Former military man rises to challenge at Blantyre
Wednesday August 1, 2012
LENOX -- For Simon Piers Dewar -- Blantyre's new hotel manager who served as a British army major from 1991 to 2008 in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Belize, Brunei, Kenya, South Africa and Canada -- a new career path was forged from his love of cooking and desire to put down roots. But it presents unique challenges.
Some are obvious. He has to get to know the posh resort's guests, including regulars who return annually, and address them by honorific and surname.
But after ascending the learning curve for four months, Dewars finds that "it's not that dissimilar from commanding and managing soldiers -- similar frictions, perhaps a few less bullets and grenades, no need to wear a helmet and body armor every day. You're dealing with managing friction. And guests are demanding; they expect a very high level of service. So, every day brings something new."
He oversees a staff of 65 to 70 full- and part-timers in the summer, somewhat fewer in the winter.
Dewar, who has assumed some of owner Ann Fitzpatrick Brown's daily duties though she remains as general manager and close supervisor, explains his mission as maintaining Blantyre's tradition as "a set-back in time."
"We don't want to become gimmicky," he said. "It's me understanding Ann's intent and trying to make my decisions and actions based on how she would want things done. There's a real level of trust.
"People who come for the first time can't believe somewhere like this exists in Western Massachusetts," he said. "You've got the history and elegance of some places in Europe within striking distance of New York and Boston."
Dewar works closely with Arnaud Cotar, named executive chef last fall after 11 years as sous chef working with the former kitchen master, Chris topher Brooks.
"We have so much to work with here, and a lot of freedom to create," Cotar said.
"There's an awful lot to learn," Dewar acknowledged. "It's like trying to drink from a fire hose. I was always taught to lead by example. I was taught that as an infantry officer one way to find out what someone's job is is to go do it."
Upon his arrival as hotel manager in late March, Dewar pitched in as a painter in the pantry for some renovation work.
In the kitchen, as sous chef, he peeled 20 pounds of carrots on his first day of basic training in 2008.
He considers Brown's offer to run Blantyre "an incredible opportunity. I'm very, very fortunate. The property is very, very precious to Ann. It's been her life's work, and I recognize that. Coming in, I'm in a very humble position to take this on."
Blantyre basics ...
Here are some key facts and figures about the exclusive, highend Blantyre resort in Lenox: Rooms: Main House, 10; Carriage House, 8; Cottages: 3.
Rates: $600 to $2,000 a night year-round; two-night minimum, summer weekends. Full breakfast included.
Luncheon: Open to the public Wednesday through Friday by reservation, $55 prix fixe.
Dinner: Open to the public Wednesday through Sunday.
Reservations only for seatings from 5:45 to 8:45. $125 prix fixe; chef's tasting menu, $165. Two hours or more recommended for dinner.
Restrictions: No children under 12. Cellphone use discouraged in public areas.
Ratings, awards (partial list):
Zagat's Restaurant Guide (highest in Western Massachusetts: 27 for food, 28-29 for ambiance, service (out of 30); Forbes (five stars since 2003); Wine Spectator Grand Award (2009-12). Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List (2009-12).
Member of the Relais Chateau informal network of "great places."
Information: Phone: (413) 637-3556. Online: www.blantyre.com.
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