HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WV News) — The West Virginia Department of Tourism tapped the expertise of nine local chefs across the state to serve as the first-ever class of West Virginia chef ambassadors.
The chefs were honored at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism that took place in Huntington last week.
The West Virginia Chef Ambassador Program is a new initiative created by the Department of Tourism designed to promote local Appalachian cuisine through media events and promotional activities, while nurturing the industry for future growth through educational training and seminars.
“This program is so needed to help take West Virginia’s culinary industry to the next level, and I truly believe we have recruited some of the best and brightest West Virginia chefs for the job,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “I can’t wait to see all the wonderful projects and big ideas they will cultivate over the next year and beyond.”
With the state having the most family-owned farms in the U.S., the culinary industry is a strong contributor to West Virginia’s tourism growth, representing more than 28,000 jobs and more than 3,200 restaurants statewide.
The inaugural class represents all nine travel regions across West Virginia. Selected chefs will serve a one-year term.
The chefs, their workplaces and the regions they represent are:
• Damien Heath, executive chef of Lot 12 Public House — Eastern Panhandle
• Karie Ellis, executive chef of Trail 12 BBQ — Hatfield-McCoy Mountains
• Paul Smith, owner and executive chef of 1010 Bridge & The Pitch — Metro Valley
• Yancy Roush, chef at The Blennerhassett Hotel — Mid-Ohio Valley
• Elizabeth Nolle, executive chef of The Vault On Main: Restaurant & Wine Bar — Mountain Lakes
• Cody Thrasher, owner and executive chef of Cody’s Restaurant — Mountaineer Country
• Jared Masters, executive chef of The French Goat — New River-Greenbrier Valley
• Matt Welsch, owner and executive chef of Vagabond Kitchen — Northern Panhandle
• Tiffiny Villar, owner and chef of Farm Up Table — Potomac Highlands
Ambassadors were nominated and selected based on a set of evaluation criteria, such as years of experience in the food service industry, demonstration of leadership within the local community, innovation and culinary excellence in the workplace, as well as support of West Virginia agriculture.
“Travelers spend more than $1.2 billion each year within West Virginia’s food service industry. That’s big business for the Mountain State,” said West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby. “Gov. Justice sees the huge potential this industry stands to gain in the coming years, and I applaud him for his leadership in bringing this inaugural class to fruition. Let’s get to cooking, West Virginia.”
Chef ambassadors will begin partnering with the West Virginia Department of Tourism and Governor’s Office on a variety of projects effective immediately.