Up and Coming Chefs – James Reaux

Up and Coming Chefs – James Reaux: Chef James Reaux owns and operates The Chop House at LaPrade’s Marina on Lake Burton. After talking to him I’m confident that he went into to this venture with his eyes open and with a business model and plan pointed to success.


Up and Coming Chefs – James Reaux

Up and Coming Chefs – James Reaux

by Chef David Darugh

As I drove over to LaPrade’s I was thinking of the best way to politely ask Chef James Reaux how he expects to make his new Chop House restaurant a success at Lake Burton when so many other restaurants have not been able to do so. After talking to him I’m confident that he went into to this venture with his eyes open and with a business model and plan pointed to success. I have met and interviewed many chefs through the years, but in Chef Reaux I also saw the business man.

After our introductions I asked Chef Reaux about his qualifications, and how he got started.  His background and training are impeccable, so our community can have no doubt about his ability to identify and prepare exceptional quality food. He grew up in Michigan and after high school entered a 2 year culinary program in Toledo, Ohio, where he excelled.  Having seen many European instructors he was fascinated with learning more about the classical European methods, so he applied for and participated in a 2 year internship in Switzerland at a 5 star resort hotel.  He returned to the U.S. and spent 3 years in another student internship at the famous Greenbrier Inn in West Virginia.    From there his career accelerated literally around the world as he worked in 5-6 star resorts and hotels working his way up to Sous Chef, Executive Sous Chef and finally to Executive Chef.

Before coming to the mountains of Western North Carolina Chef Reaux was executive chef for the Boca Raton Hotels and Resorts in Florida overseeing 21 restaurants, 400 chefs and $80 million in annual revenue. Along the way he garnered numerous awards and in 2003 was Centennial Honoree at the James Beard House.

Then, several years ago, he was coaxed by a business team to come to Western North Carolina to assist in the design of the new resort restaurant Ridges in Hayesville.  After designing the restaurant the owners asked what it would take to get him to stay. He quickly replied “ownership.”  His stint at the helm of that restaurant lasted two years, and gave him a lesson in the importance of value. With an onsite Sommelier, waiters in jackets – it just did not work, so after two years he sold it back to the resort.

His family was by now comfortably at home in Western North Carolina and did not want to return to Florida, so about 3 ½ years ago he bought his first restaurant in Murphy and opened it as the Chop House.  He opened 13 Moons in the Nantahala Gorge outside Bryson City and another Chop House in Hiawassee. Earlier this year LaPrade’s owners Peter and Tina Anzo invited Chef Reaux to visit the marina and restaurant site. It must have been a good idea as May 5th the Chop House had its grand opening at LaPrade’s.

To ensure success Chef Reauz brought with him an experienced team, including General Manager Jeff Kemp and Head Chef John Woodrum.  Chef Woodrum is a graduate of Cordon Bleu Culinary School and interned at the Chop House in Murphy and Hiawassee.  In addition, he also brought to La Prades an experienced pastry chef and additional lead chefs to assist Chef Woodrum in the kitchen. Over the years of working at large resorts Chef Reaux developed an intensive 100 page training manual that covers things such as table manners, serving etiquette, wine service, sales, cleaning, hospitality, etc.  He said, while he hopes to retain experienced trained staff, turnover in the food service industry is something he has learned to live with so training will be a never ending process.

He also mentioned that with four restaurants totaling 700 seats costs for some processes can be centralized and allocated.  For instance, he brought with him from Florida his business manager who manages the books, salaries and purchases for all of the restaurants.  And he said, importantly, he has no partners, no bank loans, and what he trusts is a successful model that provides exceptional food, service and value.  His intent with these restaurants is not to make a huge food statement but to provide his diners a comfortable place to eat and he reiterated one more time – value.

With four restaurants spread out over miles of mountains Chef Reaux said he feels like he’s working 100 hours a week. Currently he spends Friday and Saturday at LaPrade’s, Sunday with his family and the rest of the time split between the other restaurants.   I if he still cooks?  “Oh yes, I am the relief for my Chefs if they need a day off. Also, I cook at home on Sundays for my family and friends. I especially love Greek-food, Asian-Pacific food and seafood of any variety. Recall, in my last hotel and resort job as Executive Chef I oversaw 21 restaurants each serving a different style of cuisine.”

Gayle and I snuck out of Beechwood Inn one evening last week to dine at the Chop House at LaPrade’s. As anyone who’s been there knows, it is a stunningly beautiful location.  It was luckily a mere 1,000 yards off the tornados direct path across Lake Burton. Our service that evening was above average and our dinner was well above average, and at good value. We will recommend the journey to Beechwood guests. I am confident they will have a great experience.