Bird hunters travel to upscale hunting lodges for an obvious primary aspect: great bird hunting. But although all other aspects are secondary, that certainly does not mean they are unimportant. Far from it. Especially when serious money has been spent for a top-shelf experience. Great accommodations, a well-stocked bar and fine dining figure prominently into how a lot of guests rate hunting trips. One of the most highly rated lodges in the country is Rio Piedra Plantation, in Camilla, Georgia. The lodge excels in every aspect of the wingshooting experience, but its dining experience is considered one of the best anywhere. Rio Piedra’s chef, Dirk Flachsmeier, recently took time to answer some questions about his background and what it’s like to chef at a world-renowned quail plantation.
How did you get into cooking?
When I was a teenager in Germany, I started hanging out in the family kitchen, where I’d look over my grandmother’s shoulder as she would describe what she was doing. I quickly became obsessed with it and decided that that was what I wanted to do in life. I did an apprenticeship that resulted in a certification, and from there I got a job cooking for officers in the German navy. I was terrified at first, but it turned out to be a great experience. After the navy, I worked at restaurants in Hamburg.
What made you come to the US?
Hamburg winters are tough, and I got sick and tired of the snow and ice. I had relatives in northern Florida, so I packed my bags and headed for warmer weather. I am so thankful that I made that decision. I quickly found good cooking jobs and discovered many of the things I enjoy most in life, like turkey hunting.
What do you love the most about working at Rio Piedra?
In general, I love living on the plantation. Everything is so beautiful and tranquil here. I don’t think there is a nicer place in the world to spend the winter months. My old jobs were 365 days a year. Now I have an off-season! As a chef, I think the thing I love the most is that the ownership here lets me order the proper ingredients and cooking items necessary to serve our guests top-quality meals. They never ask me to skimp when I am placing an order.
What is the best way to cook quail?
I have been putting quail in pasta dishes recently, and that is extremely popular; but, for me, nothing beats quail fried. I use eight spices, self-rising flour and make sure to use clean, hot oil. That’s the true Southern way, and it’s also the best way. And if you really want to enjoy fried quail, don’t be afraid to abandon your table manners and eat with your fingers.
What is the biggest consideration when cooking for your guests?
Just about anybody who is at Rio Piedra is there for a 5-star experience, and I am always conscious of the fact that the meals are a huge part of delivering that experience. To serve anything less than the best quality would be unfair to our guests. That is something that motivates us every day.
Is there a particular dish that you like to serve?
I wouldn’t say there’s a particular dish, but I love to prepare things that guests don't readily get where they live. If guests are from the Midwest, for example, I like to serve them fresh seafood. If they come from the coast, I might make them something like a perfectly prepared veal chop.
How have you evolved during your time at Rio Piedra?
In my earlier days I would sometimes be disappointed when guests wanted to doctor something I served. They might apply extra salt to my grouper, for example, or ask for steak sauce for a perfectly cooked steak. Now that kind of thing doesn’t bother me. I just want all of our guests to enjoy their meals—and if they'll enjoy them even more with steak sauce, then that’s 100% fine with me.
Rio Piedra Plantation is a full-service Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To find out more or make a reservation, call 229-336-1677 or email [email protected].
Photographs courtesy of Rio Piedra Plantation and Dirk Flachsmeier.