Serenbe is an even greater respite than chef Nicolas Bour imagined

He is finally in the right place at the right time

Nicolas Bour
Nicolas Bour, one of the first chefs to cook at Serenbe, made a comeback a dozen years later.

Photograph by Heather Fulbright

The spelling of his first name betrays Chef Nicolas Bour’s origins. Even though he grew up in California and Canada and speaks English without an accent, Nic, as his peers call him, is more French than anything else. His father, a Parisian who came to the States to attend college, and his grandparents, born in Alsace and loyal to France during World War II, shaped who he is as a person and a cook.

Self-trained, as many of my favorite chefs are, he has taken a circuitous path. Not many people remember, but back in 2006, he was one of the first chefs to cook at the Farmhouse restaurant attached to the Inn at Serenbe, where, in late 2018, he made a felicitous return. Some restaurants are just restaurants. The Farmhouse, part of the agrarian and new-urbanism idyll developed by former Peasant Restaurants honcho Steve Nygren, is a special place. Because of its location (in the lightly wooded Chattahoochee Hills area southwest of Atlanta), its progressive architecture, its cultural programs, its working organic farm, and its stables and animal husbandry, Serenbe is a dream place to work for a chef with certain sensibilities. At 51, Bour is finally in the right place at the right time.

A versatile chef who’d cooked at Elizabeth’s on 37th Street in Savannah, he moved to Atlanta after Günter Seeger hired him at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in 1994. His pioneering restaurant in East Atlanta, Iris, was way ahead of its time in 2001, serving duck confit and beef carpaccio in a neighborhood that wasn’t as grown-up a dining destination as it is now. After he left East Atlanta, he took high-level chef roles at various upscale hotel properties, including in San Diego, but Bour was uneasy with the flashy California lifestyle that surrounded him. He had gotten married and had a daughter whom he didn’t want to grow up among the dominant contingent of rich kids.

In 2018, when Nygren offered him a job overseeing the various restaurants on the Serenbe compound and creating some new ones, he knew it was the ideal move for him and his family. As the executive chef for all Nygren-owned restaurants on the property (the Hill, the Farmhouse, and the latest, Halsa, a Scandinavian-inspired restaurant), Bour is happy talking every day to farmer Ian Giusto, who grows vegetables for him. He gets to cook on the line at the Farmhouse, which he calls his “baby.” He does fried chicken and biscuits for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Once a month, he puts up vast reserves of his beloved duck confit rubbed with salt, rinsed, and pressed with herbs, garlic, peppercorns, and star anise. The restaurant attached to the inn doesn’t have a million-dollar kitchen, but most of what it serves is local, farm-to-table, and, under Bour, more ambitious and French than before. The clientele, which now includes movie stars from the new studios in Fayette County as well as regulars among the roughly 1,000 Serenbe residents, gets to sit down to $60 New York strips, pistachio-crusted scallops, and roasted acorn squash stuffed with ratatouille.

Socially distanced tables are arranged inside or outdoors at the Farmhouse, where the porch and the open kitchen are among the most relaxing seating options. A new series of dinners pairs celebrity chefs and emerging voices. Seeger, for one, is planning a foraged dinner.

Bour couldn’t have anticipated when he took the job at Serenbe that the restaurant industry would be upended by a pandemic. But now, he’s even more grateful to have landed where he did; he can imagine no better respite—for him and, he hopes, his diners—from Covid-19’s many stressors.

This article appears in our February 2021 issue.