matched the high level of the cuisine. We lamented the lack of German reds available by the glass, and Junker proceeded to offer us access to the entirety of the wine list. In addition, upon learning of our fondness for fine Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), he opened two. We ended up trying a fresh and spicy Weingut Dreissigacker Weissburgunder as well as a richer Franz Keller bottling that tasted positively Burgundian. Sheer delight. Junker knows his wines, and he knows how to make a dinner unforgettable.

Staff of the Year

explora Valle Sagrado

Urubamba, Peru

Staff at explora Valle Sagrado in Sacred Valley, Peru KmCero

During our blissful stay at the explora group’s newest resort, the quality displayed by the young staff members that impressed us most was their boundless enthusiasm. Everyone we encountered gave the clear impression that there was nowhere else in the world they would rather be. Each evening, the guides sat down with individual guests and went to endless trouble to explain all the activities that were on offer. We went on two memorable Andean hikes. On the second excursion, I managed to acquire a painful blister. Rather than being irritated, as he might well have been, our guide promptly produced ointment and moleskin, which together rescued the day. His professionalism and subsequent concern were exemplary.

Owners of the Year

Kyle and Katina Connaughton

SingleThread Farms, Healdsburg, California, U.S.

Katina and Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, California Roman Cho

SingleThread Farms opened in 2016, with Kyle Connaughton overseeing the kitchen and his wife, Katina, running the attached five-room hotel, plus a nearby five-acre farm, as well as a rooftop garden with microgreens, herbs and fruit trees. Their achievements are all the more impressive considering that neither of them had ever run a restaurant or an inn before. Today SingleThread Farms is an utterly exceptional property. Like a Japanese ryokan — a classic inn that, at its best, embodies the highest standards of hospitality and cuisine in a setting of sublime aesthetics — the Connaughtons’ inn embodies the Japanese notion of omotenashi, a complete dedication to the art of receiving guests.

Andrew Harper's Grand Awards


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