Virginia’s agricultural bounty is a major star in gourmet menu offerings.
Excellence is a trait that chef Roderick “Pete” Smith has always embodied. Helming Market Salamander at the famed Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, he revels in the bounty that local farms produce and enjoys incorporating fresh ingredients in his culinary creations.
The Jacksonville, Florida, native graduated from the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2000. At the age of 22, he became the Chef de Cuisine at Medure in Ponte Verda Beach, making him the youngest African American chef to run a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant in the state.
Now, with over 22 years of professional experience and exposure to various areas of the culinary industry, he brings his excellence to Market, where his many signature creations are available at the Gourmet Grab & Go, including his bread pudding, hot sauce and pickled vegetables.
When Opportunity Knocks at Salamander
“2022 is looking very busy. There’s a lot of creative and new things that I’m doing,” says Smith. “A lot of things that we have done up to now have all been great successes, so we’re looking forward to the rest of the eight months to do very well going into 2023. Focusing on really putting the Market on the map, on a bigger map than what it is now, and bringing that love back with the locals, it’s been real fun.”
As a concept, Market Salamander offers a little bit of everything—some local products, breakfast and lunch options, handcrafted sandwiches, and the like. Those out hiking can stop by and pick up picnic baskets or fresh charcuterie and cheese boards. Other services available here are catering for private parties and private cooking classes—everything revolving around food and wine customized and catered per client needs.
While Market has been around for a few years, Smith has been steering efforts for less than a year. He has found the response from the community to be “nothing but good and positive.” Prior to his arrival here, Smith was a small business owner in Savannah, Georgia, and the head chef at a historic restaurant called the Olde Pink House.
Chef Bill Welsh, Salamander Resort and Spa’s executive chef and a good friend of Smith’s—they had both previously worked together in Sea Island, Georgia—is one reason why Smith is here in Middleburg. The other reason is, of course, Smith’s own aspirations to helm a small market where he could “do cool sandwiches, cooking classes and wine dinners, pairing wine with food.” Smith had, in fact, applied to work at Salamander’s sister property, Hotel Bennett in South Carolina. That opportunity didn’t transpire, but this one did, and Smith was all in.
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When Collaboration Prevails
Having owned two restaurants in Jacksonville from 2016 to 2019, which he eventually sold, Smith is excited to be a part of Salamander. “I’m lucky enough to be in the industry which is the most popular industry in the world. Where it’s always changing, so there’s always new trends, there’s always new creativities there,” he shares.
“I’ve been blessed to have an owner who is phenomenal. I’m blessed to be around a management team who gets it and love it and we all have the same common goals.” The phenomenal owner he refers to is none other than Sheila C. Johnson, one of America’s foremost business leaders, a celebrated entrepreneur and philanthropist with achievements across several industries.
Smith happens to be one of the lucky few to interact with her closely as part of his work leading the efforts at Market. “I’ve met her many times. I see and talk to her on a weekly basis,” he says. “She’s a very sweet person.”
Given the bountiful produce available to him in the area, Smith enjoys cooking with local products such as proteins, fresh eggs, making breakfast sausage with fresh and local ground chicken, local bacon, pork belly, curing their own salmons, making their own charcuterie and cheese. He has a lot of freedom in how he chooses to express himself on the menu while also playing up the ingredients he works with.
“I make sure the food is good, the product is good, and I keep up with new trends. We have a lot of fun,” he says. Some of the trends he is observing in the industry now are using more local ingredients, making and using your own bread, oils, vinegars, and meats and indulging in the farm-to-table movement.
He is especially in a good place to participate in this movement given farms surround him on all sides—Locust Hill, American Heritage and, of course, Salamander Farms.
Community partnerships play a big role in Smith’s plans. He collaborated with local Black winemaker Kindra Dionne of Fifty Leven for a Black History Month dinner that sold out in 24 hours, was extended to another day, and still had a long waitlist. Next year’s event is set for three days.
At Salamander Resort’s inaugural The Family Reunion event last year, Smith, who had just started with the company at the time, collaborated with Los Angeles-based Bridgetown Roti’s chef Rashida Holmes at the Market. This year, Smith expects to be even more involved. The event is scheduled for August 18-21, presented by award-winning chef and author Kwame Onwuachi, and will feature some of the top names in hospitality.
When Inspiration Thrives
Aside from the many events and collaborations he is privy to, Smith loves being in the Market. “And it’s not because I work there, it’s what I love to do. I just love that energy,” he says. His recommended picks at the Market are any of the daily specials, the signature crab cake, any of the fried chicken dishes, whether waffles or tenders and the fresh soups, which always have a vegetarian/vegan and a meat option. The menu is seasonal, changing every 4 to 5 months, and Smith has a team of 14 to help with it all.
He admits moving from larger cities to his current location brings a change of pace and perspective that could prove a challenge, but he chooses to view it as an advantage. “It’s smaller, more laid-back, but it’s still the same urgency. It’s still the same passion. I love it,” he says of the community experience.
Smith also cites logistics as a possible problem sometimes. “In Middleburg, things move different. Like when you go to the Caribbean, it’s Caribbean time. There’s also Middleburg time,” he says. “This is not a city where deliveries come in often. So, you must make sure all your ducks are in a row when it comes to logistical things like that. If there is an emergency, you just can’t run to this market or this area. It helped me and my team be more organized. We have all our i’s dotted and all our t’s crossed.”
So, what is he enjoying most at this moment as he plans for the next few months at Market? “Mentoring my team and just appreciating and having fun with taking care of the guests. Customer service. I love to feed people. I love to make them laugh. I’m in a good place right now. I love the environment, good ownership, good management. I’m not looking forward to slowing down or relocating anywhere soon.”