Maria Young Published

W.Va. Chef Wins Elite National Culinary Award

crowd of people jumping and celebrating
A crowd of supporters celebrate Chef Paul Smith's win as a Paul Beard finalist for the southeast region.
Maria Young/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Updated on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 at 5 p.m.

West Virginia Chef Paul Smith was named the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast Monday night at the awards ceremony in Chicago.

Smith, who last year became the foundation’s first ever finalist from West Virginia, took top honors in this year’s star-studded ceremony at the Lyric Opera.

“Two words that have never been mentioned here before: West Virginia,” Smith said in his acceptance speech.

Man on video screen at a podium
Chef Paul Smith accepts the 2024 James Beard Award for the southeast. He is the first person from West Virginia to do so.

Photo Credit: Maria Young/West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

A crowd of hundreds watching a live stream of the event at Charleston’s Capitol Market erupted in prolonged cheers as a presenter told the audience, “He grew up in West Virginia literally standing on a milk crate stirring his grandfather’s Sunday sauce. Today at his restaurant, he tells the Appalachian food story. Paul Smith is … he’s a hometown hero, he really is.”

Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby, in the Capitol Market crowd, said the win puts West Virginia on the map as a culinary destination. 

“It puts us on the map. When you think about culinary destinations, this absolutely puts us on the map,” Ruby said. “It’s one more thing that gives people at a national level the idea that West Virginia is a destination.”

Gov. Jim Justice said in a Facebook post that the award “attracts visitors from around the world to experience the taste of Almost Heaven.” 

The Southeast category in which Smith won includes Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

**Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comments from Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby and Gov. Jim Justice.