Lunching at The Washington Duke


Years ago, I got an email from my editor about a bloggers’ luncheon in the Fairview dining room at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham. She asked if I was interested.

Yes, on so many levels. 

Even though I’d lived in Durham for more than a quarter of a century, and driven past there hundreds of times, I’d never visited the inn.

Going to lunch, I came down Erwin Road from the freeway until I turned onto Cameron. It was the usual frenzy around hospital and clinics.

Once I turned off Erwin, the short remainder was quiet, and wooded. 

On the beautiful grounds of the inn, the gardens were bursting with spring, and landscaped to near perfection. Before I could grab my bag and jump out of the car, a fully uniformed valet had arrived to whisk it away.

The behavior of the staff at Chez Blue Devil was so impressive it kind of freaked me out. 

I am not kidding. It seemed that every employee I encountered knew me by sight. I’ve no idea how they did it (apologies to Petey and his theory), but the suit types called me Debbie, and the folks wearing uniforms referred to me as Ms Matthews. After the surprise wore off, I was uncomfortable and sorta charmed in equal measure. 

For some of the greatest customer service I’ve ever encountered (and I spent years in retail, so I’m including my own best attempts), it isn’t even a race; the Washington Duke wins.

Jason Cunningham, the executive chef at the Fairview dining room, shared with us his new spring menu. It was four courses of striking, thoughtful food. Chef Jason was an attentive host, coming out to our tables on the terrace, to serve a bit (he poured my thick, spring pea soup himself), and to see if we were enjoying his creations.

The weather was beautiful, and the food fresh, flavorful and delicious.

Every ingredient was respected, and had been brought to it fullest by care and attention, just like I always nag about.

In the four courses, through at least 15 individual items, my favorite was part of a large dessert sampling: an ethereal, flavorful, pistachio cheesecake.

I really wanted to try to get this recipe.

The chef’s email came right back. “Sure thing!” He just wanted to know if he could get to to me in a day so that he and his pastry chef, Corey Mansfield, could make it home-user friendly.

Thanks for your time.

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White Chocolate Pistachio Cheesecake

Recipe courtesy of Chef Jason Cunningham and the Washington Duke Inn.

Yield: 1 standard springform Pan

For the Crust:

¾ cup Graham Cracker Crumbs

1/3 cup Granulated Sugar

¼ cup Unsalted Butter,Melted

½ cup Roasted and Shelled Pistachios, Chopped

½ tsp Almond Extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap the outside of a springform pan in foil and grease the inside.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.

Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan and one inch up the sides

Place on center oven rack and bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the Cheesecake:

8 oz white chocolate (squares or chips)

24 oz cream cheese, softened at room temperature

¾ c granulated sugar

¼ c all purpose flour

3 eggs

½ c heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon pistachio paste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place cream cheese, sugar and flour, and pistachio paste in a mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape bowl.

Melt the white chocolate. Using an electric mixer, on low speed mix melted chocolate into the cream cheese mixture. Keeping the mixer on low, slowly beat in the Vanilla and the cream and blend well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan on top of the crust. Place cheesecake pan in a warm water bath and bake at 300 degrees on center oven rack for 50 minutes or until the center is just firm. Remove from oven and the water bath and allow to cool at room temperature for one hour. Refrigerate until set before removing from the pan.


Pistachio paste can be found in a specialty foods store such as A Southern Season or online. It has a tremendous shelf life and can usually be purchased in small quantities.

For service in the Fairview we “deconstruct” this cheesecake for presentation of an individually made portion. The recipe for the crust is scaled down to produce about ¼ of what we prepare in our kitchen. We mix all ingredients and bake it on sheet pans and then crumble it up for presentation on the plate.

The cheesecakes we serve are baked in individual portion silicone molds.

The method is the same but we produce a batch of cheesecake batter that is three times what is listed in the recipe here. The batter is poured into the molds and the molds placed in a water bath on sheet pans. Once cooked, we allow the cheesecakes to set and then we freeze them before unmolding. Once removed from the molds we dip the sides of the cheesecake in white chocolate for added texture and flavor.