Kyle Woodruff, 33
On the morning I sat down to chat with Kyle Woodruff, he was shucking Virginia oysters for the raw bar at Catch 31.
He gingerly pried the blunt oyster knife blade into the closed bivalve and gave it a little twist. There was a satisfying pop, and the shell opened, revealing the delicious prize inside.
Woodruff, who took over as executive chef at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront this past autumn, is the tall toque over Catch and sister eateries, Salacia and Sky Bar.
The 33-year-old explains why he’s giving so much love to each oyster.
“Our food philosophy here is to highlight Coastal Virginia cuisine, utilizing the freshest products available with regionally-inspired dishes,” Woodruff says. “That includes regionally-sourced produce, local specials of fish, and oysters.”
The New Kent native has lived in the region his whole life.
“This is my home and where I grew up,” he says. “I love being a part in the community I grew up in, whether its cooking for them or being on the other side of the cook’s line and enjoying what other culinarians are creating.”
Woodruff has been cooking since he was 15, earning his culinary chops as a culinary apprentice at Colonial Williamsburg. It’s there he first worked under his professional mentor, Chef Hans Schadler, who not only taught him the fundamentals of cooking, but also what it means to be a chef.
He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife of eight years, Emily, and their chocolate lab, Marley.
Your restaurants are seafood-centric; what’s your favorite seafood and why?
I love local fish. My favorite seafood depends on what our local waterman bring to the dock. We are in the midst of speckled trout season, so that is my favorite now. I love cooking on our wood-burning grill. When dealing with the fresh fish selection that we have, it doesn’t take much: a little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and butter can make magic.
The fresh catch selection is always a great place to start, especially prepared on our wood-burning grill. At Salacia, you can never go wrong with our prime New York Strip or our Japanese A5 filet steak.
Why is sourcing local important?
This should be the priority of any culinarian; it’s more than a marketing campaign. As a chef, you want to provide the best food you can, so why wouldn’t you want to use the best ingredients you can while supporting the local economy?
What advice would you give to inspiring chefs?
Being a professional chef is more than a job, it’s a passionate lifestyle. It takes commitment, hard work, and dedication. If you put in the hard work consistently, it will pay dividends. Find a mentor that will share their experiences and groom you into what you want to be. Finally, never wait for anything; your career is your responsibility.
How can home cooks kick up their repertoire?
Don’t be afraid of any ingredient or culinary technique. The worst thing that could happen is you might have to do it again, but the best thing is a magical dish that brings smiles to your table.
What should home cooks have in their kitchens?
Stainless steel Global knives from Japan are my knife brand of choice. Also in the kitchen, every home cook should have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.
For herbs and spices, plant a tabletop herb pot that includes thyme, tarragon, parsley, basil and chives. You should definitely have a rosemary bush outside.
What is a favorite dish for wintertime?
When it gets cold outside, the first thing that comes to my mind is a terrific soup. Whether it’s a chunky chowder or a velvety lobster bisque, they are great.
The Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront is at 3001 Atlantic Ave. Call 757-213-3000 or visit www.HiltonVB.com.
This feature originally appeared in the December 22, 2017 Virginian-Pilot online.