Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. (about 30 miles south of Knoxville), died late yesterday in a skiing accident in Colorado. Beall was 39. From a release:
"The Beall family and the Blackberry Farm team are understandably shocked by this heartbreaking news about the man they loved dearly as a son, brother, father, friend and host. They welcome the thoughts and prayers of all those whose lives were touched by Sam's hospitable nature, visionary leadership and adventurous spirit. They also request privacy for the Beall family during this difficult time."
Though he was far from a household name, Beall's presence in the food world was gentle but impactful. His father, Sandy Beall, founded Ruby Tuesday in 1972. In 1976, Sandy and his wife Kreis purchased Blackberry Farm and began renovations and redesigns in order to turn it into a luxury lodge and farm; it is today a designated member of the Relais & Chateaux fellowship.
Sam was born at Blackberry Farm in 1977. He grew up on the farm and went on to study at the University of Tennessee and the California Culinary Academy, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. He later worked under Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville; with Sue Conley and Peggy Smith at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco; and at the Ritz-Carlton. When the younger Beall returned to home base, he worked at molding it into a model of a modern farm, pastoral but beautiful; sustainable and comfortable as a nearly self-sufficient restaurant and hotel. He expanded the farm into its present 4,200 acres and, inspired by Napa's wine scene, built a massive cellar for its wine collection. In 2013, Bon Appetit magazine named it the best hotel for food lovers in America, writing: "There might be more elegant resorts in the U.S., but there are none so satisfying, so relaxing, and so utterly delicious."
Over the years Blackberry Farm earned three James Beard Awards, and it was named Travel + Leisure's No. 1 hotel in North America.
Chefs across the country have expressed their sympathies:
John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, wrote in a statement:
I remember an early trip to Blackberry. Halfway through the conversion of a barn into a kind of Foothills food laboratory and dining room, the construction company had erected a banner that read, WE ARE BUILDING THE GREATEST CULINARY CENTER IN THE WORLD. Over the last decade, Sam Beall and his colleagues realized that vision. And they set a generous table where the SFA faithful gathered. For that, and for so much more, we are grateful.
Others left thoughts on Twitter:
Sam Beall was a visionary in the hospitality business and an adored husband and father. My thoughts are with the team Blackberry Farm.— hugh acheson (@HughAcheson) February 26, 2016
Tragic loss for this world. Sam Beall you will never be forgotten. Our love and condolences to his family and @blackberryfrm— michelle bernstein (@chefmichy) February 26, 2016