Randy Yohe Published

W.Va. Food Ambassador Chef Named James Beard Award Semifinalist

A chef in a black apron cuts colorful vegetables on a cutting board.Exclusive-design/Adobe Stock

Charleston Chef Paul Smith is one of two West Virginia chefs in the running for one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world.

Reporter Randy Yohe spoke with Smith, who said it’s a humbling honor just to be nominated. 

Yohe: Chef Paul, you’re a semifinalist for the 2023 James Beard Award. What does that recognize?

Smith: This is for the best chef of the southeast. The James Beard Foundation recognizes culinary expertise in numerous different areas, not only in the country, but also in different facets of the business. So this is Best Chef. It is South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. So it is a huge honor for us, as you know, my family of restaurants. So 1010 Bridge, The Pitch, Barcadas, Ellen’s Ice Cream. This is a win for all of us. It’s really a team effort. I get to be the window dressing for it, but it really is a huge honor for all of us.

Yohe: This award is selective and prestigious, isn’t it?

Smith: It absolutely is. I would say it’s the equivalent of the Academy Awards to the chef community. So for me, the nomination is the win. James Beard nominated chef, is basically saying Oscar nominated actor or Academy Award nominated actor. So for me and for our team, it’s great for the city. It’s great for the state. You know, I’ve already won as far as I’m concerned.

Yohe: There’s more to being a chef than just working at a cutting board, a stove or a grill, right?

Smith: Oh, absolutely. I usually go to the gym at about 5:30 in the morning. I’m at one of the restaurants, probably between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. It’s about setting yourself up for success. It’s about everything in place. It’s about not only your physical, but also your mental needs. It started when I was standing on the milk crate with my grandfather, probably about the same time I learned to walk – to stir in the Sunday gravy with him. That really has culminated in operating in these restaurants. 

Yohe: They serve a wide variety of food at your restaurants to a variety of customers, tell me about that.

Smith: 1010 Bridge is mostly, we say, Appalachian cuisine with a little bit of a low country flair, but kind of nouveau Appalachia. It’s taking indigenous ingredients from this area and elevating it to a point where it’s fine dining, but it’s also approachable fine dining. We don’t have white tablecloths. The service and the drinks and the cocktails and the mixology and how we play it is all fine dining, but you can wear jeans and a T-shirt. 

The Pitch is thoughtful Bar food. We source our ingredients locally from our area farmers. It’s still pizza, burgers, wings and fun appetizers, but it’s just done with that fine dining attention to detail. Barcadas is a Filipino restaurant. So you know that Filipino flavor profiles, the vinegars, the soy sauce, the ginger, the garlic, the scallions, but also making it approachable.

Man wearing apron standing at table speaking to people and cooking food
Chef Paul Smith giving a culinary arts demonstration at Charleston’s Capital Market. Courtesy Paul Smith

We’re in West Virginia, so we have to make it a little bit of something for everybody. So we’ve got burgers and wings, and kind of one of our favorite dishes is our Fili Cheesesteak, you know, Filipino. It’s got soy and a little bit of garlic and ginger, and calamansi, and it just kind of elevates it a little. 

Ellen’s was a staple here in Charleston for 25 years, and she trusted us to keep the brand going. With all of our ice cream flavors, we’re thoughtful about it. We source locally, and we support local. I think it’s all about supporting the local community. If someone asks me what kind of chef I am, I say I really support the community and I’m the community chef. I’m not really farm to table, I’m not fine dining. I don’t have a specific genre of food that I like to cook. It’s about creating the experience for the guests.

Yohe: You’re known as a chef ambassador for West Virginia. I’m told that’s also something you take great pride in.

Smith: So this is the inaugural for that designation. The governor and the West Virginia Department of Tourism announced the Chef Ambassador program. I represent the Metro Valley. It’s a huge, huge honor to work really closely with the governor’s office, the Department of Tourism, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, to really spread the word and to utilize local but to really get the word out. We have some of the best culinarians in West Virginia. We have some of the best restaurants that I’ve ever been to in West Virginia, and to be able to showcase that and be a part of the fraternity of chefs and represent West Virginia to the best of my ability is huge.

Yohe: What have you learned, and where have you traveled, to know how to please a palate, if you will?

Smith: I started my culinary journey way back with my grandfather on Fridays at the Glen Ferris Inn helping him with the Italian nights. I think that’s where I got my start. I worked at Dutchess Bakery through high school, baking bread and honing my baking and pastry skills. I went to culinary school at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York – the Culinary Institute of America – for two years and then I continued my education in Napa Valley, studying pastry and wine and really getting, you know, immersing myself in the hospitality culture that is Napa. That’s kind of where everything clicked. 

I was classically French trained. But everything was farm to table and all the resources were there, the fresh produce, the viticulture, the hospitality culture. It was just awesome. Then I was recruited as the pastry chef for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. So I was a pastry chef at the Biltmore and went to work at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, which was one of the most valuable experiences. Their culinary team was second to none. At that time, it was the best hotel in North America. 

I learned a ton there and went to the Windsor Club in Vero Beach, Florida, which was huge. It’s a very small, but very prestigious club, so that was a valuable experience. Then, I went straight to the opposite. Not really the opposite as far as cuisine goes, but the opposite as far as paying attention to the food costs. I was the executive chef back home at the University of Charleston for three years. That allowed me to really learn the business side of it and pay attention to food costs and utilizing not just the rib eye, and the tenderloin and the strip, but the other cuts where you have to get very creative in what you’re doing.

And then I was a corporate chef at Buzz Food Service. I will say that Dickinson and Angela Gould really gave me the platform to really be who I am today. That’s when people really started calling me Chef Paul. And that’s when I represented Buzz, to the best of my ability, and helped them to get to that next level. I got to work with so many great chefs around the great state of West Virginia, and learn and teach and consult. And I was always preaching this rising tide. We all need to work together to raise all of our ships.

It’s just been a wild and fantastic journey, doing some consulting on a couple of different projects in Lewisburg and my philosophy is helping. So we’ve got to help each other. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and learn and learn from some of the best chefs in the country. Now my job is to teach and help everybody to get to the level that they want to get to.

Yohe: The James Beard award finalists are announced next Wednesday. Then what happens?

Smith: They select five, and again, I’m not really under any delusion that I’m going to be going to Chicago to the gala. It would be exactly like the Oscars of the chef world. You get dressed up, there’s an award ceremony, and I get to rub elbows with the best chefs in the country, which just blows my mind. I mean, it’s funny when I was talking to friends, and to my wife, and people in the restaurant, and I’m naming off the chefs, the 20 chefs that are on the list, and I’ve been to a couple of their restaurants. I’m like, man, these guys are a big deal. And they’re like, dude, you’re on the list. You’re a big deal. I don’t really look at myself that way. I have to stay humble. Now is when the real hard work starts. You have got to bring your A game every day.

When people come to 1010, or they come to The Pitch, or Barcadas, or Ellen’s, they’re going to expect a higher level than they already did just because my name is attached to it. I just want to make sure that everybody knows that my teams in all of these restaurants and my partners and all of these ventures, they’re the ones that are doing all the heavy lifting, I get to be nominated as Best Chef in the Southeast, but it’s a huge team effort. West Virginia went from just an absolutely wonderful place to live to a food destination overnight. I’m honored to just be in the same sentence with some of these chefs around the country. I mean, it’s a huge, huge honor.


Ramin Mirzakhani of Laury’s Restaurant in Charleston is also a James Beard Award semifinalist.