Executive Chef Roderick “Pete” Smith reigns at Market Salamander in downtown Middleburg, a Southern-born force of nature in the kitchen with an appreciation for local flavors. He has brought his skills and appreciation for upscale Southern cooking to this in-town store and bistro outpost of the Salamander Resort.
A Jacksonville Florida native, Chef Roderick “Pete” Smith, graduated from the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2000. By the time he was 22, Pete had become the Chef de Cuisine at Medure in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, making him the youngest African-American Chef to run a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant in Florida. Over his 22 years of professional experience, Pete has gathered skills in many areas of the culinary industry, including managing a gourmet food truck, creating dishes at Forbes Five-Star restaurants, owning his gourmet diner, and more.
Before coming to Salamander, he worked under some great chefs, including Matthew’s Restaurant and Restaurant Medure in North Florida. Sea Island Resort in Georgia, and The Olde Pink House in Savannah. He also owned two restaurants (Jax Diner, Mother’s Café) in Jacksonville, Florida, and worked internationally all over the Caribbean. Chef has brought these flavorful and unique influences to his new position.
We recently caught up with “Chef Pete” and asked a few questions about his career, his ideas on cooking, and his thoughts on the future American cuisine.
I asked him how he came to Salamander. “Chef” explained that good friend Chef Bill Welch, the Executive Chef at the resort, came to visit him in Savannah.
“We worked together at Sea Island Resort in Southeast Georgia. He came down to visit me and some of our close friends in Savannah, where I was living. He asked me what my dream job was. I told him I would love to have a market that sells locally-produced prepared dishes and produce.”
“(I said I wanted to) make cool gourmet sandwiches, create tasting menus, do catering and teachcooking classes,” said Chef. “Bill told me he had the perfect place for me and it’s a BOB (Black Owned Business).”
But wait a minute, what about the weather? “I told him that it snows up there and he said just come up for a tasting. When I visited, I met Ms. Johnson and the rest is history.”
What is your favorite style of cooking and what is your favorite dish to create, and why, we asked.
“I love international cuisines with Southern and French techniques and influences,” he said. “One of my favorite meals to make includes braised short ribs with seared foie gras, haricots vert and pimento cheese risotto.”
At Market Salamander, you will find many of Chef Pete’s signature creations available at the store’s Gourmet Grab & Go, including his bread pudding, hot sauce, and pickled vegetables.
In response to my question about the tastes of his local clientele at Salamander, the Chef explained that he “just loves to cook, have fun and provide great food using as many local ingredients as possible.”
Does Chef have any favorite restaurants beside his own right now? He responded that all the local places in Middleburg and nearby Marshall and The Plains communities are standouts for him because “I love supporting local. These restaurants are doing exactly what I love to do and hope to find new ways to execute…providing great local food with local products while enhancing new trends and unique fun experiences.”
And Chef Pete is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and donning a chef apron and hat when he is off the clock to help out a friend in a pinch.
“Recently, I walked into my friend’s new restaurant to eat dinner. It turned out they had overbooked and were really far behind in the kitchen. I left my other friends to jump behind the line to help catch up with the volume that was coming in.” he said with a broad smile.
And what does he see as the future of food and cuisine for the American diner?
“I believe eating local, unfussy food is the future of American cuisine,” he said. “I see a movement away from fine dining and more interest in well-prepared, creative, locally-sourced ingredients that honor the raw ingredients for their flavors and nutrition.”