West Virginia native and chef, Paula Smith, has his sights set on helping to make West Virginia a food destination, and he’s off to a good start with 1010 Bridge Restaurant and Catering and The Pitch.
Chef Paul Smith is all-in on West Virginia. After traveling the country for his culinary education with stops in places like Napa Valley and New York City, he’s happy to be back in the state where he first shaped bread dough at his grandfather’s kitchen counter. “There just isn’t another place like West Virginia, you know?” he says.
Currently serving as chef/owner at Dunbar’s The Pitch, a sports bar, and Charleston’s 1010 Bridge Restaurant & Catering, an Appalachian-influenced restaurant, and previously helping to launch the Filipino restaurant Barkadas in Charleston, Chef Paul Smith is eager to continue pushing the boundaries of his food expertise while working to make his home state a tourist destination. “When I go somewhere and say I’m from Charleston, West Virginia, they say, ‘Oh, I drove through there—it’s a pretty capital,’” Smith says. “Well, to tell you the truth, I want to be a part of why people want to stop.”
Q: How did you first get started cooking?
Paul Smith: It was definitely when I was young, with my grandfather on the weekends. Before I really was even able to see over the stove, I was on a crate or a box kind of stirring the marinara sauce with him, kneading the bread, and more than likely I was just playing with flour. Also, coming from a large Italian family, I think it was just kind of an innate sense of hospitality and family, and food was always a very integral part of our lives.
Q: You grew up in West Virginia, but you’ve traveled a lot throughout your career. What made you come back?
PS: There’s no other place like it. The people, you know, the Appalachian hospitality. I really needed to go to other places to learn and really hone my skills, but the reason that I came back was to try and make a difference in the culinary scene here and try to work together with other chefs. I think the future of West Virginia is hospitality. Living in Asheville, North Carolina, and seeing that transformation—I think West Virginia is on the cusp of that. Right now, during the pandemic, we look great because we have a little distance. We have a lot of natural beauty, we have a national park. We have some great chefs here and great restaurants. And I just want to use the skills and knowledge that I’ve gotten and help to make West Virginia a food state.
Q: When you’re creating a menu from scratch, what steps do you take?
PS: Barkadas’ theme was easy because my partner there was Filipino, but it was also about thinking of that and taking the classical flavors of vinegars, soys, and then just twisting it a little bit so it’s a little bit more mainstream. We did things so that the person who would come in and normally get a burger and chicken wings would try the adobo. As far as The Pitch, we wanted to bring some nostalgic food back to the mainstream, but also putting our twist on it. It was, How do you elevate a sports bar? So all of our sauces are made from scratch. We’re hand-breading our chicken tenders. We’re buying local, we’re supporting local. Bridge 1010 is a very thoughtful process where I talk to the farmers, I see what they’re growing, and I make the seasonal menu based off of that.
Q: If you’re alone in the kitchen with every ingredient at your disposal, what is your favorite thing to cook?
PS: I don’t know if it’s one thing, but, fresh produce. It’s when I can slice into a tomato from New Roots Farm, put a little salt, a little pepper on it, and just do as little to it as possible. That’s what I really enjoy—the natural flavor of the hard work of the farmer or rancher or whoever put work into that. You just taste the care of it. Let me slice a little piece off and just really educate myself every day on what it should taste like. 1010 Bridge and Catering, 1010 Bridge Road, Charleston,
interviewed by Taylor Maple