A Feast for the Senses

By Griffin Nelson
Photos courtesy of Inicio

Reservations have been made and the meal has even been paid for in advance.

We arrive around the time I would normally be getting ready for bed. It was the last reservation available and I’ve heard it’s worth it.

The server at the Cork & Flame hostess stand greets us by name and leads us through a door labeled Inicio, to a separate room closed off to form a separate restaurant. No, a separate experience.

The two of us are seated on the same side of one of the three hand-crafted and seamless wooden waterfall tables, the best vantage point to see Chef Justin Hayes as he introduces each course throughout the night.

Balance is the only way to describe the amount of attention that the servers give us, knowing exactly when to fill our glasses, remove our plates, respond to a question or allow for private conversation.

Lights dim and the music adjusts — a prelude for what is to come.

The dining experience feels almost theatrical, as if we are the actors, imposters having been transported to a separate time and place, doing our best to observe and listen. 

The server presents and pours our first wine, detailing its style, origin and intention in pairing with the dish, and explaining the choice and importance of the mated glassware.

The music and lights adjust again as a small garden is laid before us, breathing up fog from dry ice hidden within. Tiny pickled vegetables complete the scene, pairing perfectly with green juice served in delicate crystal glassware. Chef Hayes, inspired by memories of working in the garden with his grandfather, explains that some of the vegetables for the dish were picked just that morning.

Then we are left to the culinary experience.

Each of the eight courses are formatted similarly: wine is served, the mood is set both audibly and visually to fit the theme of each edible art, along with Chef’s explanation of the background and inspiration for the dish. 

Gastronomy is as important to the act as the curated ingredients, pulling us into the story before we’ve even tasted anything. Bubbles, gasses, fire.

Grade A5 Wagyu Beef, live Red King Crab overnighted from Norway, various jams and rare wasabi root are just a few of the ingredients used to make the dishes. Locally forged knives, Chef Hayes’ grandmother’s cutlery, artisan spoons, palette knives and brass pinchers are a few of the carefully chosen utensils provided throughout the evening, glassware refusing to be outdone as each beverage was poured into specific vessels.

Dessert is not an afterthought — not to be overshadowed by any of the previous courses. As the server aptly notes, the Passion Fruit Soufflé and 64% chocolate sauce showcases Chef’s proficiency at pairing, along with his bravery for serving such a notoriously difficult dish. The word I use to describe the approach is confidence. Only the certainty of success, based on decades of training and research and work, could produce such a meticulous dish to cap a fine series of courses.

Despite the late hour, I’m engrossed in every aspect of the meal, knowing that with each new season the experience will be redesigned. New dishes will be developed by Chef Hayes, painstakingly perfected and paired with elements to wake all five senses.

I’ll try to reserve a table earlier next time, anticipating that as word spreads it will only become more difficult to experience a coursed meal at Inicio. Between the gastronomic production — each its own short story — and the wine pairings that are perfect with each act, the meal has pulled me in, guaranteeing us a delicious conversation on the way home.

Appears in the November/December 2023 issue of Augusta magazine.

Have feedback or a story idea? Our publisher would love to hear from you!

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  • Episode 11: Jay Jefferies
    Jay Jefferies stops by to deliver the weather and much more!
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    We had the pleasure of sitting down with Nesia Wright, owner and CEO of the Georgia Soul Basketball Team. Ashlee and Nesia discuss life as the owner of a basketball team, retirement and more.
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    Michael Romano, self-proclaimed carbohydrate king and executive pastry chef for Edgar's Hospitality Group stopped by our front porch to chat with Ashlee.

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