7 Questions with Jason Reaves
Salamander Resort & Spa’s executive pastry chef shares the inside scoop on his sweet life.
By Nancy Dorman-Hickson
Jason Reaves knows how to make an impression. While serving as pastry chef at Salamander Resort & Spa’s Market Salamander in Middleburg, Virginia, he took on Food Network’s “Lego Cakes” challenge, claiming the $10,000 top prize with his elaborate edible city. In the same episode, he braved proposing on-air to his girlfriend, Nicole. The couple were the first to be married at the resort and are now celebrating the birth of their first son, Nolan Frances.
In a manner of speaking, the pastry kitchen at Salamander Resort & Spa is Reaves’ other child. “I was responsible for designing the pastry kitchen, writing all of the dessert menus for banquets and both restaurants and hiring all of the pastry staff,” Reaves says, noting that much of this work was done before the resort even opened. He continues to craft sweet treats today as the resort’s executive pastry chef.
Here, we meet the man behind the many creative confections.
Salamander Magazine: What would you be doing if you were not a chef?
Jason Reaves: I think secretly I’ve always wanted to be a chef. I started cooking and baking as a young child, checking out books from the library to test out new recipes. If I weren’t cooking I would most likely be making art of some sort—painting, maybe.
SM: You’ve enjoyed multiple appearances on Food Network in addition to “Lego Cakes.” What have been the highlights?
JR: I am highly competitive and have always loved the fast pace, not to mention the exposure. These shows also give me an experience that not a lot of other chefs have. There is a lot of work and an incredible amount of stress, but once the clock starts, you switch to pure adrenaline. The biggest highlight was the proposal to my now-wife when I won on the first show.
SM: Why did you decide to propose publicly?
JR: I was already planning to pop the question around that time. The show asked if I would like to do it on the show if I won. Now I have an amazing story to tell my kids.
SM: What secrets can you share about the art of baking and frosting perfect cakes?
JR: Cakes are delicate and require a careful touch. It is very important that you don’t over-mix the batter. Over-mixing could lead to a collapsed cake or one that is dry and tough. When frosting a cake, start with a crumb coating of frosting, a thin layer that you frost on the outside of the cake to seal in everything. It also traps the crumbs. Once this is applied, chill the cake, then move to the final layer of frosting.
SM: How do you work with a couple to create their perfect wedding cake?
JR: When I meet with a couple, I am taking their vision and turning it into a delicious work of art. What I think sets me apart is that I know my product inside and out. I developed the recipes, created the menus and I am involved with the process from start to finish, even to the point of delivering and setting up the cake at their wedding venue.
SM: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in the kitchen?
JR: Opening Salamander Resort & Spa. The day that we opened, I worked straight through for 45 hours. Chocolate horse displays that we had to make for every room were the culprit.
SM: What do you love most about your job?
JR: The freedom to be creative. We do so many things here, there is never a boring moment. Cakes, plated desserts, ice cream, candies and chocolate sculptures—the list goes on and on.