Blackberry Farm event was marvelous. Mostly.

You gotta wonder what Jim Haslam said to crack up Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon! Natalie Haslam is seated.

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s annual fundraising dinner at Blackberry Farm was a sellout this year as folks seemed to crave getting out and about after being fully vaccinated — a requirement to attend the event. (Thank you, Knoxville Symphony!)

Even before the wine was served at the four-course meal, spirits were high in Bramble Hall, the beautiful event center at Blackberry Farm.

The Knoxville Symphony is having a stellar season this year and getting rave reviews even though audiences are missing the conducting and conversation by Music Director Aram Demirjian. He is on medical leave being successfully  treated for early stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The prognosis is excellent with Demirjian expected to return to the podium in the first quarter of 2022. The news earlier this month that Demirjian’s contract has been extended by another four years — through the 2025-2026 season — was met with joy among audience members and members of the Symphony’s board of directors.

Concerts are selling well and anticipation is high for the remaining performances this season. These will include a specially commissioned piece celebrating Knoxville glass artist Richard Jolley’s “Cycle of Life” installation at the Knoxville Museum of Art and a Pops appearance by actress Bernadette Peters. Fittingly, Peters starred as chair of the board of directors in “Mozart in the Jungle,” an Amazon Prime series about what happens behind the scenes of a symphony orchestra. (As a board member of the Knoxville Symphony myself, I can tell you that some episodes of the series hit a little too close to home!)

But, back to the party!

A view of The Barn at Blackberry Farm. Located across the lawn from Bramble Hall, where the KSO event was held, it was lovely at sunset.

Inside Bramble Hall were beautifully set tables in keeping with Blackberry’s famous understated elegance.

And there was caviar on homemade potato chips.

Sharon Pryse, left, with Chef Joseph Lenn of J.C. Holdway and his girlfriend, Laura Cole. Lenn, a James Beard Award winner, formerly was executive chef at The Barn at Blackberry Farm.

Check out Sharon’s shoes! Can you tell that they spell “LOVE?”

From left, Peter and Lisa Xiques, R.J. Hinde and Roy Cockrum.

Tasha Blakney, center, with Orlando and Katrice Morgan.

Confit of guinea hen croquettes with mustard aioli.

Members of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra provided lovely tunes during the cocktail hour. From left: Sophie Hoang, Emily Wankerl and Jackson Sharp.

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, left, with his wife, Janice, and Fran and John Harris.

Jim Haslam, left, with Donna and Bill Cobble.

Alan Carmichael and Knoxville City Council Member Janet Testerman.

Hank and Sandy Bertelkamp.

Blackberry Farm has the best pimento cheese in the world!

Natalie Haslam, left, and Nazzy Hashemian.

Bob Lederer and Kay Clayton.

Reid and Allison Lederer.

Bill and Alexa Riley, left, with her parents, Tina and Beckham Dickerson.

KSO Executive Director Rachel Ford with James Fellenbaum, resident conductor.

Marga and Jay McBride, left, with Holly and Russ Watkins.

The KSO’s development director, Mary Sue Greiner, center, with Teal and Kent Willoughby.

Karthik Krishnan and Paula Chesworth.

James Fellenbaum, left, with Cathy and Mark Hill.

Alexa Riley and Bill Rotmeyer.

Chef Joseph Lenn greets his friend, Chef Cassidee Dabney, who holds his former position of executive chef at The Barn at Blackberry Farm.

When it was time for dinner, we sat down to marinated collard greens with preserved peppers, parsnip puree, pecans and dill pollen. It was delicious paired with a 2019 Cliff Lede sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley.

Guests at the Moxley Carmichael table included, from left, Ashley Capps and his wife, Birgit Clark, Ben Barton and Mayor Indya Kincannon.

Also with us, from left, Janet Testerman and her husband, Joey Creswell, Laura Cole and Joseph Lenn.

Second course was hearth-roasted butternut squash with dill, hazelnuts and whipped creme fraiche. It was paired with a 2019 Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis.

Municipal Judge John Rosson and Valerie Coleman.

Joe and Sharon Pryse.

Patricia Bible and artist John Kelley.

Third course was wood-grilled beef tenderloin with Brussels sprouts, smoked pickled onions and crispy potato skins. Wine was a 2018 cabernet sauvignon by The Seventy Five Wine Company from California.

My table-hopping took me to the table of, seated from left, Janice and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Dick and Ann Ray, and standing, Dr. Doug and Carolyn Leahy, and Fran and John Harris.

Ruth and Joe Fielden.

Anna Gray, right, with Hank and Sandy Bertelkamp.

Haha! Knox County Commissioner Larsen Jay hosted the most enthusiastic table about getting their photo made! From left: Aaron Jay, Ali Jay, Melissa Feinbaum, Adrian Jay, Larsen Jay, Olga Jesse, Stephen Jesse, Katie Kerchner, Kevin Kerchner and Ron Feinbaum.

Dessert was bee balm buttermilk pie with honey foam and blackberry carmel.

The Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra played a short set after dinner.

Sadly, Blackberry Farm, which normally knocks it out of the park with this sold-out event, has not escaped the labor scarcity that has hit other hospitality outlets. This dinner, which started at 6, was supposed to have ended at 9. But shortage of staff caused a big delay between courses. The evening actually ended at 10:30 — an hour and a half later than scheduled.

Guests sat for a long time after the entree course with empty wine glasses. (The servers did continue to pour water, however!) I thought an extra glass of wine could have gone a long way to smoothing things over, so I asked our server if he could pour us another glass. He said no, explaining that all the wine allocated to the event had been served. This was disappointing. Seats at the dinner cost $500 each.


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6 Responses to Blackberry Farm event was marvelous. Mostly.

  1. Monique Anderson, on December 15th, 2021 at 3:03 pm said:

    Nice event. Too bad about the staffing.

  2. Jay McBride, on December 15th, 2021 at 5:14 pm said:

    As Wine sponsor I was particularly disappointed to see my name associated with such a dramatic shortage!

  3. Gina Buffum, on December 15th, 2021 at 7:14 pm said:

    With all wines curated to the food, and the table set with all those glasses, the only way to accommodate anyone requesting another glass, would possibly have required a separate bar. But that would require another employee.
    The food was remarkable! And memorable. Hopefully next year we’ll be back to normal!

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on December 15th, 2021 at 7:40 pm said:

    Jay: Thanks for sponsoring. If the meal had not lagged for so long, there would have been no need for another glass of wine.

    Gina: A restaurant that prides itself on superior customer service would be prepared to pour another glass of wine when the meal went an hour and half long. I don’t think another bar would have been required.

  5. Lucy Schaad, on December 16th, 2021 at 5:04 pm said:

    Cythia Moxley, a Symphony Board Member, offered a beautifully written and photographed report of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra dinner, recently hosted onsite by Blackberry Farms. While reading her article, I found myself wanting to speak up to make certain to underscore Blackberry’s generous gesture, an offering perhaps less than fully acknowledged in the article.

    In light of the understandable dissatisfactions, voiced, maybe it’s worth noting how we all want the world to be back to normal. But, experiences like slow service and a dearth of wine, highlight how we are continuously reminded that we are decidedly not anywhere near the old norm, even at those luxurious celebratory moments where hosts operate from the best of intentions.

    Again, I just want to highlight the importance of our graciously stating our appreciation for others’ generosity – like the gesture behind the Blackberry dinner – no matter how short of optimal standards they might fall in this current, perpetual pandemic atmosphere.

    In some sense, perhaps, by pausing for a moment to consider the limitations imposed by our current social context, we all can benefit by recalibrating our exacting expectations in preparation for those disappointments we’ll inevitably encounter in the new normal we are all seeking to adapt to.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on December 16th, 2021 at 9:56 pm said:

    Lucy: I appreciate your thoughtful comments. As you surely know, I have written literally scores of posts over the years praising the food and service at Blackberry Farm. The Blue Streak has an excellent search function — just search “Blackberry Farm” to see some of those posts.

    But, to be clear, Blackberry DID NOT donate the food and wine for this event. The Symphony paid for the dinner — and thankfully, a board member (Jay McBride and his wife, Marga) generously paid for the wine.

    I am still a big fan of Blackberry Farm. I just think someone made a bad decision on the night of this event.

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