2 apprentices graduate from The Balsams Culinary School
Steve Barba touts Notch's magic, hospitality heritage
September 14, 2011DIXVILLE — The Notch has been a magical place ever since the last Ice Age ended some 13,000 years ago and nomadic early peoples traveled through it, said guest speaker Steve Barba on Thursday evening at what could be the final apprenticeship program graduation of The Balsams Culinary School, founded in 1978 by Chef Phil Learned.
Both Ethan Clark of Wentworth and Tyler Schwarz of Fryeburg, Me., earned the designation of Certified Sous Chef (CSC) after completing 6,000 hours of hands-on culinary preparation and cooking plus Associate of Arts' degrees from White Mountains Community College in Berlin.
Executive Chef Joshua Berry was the master of ceremonies following an outstanding eight-course celebratory dinner. Jeff McIver, The Balsams' president and general manager, also spoke as did now-legendary Chef Phil Learned of Andover, Me., who received his second President's Medallion from the American Culinary Federation for which he was present when it was awarded this summer in Dallas, Texas.
Barba, now Executive Director of University Relations at Plymouth State University (PSU), was associated with The Balsams for 48 years, including serving as president of the operating company at the destination resort that wads owned by the late Neil Tillotson under his umbrella company, the Tillotson Corp.
There is only one way in and one way out of the Notch, Barba said, noting that the Notch is "a world apart."
Barba briefly reviewed the Notch's 200-year-old hospitality history, including how John and Betsey Whittemore and their children welcomed guests traveling between Colebrook and Errol with homespun hospitality during the first half of the 19th century, providing them with what they needed in an unmeasured and mutually rewarding exchange.
"This was the start of the American plan," Barba said.
The hotel mostly grew and prospered but in 1954 when it fell on hard times and into bankruptcy, Neil Tillotson acquired it for sentimental reasons. His great-grandmother, Mary Todd, was an Abnaki "squatter" who always was feared that she would be removed from the land.
But, Barba said, Tillotson did not really pay attention to the hotel and allowed "some drunks" to run the place. When he was on his way back to college in Michigan in the late 60s after working all summer at the hotel, Barba recalled that he had scolded Tillotson for neglecting the place. In the following years, the owner and the management team they hired paid attention to detail, Barba said.
But Tillotson in his later years established a charitable trust that came into effect after his death. "It cannot own a hotel," Barba explained.
"It's a wonderful place that I love, but it needs to change hands," he said. "I believe that it will change for the better."
Running a hotel for guests requires paying attention to core values — and "being there every day," Barba said.
He and his partners were a team, sharing goals and pride in The Balsams.
"The Balsams has had its ups and downs," he said. "I don't know what is going to happen; I don't know who the new owner will be." But, Barba recalled President Abraham Lincoln's calming words: "The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time."
Barba said that he still feels the magic of the Notch and believes in The Balsams' power to survive.
Despite facing an uncertain future and with nearly all being laid off as of Thursday, Sept. 15, the hotel's managers and staff made guests feel welcome and smiled as they eagerly looked to be of service.