Written by Lia Hobel
Photos by Michael Butcher 

Over the last two years, the Salamander Resort & Spa has welcomed new culinary talent to Market Salamander and Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill. Get to know the chefs who are using their wide array of skills to carefully curate every delightful bite at Salamander Resort & Spa in an exclusive Q&A with Middleburg Life.

 From left to right: Pete Smith, Jean Baptiste-Lawson, and Jose Linares in Salamander Resort & Spa’s culinary garden. 

Pete Smith, Executive Chef at Market Salamander

Market Salamander has been around for a few years, but Jacksonville, Florida, native Chef Roderick “Pete” Smith has added a distinct southern pizazz since joining the team. Smith graduated from the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts in St. Augustine in 2000. At the age of 22, Smith became the chef de cuisine at Medure in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, making him the youngest Black chef to run a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant in Florida. With over 22 years of professional experience, Smith has mastered a wide range of responsibilities in the culinary industry.

ML: What brought you to Salamander?

PS: My culinary brother and good friend Chef Bill Welch is the executive chef at Salamander Resort & Spa. We used to work together at Sea Island Resort in southeast Georgia. [When] I told him [that] my dream job was to have a market that sells local products and produce, makes cool, gourmet sandwiches, creates tasting menus, executes incredible catering, and teaches cooking classes, Bill told me he had the perfect place for me. And, that it was a Black-owned business. I met Ms. Sheila Johnson and some of the leaders on the Food and Beverage Team and knew it was where I was supposed to be. 

ML: What inspires your cooking style? 

PS: I’ve been lucky and blessed to do this for a long time now. Working in multiple places around the country as well as internationally and owning a couple of restaurants has provided endless inspiration. My style varies, but I do tell people I specialize in international cuisine with Southern and French techniques. 

ML: What is your most memorable experience as a chef?

PS: The Jacksonville 2005 Super Bowl and the Miami 2007 Super Bowl. I’ll never forget cooking for everyone. It was an incredible experience working [for], meeting, and hanging out with celebrities as well.

ML: What do you enjoy most about working in Middleburg? 

PS: The community is very welcoming, supportive, and transparent. The locals here have been nothing but supportive and loving to me and my family.

ML: What are your signature creations?

PS: Foie gras BBQ short ribs, waffle soufflé, pimento cheese risotto, truffle fried black-eyed peas, and low country blue crab tartare, just to name a few. And, of course, we can’t forget the southern fried chicken and shrimp & grits.

ML: How have all your past cooking experiences shaped you? 

PS: It’s a non-stop learning process. I’m more understanding, relatable, humble, and consistent. You have to always be willing to learn more. 

ML: Do you have any other favorite spots in Hunt Country?

PS: Market Salamander for breakfast and lunch, Field & Main for dinner, Stone Tower Winery and Cana Vineyards for wine and lunch, Front Porch for drinks and music outside, Chrysalis and Teddy’s for good pizza, Knead Wine for upscale pizza, and The Rail Stop for classic (old school) dishes. I have a long way to go and have a lot more to experience.

ML: Anything more you’d like to share with readers?

PS: I am very passionate about the history of food and I am highly addicted to gummy candies and French fries.

Jose Linares, Chef De Cuisine at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill

Born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador, Jose Linares grew up enjoying an abundance of street food and traditional homemade recipes. He joined the culinary team in December 2020 as chef de cuisine of Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill. He brings with him a distinctive approach to food and enjoys using local ingredients and international cooking techniques.

At 16 years old, Linares moved to the U.S. where he attended Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg for his last two years of high school. During that time, he participated in an exchange program with a sister school in Frankfurt, Germany. This helped him hone fundamentals of European cooking techniques.

Linares went on to attend Stratford University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Culinary and Hospitality Management. While in school, Jose started his professional career with the Four Seasons Hotels in Washington D.C. His kitchen talents have taken him all over the globe to various luxury properties including Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.

ML: What do you enjoy most about working in Middleburg? 

JL: I really like the fact that I’m surrounded by so many cool farms, dairy farms, wineries, [and] breweries. I feel like that is the dream for many chefs. We are in the heart of the wine and horse country in Virginia, and it is something very different from what I was used to and I love it. 

ML: What inspires your cooking style? 

JL: I would have to say that the main driver is to create menus seasonally. I get the most inspiration from what is available in the season and the reason why is because I get to pick the best ingredients at the time, resulting in very interesting dishes and flavors. I also really enjoy the sense of tradition and history when it comes to cooking, and different countries and cultures have their own approach in this sense. I have been able to travel and see many different styles of food but concentrating them into the dining experience is very inspiring. 

ML: Do local ingredients influence your cuisine?

JL: Definitely! Understanding your local ingredients and regional foods is super important both in the creative process as well as when you are sourcing the ingredient itself. And as I mentioned before, Middleburg provides the right location to get some of the best products in Virginia.

ML: What is your favorite dish to create and why?

JL: Foie gras has always been an ingredient that I enjoy working with because you can go very seasonal or very classic. Working in between the two makes it a nice yet challenging dish. This particular dish has allowed me to utilize sweeter ingredients in a more savory preparation. Whether it is a cold or hot preparation, foie gras is very versatile. 

ML: How have all your past cooking experiences shaped you? 

JL: As a cook, I learned through what I was told at the time. A recipe, a technique, an ingredient, how to be clean, the importance of certain things that might not be so obvious at the beginning of your career. There are a lot of mistakes involved, and it’s the lessons following them which shape you the most. For example, as a “green cook,” I remember one time my chef came to me and said that I was a very hard worker. But, he didn’t necessarily mean it as a good thing. He said he wanted me to work “smarter” rather than “harder,” and that stuck with me. My chef not only pointed out that I needed to be smarter, but he showed me how. That made me a better, cleaner, faster, more organized cook. Those lessons are very, very important.

ML: Do you have any other favorite spots in Hunt Country?

JL: I like how the area has become so diverse and so trendy without losing its character. A few of my favorites are Great Country Farms, Long Stone Farm, and Locksley Farmstead. They all produce truly top-shelf quality products.

ML: After working all over the world, what is it like to return to Loudoun? What initially brought you to the area at the age of 16? 

JL: Well, initially I moved to the area back when I was 16 because [I had] family [members who were] already living here. It was easy to settle here with my mother, brother, and sister. A few years later after living abroad, I wanted to come back home and also keep working in Washington, D.C. For example, all that I learned in Dubai, from techniques and ingredients to simply how some things were done over there, was very useful here. The knowledge that I’ve learned throughout my travels still helps me when I’m writing menus or creating new dining experiences.

ML: What has been one of your most memorable experiences as a chef? 

JL: I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with various chefs and cook for very important people including celebrities like the Rolling Stones, Michelle Obama, and President Joe Biden.

ML: Tell us a bit more about Harrimans and the experience for guests?

JL: At Harrimans, we try to provide a service in which an experience is created. We have many guests that come to celebrate special occasions and we also have our regulars that visit us on a weekly or monthly basis. We try to stay as approachable as possible from a humble yet sophisticated fried chicken dish to some of the best oysters on the East Coast, caviar service, truffles, etc. 

ML: What do you do in your free time? 

JL: If I’m not talking about cooking, I really enjoy history, spending time with my family and friends, and traveling. More recently I got myself a kitten named Sumy (her name comes from Sumac which is my favorite spice!) and she keeps me pretty busy when I’m not at work.

Jean Baptiste-Lawson, Head Baker at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill

A native of Paris, France, Jean Baptiste-Lawson developed a love of baking a decade ago and has since honed the art of bread making. He joined Salamander’s pastry team in July 2021 and is responsible for all the bread that is used in various dishes at the resort and sold at the Market.

Chef Baptiste-Lawson attended the French baking school École Professionnelle de Boulangerie et Pâtisserie in Champigny-sur-Marne where he specialized in the production of artisan breads, gourmet pastries, and high-end chocolates. He moved to the United States in 2015 to begin his career as a baker at Fresh Baguette in Rockville, Maryland, where he was responsible for mixing, shaping, and baking bread and pastries.

ML: What brought you to Salamander?

JBL: I was curious about working at a luxury hotel property. I had initially applied to be a pastry chef because that was the position that was open. When they told me they really needed a baker, I was excited because baking is where my passion is.

ML: July marks your one year anniversary at Salamander? How would you describe your experience? 

JBL: It has been fun and challenging. The pastry equipment is not meant for traditional bread baking, so it has been a fun challenge learning how to adapt to making bread with pastry equipment.

ML: What do you enjoy most about working in Middleburg?

JBL: I start work at 1 a.m. every day so I enjoy how peaceful and calm the town is when I am coming to work. 

ML: Tell us a bit about the art of bread making? What is your favorite type of bread to bake and why?

JBL: My favorite type of bread to make is a traditional baguette. You have to be very patient when making a baguette and it requires more skill than loaves. The total process to simply make the dough is two hours. That does not account for baking time. It is a lengthy but rewarding process.

ML: When was your last visit to Paris? Any future travel plans?

JBL: My last visit to France was for a month in March. I plan to go back for two weeks in September.

ML: What has been one of your most memorable experiences as a baker?

JBL: Back when I was beginning my career, I was doing an internship working 40 hours a week for two months. On my last day, my payment was five small pastry cakes. I was disappointed, but I learned a lot and can laugh about the experience now.

ML: When did you realize that baking was your passion? Did it come naturally?

JBL: When I started working in a kitchen, one of my friends who owned a bakery nearby would ask me to help. I took every opportunity I could to bake and learn. Baking came very naturally to me.

ML: What do you do in your free time?

JBL: I enjoy seeing my cousin who lives nearby, and we love to cook together. Cooking is one of my passions and I enjoy doing that when I am at home.

ML: Anything more you’d like to share with our readers?

JBL: I was born in Togo but grew up in France. I love to travel and hope to visit Togo soon to see my family. ML

This article first appeared in the August 2022 Issue

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