Chef competes in Western regional competition
At the end of this month, Travis Smith, the executive chef at One Ski Hill Place and Breckenridge Mountain Dining, competes for the Regional Chef of the Year title in Scottsdale, Ariz. If he wins, he’ll compete at the national level for USA Chef of the Year.Smith credits his team at One Ski Hill Place for helping him win the Colorado competition to begin with. When the Colorado Chefs Association, which is the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, contacted him encouraging him to compete, he was willing, but a little reluctant because he was busy opening restaurants at One Ski Hill Place. When a snowstorm hit that day, he was ready to back out, but one of his teammates plowed through, taking him to the competition, where he competed against four high-end chefs (from the likes of Cherry Hills and Red Rocks country clubs), preparing a flatiron steak with a starch, vegetable and sauce.After he won, he submitted an application packet with his bio, resume, recipes, photos and more. From there, The American Culinary Federation selected four finalists from the Western states, which run north, south and west of Colorado and include Hawaii.All of the chefs must prepare a whole-bone-in duck dish at the regional level. They have 15 minutes to set up, an hour to create their dish, 10 minutes to plate it and 15 minutes to clean up -all on their own, without a team.But Smith has a long history of competing and leading kitchens. As a 20-year Army veteran, he won 10 gold medals and six silver medals from international culinary competitions in the United States, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and South Korea.He joined the Army as a cook, drawn by the opportunity to travel and receive a secure income and benefits.”I also realized how hard my chef in Denver (when I was an apprentice) was working, putting in long hours, so I was looking forward to where I’d be in 20 years with a pension,” Smith said.After six years as a cook in the Army, he became the director of food service, which provided the opportunities to compete and learn from “great coaches,” he said.”The competitions influenced the way I thought about food,” he said. “I have a goal in mind – to have a perfect dish served at the correct temperature -chilled or piping hot, properly seasoned, with a variety of texture and cooked to perfection … it was a lot of reinforcement and learning about those areas.”Living in Hawaii for three years and South Korea for seven also exposed him to a variety of cuisine and a network of chefs worldwide.After retiring from the Army (where he also won the title of “Culinary Olympian” three times as a member of the United States Army Culinary Arts Team), he spent a year as the director of a culinary school in Oklahoma. But, since he grew up in Lakewood, he yearned to return home. Last August, he took the job as the executive chef at One Ski Hill Place, where he runs the living room restaurant, the T-Bar (with upscale Mexican food), the Ski Hill Grill and the coffee shop. He also oversees Sevens (a global bistro) and the three food courts at Breckenridge Ski Area. In addition, he teaches Colorado Mountain College culinary classes, where he stresses both the basics of showing up ready, on time, in uniform, and classical methodology stemming from his passion of classical French cookery. His philosophy: “At the end of the day, it’s about serving great food.””I’m making my best attempt to establish and foster a positive work environment,” he said. “It can be challenging, with the demands of the high volume of food we serve to ski resort customers.”For this upcoming competition, he must demonstrate “the highest standard of culinary skills, advance the cuisine of America and give back to the profession through the development of students and apprentices,” according to the federation’s criteria.Interestingly enough, he’s competing against a chef in the U.S. Army who works at the Pentagon.”All of the chefs (have) already qualified, so they’re all excellent,” he said.
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