Story by Kaitlin Hill 

In June, Culinary Institute of America graduate and fine dining veteran Bill Welch joined the Salamander Resort and Spa hospitality team. The freshly appointed executive chef offers his five-star dining background, opportunities for culinary collaboration, and new ideas for guest experiences as the team continues to pursue the shared goal of upholding Salamander’s well-deserved reputation for excellence.

Welch started his culinary journey as a dishwasher at age 13. After high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and an associate’s degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America. He refined his skills up and down the East Coast with posts at five-star resorts in Massachusetts and Georgia.

“I did my internship on Cape Cod at the Wequassett Resort, which is a five-star property,” he said. “I was there for about six years before I went down to Sea Island in Georgia as a sous chef at the five-star restaurant. I had the opportunity to move throughout that property over the last 10 years.”
At Sea Island, Welch would hold a number of positions, including executive chef of events and executive chef to The Cloister and The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club.

From left to right: Walter Jinks, Jason Reaves, Bill Welch, and Jose Carlos Curci. Salamander team photographed by Kaitlin Hill. 

“I had a ton of really cool experiences there,” Welch said. “I got to open restaurants, redesign restaurants, kind of run the gamut throughout that resort. It was a really great place for me to grow as a chef, as a person, and as a leader. I was able to make some mistakes and learn along the way. After being there for 10 years, I felt that I had done everything I could do.”
When Welch heard about the position at Salamander, he was drawn in by the setting and the staff. “This area is gorgeous, and there is a great team of people here, so I made the decision to come up this way and start to explore the Mid-Atlantic region,” he said.

Now installed as executive chef, Welch is still exploring, both the area and new dining formats for his guests. “There are a ton of local producers and really great food in this area,” he said. “So, it’s really exciting to go out and meet people and taste things and get to experience all of that.”

Photo courtesy of Salamander Resort and Spa. 

On Tuesdays, his day off, he ventures out on his own. “Whether it’s a brewery, a winery, a butcher shop, a charcuterie place,” he said. “I get to go out and explore the area and have some fun.”

Connection and Collaboration

Salamander’s executive pastry chef Jason Reaves has known Welch for 16 years. “We were at the CIA together and roommates for a short bit after externship,” Reaves said. “He came up and did a tour with me when the resort was being built, so he’s had the resort in his mind for the future.

“It’s amazing to have him join the team,” he added. “With that kind of connection, it will be a lot easier and better to collaborate between the two of us to offer some different experiences for our guests. I’m really excited for that and, so far, it’s been going great.”

Photo courtesy of Salamander Resort & Spa.

Collaboration will extend to cocktails too, where Welch will team up with Salamander’s food and beverage manager, Walter Jinks. “I’m excited to be the liaison between [Chef Welch] and my team, so I can train them to push out his ideas for the guests,” Jinks said. “I’m excited to be a part of this. It’s
something new.”

This summer, part of that “something new” was working together on Covid-19-necessitated adaptations. “We’re all wearing masks, and the team is doing an amazing job of holding themselves accountable for that,” Welch said. “And the amount of times we wash our hands, even though we were already doing that hundreds of times over the course of the day normally, now we are doing it even more.”

There have been major front-of-the-house changes too at Harriman’s and Gold Cup. General manager Reggie Cooper recalled, “When we reopened, we quickly saw demand for the outdoor dining spaces and terraces. Walter, our manager of Gold Cup, worked really hard to create an outdoor terrace restaurant, which before was kind of a place you’d just enjoy a drink, and is now a fully operating restaurant, rain or shine.”

Luckily for guests, the team has no shortage of ideas — even for the cooler months to come — and the space to see them through. “We’re fortunate we have lots of space, beyond restaurant rooms,” Cooper said. “We’ll go to a format where we’ll start to incorporate some of those other conference areas, change them to dining spaces and move people around to different parts of the building.”

Chef Bill Welch in the garden. Photographed by Kaitlin Hill. 

Reaves explained that they don’t just want to move people into banquet spaces for meals but to create events around those areas. “For example, we’re working on a dinner-and-a-movie concept,” he said. “The meal guests have with the movie will be based around the food that may be in the movie. We’re trying to build up that concept and come up with other ideas where we use those spaces in a way that is more interactive, more interesting, as opposed to just putting some tables in a room because we need the space.”

They’re also planning for events that connect customer to community. “With Bill’s creativity, we’re looking into diving deeper into the food of the region to try to create more curated chef events,” Cooper said. “Whether that’s in-suite where people can have a chef event in their own suite or small private gatherings in the Stallion Barn or the cooking studio, we are really looking to enhance [the] guest experience and make the chef ’s presence and visibility much larger.”

Chef events will be available in the 49 private residential homes that are planned for the property as well. With a new executive chef at the helm and ever-changing options designed to accommodate dining during a global pandemic, a lot has changed at The Salamander Resort and Spa. However, the hospitality team’s goal has remained the same.

Photo courtesy of Salamander Resort and Spa.

Resort manager Jose Carlos Curci said they are always evolving. “We are always looking for things that we can do better,” he said. “Even though the pandemic changed the game, we have the mentality to keep improving ourselves. Salamander has a great reputation, and we bring in our expertise and our background in luxury to keep adding to it.”

“We’re continuing to push to maintain everything at that five-star level,” Reaves said. “Everything we do, everything new we come up with, it’s all five-star focused.” Welch believes the balance between different aspects of the business all working together results in something special. “It’s our role to create experiences, and there are a million ways we can do that,” he said. “Whatever it is that we’re doing, we are finding creative ways to give guests new experiences.” ML

Published in the September issue of Middleburg Life.