BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 20, 2012 – If restaurants with home grown and farm-fresh ingredients are the best in the business, what if you could say the same things about the chef who uses them?
Jason Smith, the new executive chef for Preston’s Restaurant at the Inn at Virginia Tech, was raised in Floyd, a rural town off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blacksburg. “I’m a country boy, but by my cooking you’d never know it,” Smith says.
Smith’s passion for his work has already paid off in a food critic’s review of Preston’s dinner service.
Smith has spent the last dozen years learning from chefs in the New River Valley. He began his culinary experience at Chateau Morrisette in high school, where he trained under the executive chef, specializing in desserts and learning the art of garnishing. He moved on to a three-year apprenticeship at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va.
Smith has drawn inspiration from those working around him. He recalls getting a needed push from owner Thomas Oddo at Vincent’s Ristorante in Blacksburg. “He has truly become a second father over the years. Thomas taught me the management and logistical aspect of the business I had never really understood before. He had faith in me and wanted more from me.”
Before joining Preston’s, Smith was executive chef at The River Company Restaurant and Brewery near Radford, establishing recipe books for the kitchen that are still in use today.
At Preston’s, Smith plans to push for continued success at the restaurant. “I really appreciate where the business and restaurant is trying to go,” Smith says. “It has an amazing future for me and others.”
One of the ways Smith says he hopes to sustain that future is by supporting local businesses in the farm-to-table movement. Smith attributes the best ingredients and foods to local artisans, bakeries, and farmers in the New River Valley. He particularly enjoys incorporating in-area produce, meats, fruits, spices, and herbs into his menus. Smith says that those flavors and appearances often can’t be bought in a store.
“I’m an artist, and food is my art,” Smith says. “I see food as more than something that can fill you up. It makes people happy. So when people are eating my food, I want them to appreciate every element.”
Smith proves his ability as a well-rounded and versatile chef with cooking experiences that start with his classic Italian roots to his love for island and tropical blends. Of his style of cooking, Smith says, “I’m a blend of a lot of things, but if I had to put a name on it, I’d say American island fusion.”
Sharing his knowledge of food with others is important to Smith.
“I would tell other aspiring chefs that this job really requires patience, a good work ethic, and loving what you do. For me, this whole experience has been a roller coaster of emotion and excitement with lots of ups and downs. Even though I am 30 years old now, I still feel like I’m just starting.”
Smith’s ultimate desire is to see Preston’s become widely known as one of the premier restaurants in the area. “I would love it to be known as the best restaurant in the New River Valley,” Smith says. “It is my hope that Preston’s becomes a destination, somewhere people go to have an experience with food, not just a place to fill their stomachs.”Written by Kelcey Thurman, a senior from Lynchburg, Va., who is a communication major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.