At thirty-four-years old, Colin Bedford, Executive Chef at the Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro, North Carolina, is one of the greatest chefs in the world.
He relaxes now in the restaurant bar, the lines of stress melting off his face like ice in his ginger ale. He has just come back from New York City, where he was one of four chefs invited to cook for the launch of Relais & Chateaux’s 2012 guide, and before that he was in Italy, receiving the title of Grand Chef. It’s one of the highest awards in the culinary world: across the globe, there are only 169 Grand Chefs, and only 21 in the United States.
Bedford grew up in England, an only child with a mum who liked to cook and a father who enjoyed gardening. By his best estimate, his mother cooked 95 percent of the meals he ate, and his father grew 40 percent of the vegetables. All those vegetables must have affected his body chemistry because Bedford, a star football and rugby player in high school, stands at a powerful six feet four. Although cooking came more naturally to him than sports, his athletic career brings to mind another famous British chef, Gordon Ramsay, who was once a recruit for the Glasgow Rangers soccer club. Unlike Ramsay, however, Bedford has no desire to be on TV.
“Colin, you would kill on TV,” says Katharine Walton, Bedford’s PR representative. A successful up-and-comer in her own right, Walton is the former editor of Charleston magazine, a former publicity director at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and one of the founders of Garden and Gun, an award-winning magazine that celebrates Southern culture.
“No,” says Colin. “Too much to lose. I’m a Grand Chef now. I represent the group. Can you imagine Thomas Keller on Chopped?”
Thomas Keller, the only American chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars for two different restaurants, is a friend of Bedford’s. And although Colin does have a lot to lose, Katharine has a valid point. Bedford has an exuberant personality, good looks, a British accent, an interesting background. He would kill on TV.
After graduating from Yeovil College with a Diploma in Hospitality, Bedford joined the staff of the Castle Hotel in Taunton, England, and began working on the veg line. From there, he moved to garnish, and then to pastry, and then he was promoted to junior Sous Chef. He entered the restaurant industry during a time that he describes as the last of the old school hostile environments. On his first day of work—August 26, 1996—he walked into the kitchen to see a chef bashing a waiter’s head with a cupboard door for stealing his chocolates.
“You had a problem, you went into the corridor and fought it out. It was much easier that way. Either you were right, or you were wrong.”
When Bedford was wrong—and he admits that he was—it took four chefs to get him down. But he doesn’t seem to have any hard feelings.
“My dad always told me, decisions have to be made. Make the decision and react to the outcome. Learn from your mistakes.”
Nowadays, high-end kitchens are more likely to run on camaraderie than brute force. When Bedford came to Fearrington House in 2005, he began forming relationships with his staff, many of whom are also at the tops of their respective fields. Fearrington’s Wine Director, Max Kast, passed the blind tasting and theory portions of the Master Sommelier Exam, and has helped earn Fearrington House Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence every year since he joined the staff in 2007. Assistant sommelier Paula de Pano speaks fluent Italian and uses her free time to write a personalized wine list in calligraphy for each of her customers. Even though he is surrounded by a top-notch staff, Bedford still feels personally responsible for the restaurant’s success. He frequently pops out of the kitchen to chat with customers and make sure that everything is running smoothly.
“I’m not a control freak,” he says. “Things just need to be done right.”
Because Bedford is so involved, he has little time for leisure activities.
“When I’m not cooking, I garden. I train. I run triathlons. I’d like to do the Half Ironman, if I can find the time.”
For now, however, nothing can compete with Bedford’s passion for crafting the edible art that has earned him the title of Grand Chef.
Fearrington House Restaurant is located at 2000 Fearrington Village Center in Pittsboro, North Carolina.