Salamander Resort & Spa has one of the finest pastry chefs in the world, Jason Reaves. The Purcellville resident has been with Salamander since its opening and his resume continues to get sweeter and sweeter.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, with a degree specializing in baking and pastry, he gained experience at several resorts, later earning the title of pastry chef while aboard Norwegian Cruise ships on the high seas. Away too long, Jason’s mother persuaded him to find work in the area. “She used the newspaper clippings (about the building of the resort) to try and pull me back from Hawaii,” Jason recalled, and it worked.
With Jason’s culinary skills and knowledge, the pastry operations at Market Salamander expanded quickly as he managed everything from supplies and equipment to creating the menus of pastries and unique cakes for Salamander’s guests as well as for local restaurants, weddings and civic events.
His reputation for elaborate wedding cakes quickly grew beyond Middleburg. On one occasion, a local couple flew Jason and his crew to Reno for their son’s wedding. “We didn’t decorate until I got there, so I had all the cakes in cake pans, and we layered it in boxes all wrapped up and then we checked it with luggage. We’ve decorated down in Williamsburg, we’ve gone to Philadelphia, to Boston. Reno’s about the farthest away.”
In 2011, Jason and his assistant Terry Tuttle competed in the “Food Network Challenge”, filmed in Denver. The theme was “Lego Cakes”. After eight hours, a three-and-a-half-foot high LEGO city including helicopter and office tower, large enough to serve 400, was made from butter cream and fondant frosting, and decorated with melting chocolate. The creation earned Jason and Terry the $10,000 first prize for their artistry.
The victory didn’t end there. After winning the grand prize while the cameras were still rolling, Jason turned to his girlfriend Nicole to propose marriage. She said, “yes” and the two were married a few weeks later at Salamander.
Every pastry chef has a rare, humbling moment of disaster. In the Food Network Challenge Extreme Amusement Park Cakes, Jason came in “whatever last was”. Chuckling, “I can’t remember if it was three teams or four teams but whatever it was we were the last ones.” While Jason’s cake was an incredible work of art, unfortunately the roller coaster failed to operate in the challenge, eliminating him from the competition. Undeterred, he competed in a third Food Network Challenge “King of Cones”, again winning the $10,000 prize. Using the prize money, the newlyweds spent a luxurious vacation in Italy.
As of this writing, Jason is competing again on the Food Network Challenge as the cake artist in a team of three called the “Crypt Cookers” in the show “Halloween Wars.” “This show is a little bit different. You start with six teams and every week a team gets eliminated…the finale is at the end of October (29).” With a prize of $50,000 to the winning team, it’s going to be a scary night!
Out of the limelight, Jason is passionate about contributing back to the community. His endeavors include cooking classes, at Harriman’s Cooking Studio at Salamander, you can find him demonstrating and teaching in an interactive class featuring seasonal menu offerings. A master class right here at Salamander, nothing sweeter!