The Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg. ##Photo provided

Q&A: Chef Chris Smith

The Allison hires new executive chef

In December 2018, The Allison Inn & Spa welcomed Christopher Smith as executive chef. In this new role, Smith leads all culinary programs at the 85-room boutique resort, including the hotel’s signature restaurant JORY. The Seattle native’s passion for the culinary world began at a young age, cooking for his family and determining at the age of 14 to pursue a career in the culinary arts. Two years later, he enrolled in the culinary program at Lake Washington Institute. With 15 years of industry experience, including mastering his craft under chef Bobby Moore at the Barking Frog at Willows Lodge (Woodinville, Washington) for six years, Smith was named one of Zagat’s “30 under 30” Seattle chefs redefining the industry. He brings an inventive and artistic vision to The Allison with new, transformative tasting menus and elevated dining experiences.

Chef Chris Smith ##Photo by Rusty Rae

Why did you become a chef?

Hospitality and cooking have always been a focus in my life. I grew up cooking with my parents and four siblings. As I grew a little older, I decided to see what it would be like to cook in a professional environment. I started culinary school when I was 16, and it was my exposure to the chefs there, as well as at my first job, that I realized I wanted to continue down this path and ultimately be like them.

Who is your culinary icon?

I have a few, but Sean Brock is the most prevalent for me. His philosophy on food and the history behind it is inspiring and his personal journey speaks to me on many levels, as well.

What has been your most memorable meal so far? Details, please!

Hands down, the most memorable meal I’ve had to date was at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Tarrytown, New York) last September. I took my then girlfriend (now fiancée) there as one of two treat dinners that we had on a trip to see her family and celebrate my birthday. She grew up about an hour away from stone barns. When it was all said and done, the meal wound up being about 30 courses, everything was masterfully handled and unpretentious. Chef Barber’s crew shows a tremendous passion for what they do and have an amazing level of respect for the ingredients they work with, grow and breed. On top of that, the level of service was the perfect balance of unobtrusive thoughtfulness coupled with precision and warmth. We started with a rapid fire barrage of amuse bouche — all of which was thoughtfully prepared — and a satchel of silverware delivered to the table. A passing comment about our love of tomatoes on one of the dishes proved to be a detail that did not go unmissed by the service team. About halfway through our five-and-a-half-hour dining extravaganza, we were taken to a super romantic little shed that was dimly lit in a plethora of candles and studded with greenery throughout. The doors were open to the fields of produce, so we stepped outside to listen to the crickets and gaze at the stars for a bit. Seeing as how the timing, setting and food were just perfect, I capitalized on the opportunity and got down on a knee to propose to her — she said “yes.” Shortly after, our next course arrived, which was the tomato course, plus a celebratory toast from the gracious staff.

When we got back to our actual table, they had a wonderful hand written congratulatory card on the table for us. And we then progressed into our entrée segment of the dinner. When it was time for desserts, we were, again, graced with a tomato course with mozzarella ice cream — from what I could tell, no other table in the restaurant had that dish — and then two congratulatory chocolate cakes. It was all those special little touches, our interactions with the staff and the amazing food that made it my top dining experience of my life. By the way, I never mentioned to any of the staff that I was going to propose to her that night, but they were extremely quick on their feet with recognizing it once I did. On the way out for the evening, our maître d' invited us back to the café for breakfast the next morning, on the house, as we toured the grounds. We also ran into him and our server coming in for their shifts the next day as we had a leisurely stroll around the grounds, again receiving warm wishes of congratulations.

What makes Jory extraordinary?

We break the mold of humdrum hotel restaurants, providing fantastic service without being overly pretentious. Our food is humble and respective of the ingredients; we pride ourselves on our ability to showcase the products coming out of our gardens and present our ingredients in a way that hopefully elevates them to extraordinary levels of flavor and quality.

Other than Jory, what are your favorite places to eat in Oregon?

As a recent transplant to Oregon from the Seattle area, I sadly haven’t gotten to experience as much as I would have liked yet, however, the South Beach Fish Market on the south side of Newport is a great stop when you’re out on the coast. In Portland, Le Pigeon is a must. I’m currently starting my hunt for some great xiaolongbao (a type of Chinese steamed bun from the Jiangnan region).

Any exciting plans at Jory for 2019?

Exciting plans you ask? This year is The Allison’s 10th anniversary, so we’ve planned some fun events, a few smaller wine dinners and collaborations throughout the year — stay tuned for details. We’re hosting the Pinot Barrel Auction, April 5–7. On Aug. 31, we will host our grand 10-year celebration featuring live music, 15 wineries, a handful of breweries and distilleries, food from 10 different restaurants; it’s going to be a big party and a lot of fun. We’re also currently offering a weekly three-course prix fixe menu (Sunday–Thursday) for $50; it’s a way of inviting the community out to experience our hospitality without breaking the bank. Beyond that, we’re just ramping up for the growing season, laying plans with our master gardener about our crop plantings and getting ready for a fantastic summer.

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