West Virginia Chef AmbassadorsBold, rich flavors. Dishes made with locally grown food and flair. All cuisine in Almost Heaven is nothing short of divine, thanks to the chefs that proudly call West Virginia home.
Learn about Almost Heaven’s best local eats and authentic Appalachian flavors from the chefs that know it best. In partnership with the West Virginia Department of Tourism, the 2022 West Virginia Chef Ambassadors are shining a spotlight on the tastes and talents across the Mountain State.
Are you a Dining Devotee or an Aspiring Foodie?
Join the fun by sharing your most delicious finds on social media using #WVEats and #AlmostHeaven.
Chef Ambassador News
James Beard Award Semifinalist – Chef Paul Smith
Best Chef: Southeast
One of the highest honors possible for a Chef, the James Beard Awards recognize the top talent within the culinary industry each year. West Virginia Chef Ambassador Paul Smith is among the few lucky semifinalists for 2023. Chef Paul Smith is nominated for Best Chef in the Southeast, thanks to his immense talent and success within the industry. Congratulations, Chef Paul!
Meet our Current Chef Ambassadors
Meet the chefs in each of our travel regions that embody the spirit of Almost Heaven in the culinary sector. Get to know them as they discuss their favorite dishes, share easy recipes for you to recreate and introduce you to your new favorite restaurants throughout West Virginia.
Owner & Executive Chef of Vagabond Kitchen
Matt Welsch is an award-winning chef and restaurateur in Wheeling, West Virginia. He began his culinary journey in the dish pits of his college campus and has manned the lines in kitchens all over the country as he rode his motorcycle along blue highways to sample the culinary diversity of the United States.
Chef Matt has been featured on Guy’s Grocery Games, The Cast Iron Cookoff, West Virginia’s 40 Under 40, Taste WV Magazine, WV Living and Bon Appetit. He believes simply that everyone deserves to eat good food. Chef Matt currently serves up flavorful creations as the Owner and Executive Chef of Vagabond Kitchen.
Owner & Executive Chef of 1010 Bridge & The Pitch
Paul Smith’s deeply engrained love of both cooking and West Virginia can be traced back to his earliest of days – standing alongside his grandfather helping stir the sauce for the large Sunday dinners. From those beginnings, Paul’s passions for food and his Appalachian home have taken him on a culinary journey that he is proud to share with his community.
In early 2020, Paul opened not one but three new restaurants in West Virginia’s capital city – Barkadas, The Pitch Sports Bar & Grill, and 1010 Bridge Restaurant & Catering, which quickly gained a reputation as one of the state’s premiere dining destinations.
Paul Smith was recently named the 2021 Best Chef by WV Living Magazine. Along with Carrie, his wife of ten years, Paul’s ultimate vision is to give back to the state he has always considered home through his gifts of great food and warm hospitality.
Executive Chef of The Vault On Main: Restaurant & Wine Bar
Chef Libby Nolle is the executive chef at The Vault on Main and Speakeasy Bourbon Bar in Summersville, WV. Her accomplishments include being the first ever female voted as Best Chef in Almost Heaven by WV Living Magazine.
Originally from Maryland by ways of Pennsylvania, Chef Libby fell in love with West Virginia while pursuing her degree in hospitality management at Davis and Elkins College. With over 20 years of culinary experience ranging from quick service to fine dining, her passions lie with the local food movement – supporting local farmers and producers whenever possible.
Executive Chef of Lot 12 Public House
Damian Heath grew up in Berkeley Springs, the son of award-winning artists Jonathan and Jan Heath. His love of food began at an early age, steeped in a flavorful melange of large Italian family dinners with lots of laughter and more food than they could ever eat, much of it gathered from their garden and pantry shelves.
In January of 1998, an old house on Warren Street in Berkeley Springs (where Lot 12 is now) went up for sale. The Heaths had been discussing their future and knew that Berkeley Springs was their destiny. Once they saw how perfect the house was, it was settled. Lot 12 Public House opened for business on August 12, 1999.
New River-Greenbrier Valley
Executive Chef of The French Goat
Chef Jared Masters began his culinary career at age 19, working in restaurants in South Florida. As his passion for food and cooking blossomed, he became more interested in cooking as a career. To achieve his goal of becoming a chef, he moved to the Greenbrier Valley in West Virginia. Once there, Chef Masters apprenticed at The Greenbrier Resort under a master chef as he increased his knowledge and skills. From there, he was promoted to The Greenbrier Sporting Club.
During his eight-year tenure, Masters worked his way up through the ranks. The culmination of all of these factors has brought Chef Jared to The French Goat, to prepare classic French bistro dishes to which he can add his own techniques and flair. Since his acceptance into this program, Chef Jared has returned to The Greenbrier Sporting Club as the Executive Chef.
Owner & Executive Chef of Cody’s Restaurant
Cody Thrasher is the Executive Chef and Owner of Cody’s Restaurant in Bridgeport, WV. A native of Harrison County, Cody started his culinary endeavors in 2014 by opening a food truck after picking a book and teaching himself to cook.
Years later, Chef Thrasher runs the go-to food destination in Northern West Virginia. A kitchen and cocktails restaurant in the White Oaks Development, Cody and team are known for incorporating local ingredients with a travel-inspired flair into their menu offerings in the 55-seat gastropub!
Pitmaster for Trail 12 BBQ
Chef Karie Ellis is known for her hickory-smoked barbeque with a mountain view at the family-owned Trail 12 BBQ along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Formerly the executive chef at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Teays Valley before returning home to Gilbert, Ellis earned her credentials as a certified chef through the culinary program at the Carver Career and Technical Center.
This pitmaster extraordinaire has made a name for herself amongst chefs throughout West Virginia being named Runner Up Best Chef in the State in 2019 along with winning the award for Best BBQ in the Coalfields from 2018 to the present.
Owner & Executive Chef of Farm Up Table
Tiffiny Villar started her culinary adventure at a young age cooking with her parents and grandmothers in Maryland. Growing up in Baltimore, she developed a love for blue crabs and oysters – both staples in her hometown. Tiffiny went on to study at Baltimore International Culinary College and trained under Master Chef Peter Timmons in Ireland with a background in fine dining.
After moving to West Virginia and a brief hiatus to raise her children, Tiffiny opened The Farm Up Truck in 2016 with a menu focused on European, Creole and Southern influences. Her food truck became a weekend standard in Tucker County, which lead to her opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Thomas with her husband last year. Tiffiny prides herself on using local, fresh ingredients and prepares most menu items from scratch at Farm Up Table. She describes her cooking style as a purist with technique and traditions.
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