Executive Chef Chad Brodkin stirs things up at The Inn at Virginia Tech
November 18, 2010
When people think Olympics, visions of athletes clearing hurdles in less than seconds, torpedoing across pools, and flipping off balance beams come to mind. But there’s another whole Olympics realm – one that involves food.
Chad Brodkin, the new executive chef running things at the Inn at Virginia Tech, has not only competed on the American Natural Foods Culinary Olympic team, but he also is a two-time gold medalist. This is just one of Brodkin’s many credentials leading him to his current position in Blacksburg.
Brodkin spent most of his life in the resort areas of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
“That’s where I found my appreciation of food and food service,” Brodkin explained. Starting at age 14 as a dishwasher, Brodkin drew inspiration from chefs working at the old resorts that surrounded him. Wanting to learn the different disciplines of a chef, Brodkin floated to various positions at the resorts including bakeries, butcher shops, and hot and cold food services.
Gaining experience and praise, Brodkin moved his way up through various kitchens, always searching for bigger and better jobs as well as more knowledge. After high school, Brodkin embarked on a three-year apprenticeship at the American Culinary Federation. His track record includes a period as the executive chef at Dietrick Dining Center in 2000.
His Olympic win came earlier. “I met chef Ron Pickarski in 1991 and joined his team, attending the culinary Olympics with Ron as a member of his team in Frankfurt in 1992 and then again in Berlin in 1996. It was in Berlin that we won the first-ever international gold medal in a completely plant-based entry. I consider each day in the kitchen as a competition to be the very best and make everyone around me inspired to be their best.”
A self-proclaimed workaholic, Brodkin wants to get the word out about the top-of-the-line food and food service at the Inn, whether it is at Preston’s, Continental Divide (the Inn’s cocktail lounge), or one of the Inn’s many banquets.
“I think our goals at The Inn at Virginia Tech are to make people proud to be associated with Virginia Tech,” Brodkin said. “We want to show that we have the ability to deliver high quality food to multicultural guests, to impress people who are used to dining out.”
Brodkin’s team includes chefs with clear marching orders: David Ohring is dedicated to revamping Preston’s, the Inn’s restaurant, while banquet chef John Whitlow also works to create memorable dining experiences.
Brodkin’s air of determination makes it evident just how much he and his staff want to achieve world-class status.
“Are we there yet? We’re working on it, but to be considered world class is definitely our goal.”
Since beginning at the Inn in May, Brodkin has helped oversee many changes. Preston’s lunch and dinner menus are new and the lunch buffet has been upgraded as well. The team is also working to revamp the Continental Divide.
“We are going to launch an exciting holiday menu there, featuring some small plates of little food people can sample and have some wine,” Brodkin said.
The Inn also has one of the largest ballrooms in the area.
“At least from my perspective, the kitchen is sort of the center of things. I deal with all the sales people in trying to customize menus for guests – we cater to many different departments, trying to meet specific needs of clients. Maybe they are having guests in from Kenya, and they need to make sure there are plenty of vegetarian dishes, or they have guests with special dietary restrictions. We’ll ensure our menu provides for those folks.”
After winning Olympic gold in 1996, all subsequent teams were required to follow in Brodkin’s team’s footsteps by including a vegan display among their entries. Brodkin to this day believes in providing such options for people.
“That’s something that a lot of places wouldn’t be interested in catering to. I think with my background I can make something very exciting for those who may request vegetarian or vegan. This Friday I am making a Portobello strudel, that’s something a little different. I do that to make people go ‘wow’ and realize that this is one of the only places they can get that.”
Brodkin orders all food, is responsible for food quality and food production of his chefs and cooks, and of course all other basics such as sanitation.
“But I think the biggest thing is dealing with alumni relations and special guests and groups that come through,” Brodkin said. “They want to be proud to come back here after so many years, and it’s such a great meeting place for them, we want them to be proud that we do such a good job here.”
A lot of what Brodkin does involves “building awareness” as well, said Teresa Hughes, director of sales and marketing at The Inn at Virginia Tech.
“Not only do we want want to be the restaurant and lounge of choice for our hotel guests, but we want to be the choice of the community as well. It’s about educating people about the new menus and getting them to want to come back,” Hughes said. “When people are thinking of where to eat on a Saturday night, we want them to think, ‘Oh, let’s go to Preston’s or Continental Divide.’”
Brodkin says he genuinely loves being part of the Hokie community. "I’ve worked with a lot of students, both here and at Dietrick when I was there from 2000 to 2007. I really appreciate the aspect of being involved with students, and I still have student employees. I know a lot of faculty,” said Brodkin.
Cheering for the Virginia Tech football team and being a fan is also a plus. He was part of the team that opened West Side Stadium, a concessions venue in the president’s suite at Lane Stadium.
Brodkin was also involved with the Virginia Tech community after April 16th, preparing 500 boxed lunches for the police and Burruss-based command centers.
Reflecting his Hokie pride, Brodkin proudly displays a cut-out HokieBird in his kitchen. It looks out over the room and is equipped with its own chef hat and the message “Hokie Hospitality.”
“All my career I have been aggressive in making sure my food looks beautiful and tastes great, but it has to be hot, too. I want to win [food competitions] and inspire the staff to win, too. That’s part of the greater mission, to be a mentor to the team. I try to be a nice guy, but at times I do get upset if my expectations are not being met, because I have a high standard,” Brodkin said.
Brodkin also has an artistic side.
“What I found with food was that the plate was my canvas, and I could serve it to somebody and have instant gratification or instant feedback,” Brodkin said. He has studied 18th century chefs and their observations of how people describe food. Knowing that almost anyone’s food can be “great,” the only word that Brodkin says he really strives to hear is “perfect.”
“That’s what we want to hear when people leave. We want to read their comment cards and see that it was fabulous and then have them spread the word,” Brodkin said.
The team at the Inn will be hosting some upcoming events that are designed to draw customers, including a new ballroom-based Grand Thanksgiving Buffet Event along with the popular Murder Mystery with a special menu, an interactive dinner of sorts. Then, in December, there will be a Dickens Christmas show in Preston’s.
“I really feel like this is my opportunity to make the Inn one of the best in the country,” reflected Brodkin. “When people come back now they say ‘Wow things are better, this is really good’ – so you can see we are really trying to make this a special place.”
Written by Mia Perry, a senior from Fairfax, Va., who is a creative writing English major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.