By LAURA ZOLMAN – ARTS & LEISURE EDITOR
Warm wooden tables and locally upholstered booths welcome diners to The Bluebird in Stanford, KY—about a 20-minute drive from Centre’s campus. Executive Chef Bill Hawkins can be seen behind the sleek counter space, crafting food that is clean from preservatives, naturally grown/raised by local farmers, and made to order.
On Tues., Sept. 17, a friend and I had the opportunity to sit down with Hawkins over a cup of Somerset-produced coffee. He greeted us with a big smile and a sturdy handshake. Then he sat down and began his narrative.
Hawkins has been an executive chef for 25 years and has had a lot of success working for prestigious restaurants throughout the South. However, until 2005, he did not believe that there was any real value in natural foods.
But something changed. “I saw my health getting bad. And I didn’t really know why. I was 35 and had a great career; I had a new boy,” Hawkins said. It turned out that Hawkins was suffering from a gastrointestinal issue. The doctors gave him medicine, but he had an allergic reaction to it. “It forced me to start looking at alternatives,” Hawkins said.
So, he started working with a natural farmer. At first, it was only because he thought the natural foods tasted better, but then he “started believing in it.”
“While I was selling [and eating the natural farmer’s] food,” Hawkins said, “my health was getting better. My stomach started repairing itself. I started putting weight back on. I started feeling better and believing in this natural foods thing: the whole no growth hormones, no steroids, no antibiotics.”
“Long story, short, I have been medicine free since 2005. And that’s really what led to The Bluebird,” Hawkins said. “The Bluebird was an opportunity to partner with [Stanford’s] Jess Correll and open a restaurant that would be based solely around natural foods.”
There’s a long term health benefit to learning to eat naturally, or at least food that has not been sprayed down with chemicals,” Hawkins said. “I was 35 years old before I had a problem and I had been eating whatever my whole life.”
“So, that’s the ‘why,’” Hawkins said, as to why they serve natural, pure foods.
The Bluebird and Hawkins also believe in buying local. Their main supplier is Lancaster’s Marksbury Farms, but they also partner with secondary suppliers such as Midway’s Weisenberger Farms for grains and Springfield’s River Run for eggs.
The average burger in America has about 2,000 miles on it, meaning the burger has been trucked and processed and trucked and processed for about 2,000 miles total. “That process [involves] tons of diesel fumes and energy that are put out,” Hawkins said.
What about The Bluebird’s burger? “Right now if you buy a burger at The Bluebird our farm, where our cattle are, is if you turn left at that light, [the farm] is the first [turn] on the right,” Hawkins said.
The burger is processed at Marksbury and transported back to Stanford for a total of about 10 food miles on a burger. The bun and mayonnaise are produced right in the restaurant.
However, it is not just food that they are buying local.
Their glassware was sourced from a craftsman that lives by Harrington Lake. Their furniture and equipment all came from local salespeople. Hawkins turned to the very booth he was sitting in. “This booth, this leather: upholstery shop next door. Everybody that swings hammers in here is local,” Hawkins said.
This attention to detail and care for the community is carried through in The Bluebird’s menu. Hawkins told us that, when designing the menu, he was going for “Southern, an almost comfort-food feel— but with the idea that a chef has had an influence.”
He hit the mark there. Everything on the menu looked scrumptious: Southern favorites molded by a true culinary expert.
The Bluebird has only been in business for a year and a half, but there are Centre students that are willing to regularly make the drive from Danville to Stanford.
Senior Caroline Phelps accompanied me on my visit and expressed her enthusiasm to Hawkins. “I’m excited that you are bringing [natural and local foods awareness] to Kentucky,” Phelps said.
Heading out that day, we ran into senior Rachel Ison, who said she loved The Bluebird because it has such a welcoming environment. “The staff is always so friendly,” Ison said. “It’s a great place to get off campus for a bit, eat some amazing food, and enjoy the company of friends. Plus, the coffee it perfect!” So, who’s ready to become a regular?