Article by Debra Freeman with photos by Fitz
Lead photo of Sous Chef Michelle Smith on the Maser Stage behind Stockpot in The Vibe District
Michelle Smith, sous chef at The Stockpot in Virginia Beach, faced a choice a few years ago. She needed to decide what she was going to do once she moved to Hampton Roads from Richmond; she often went back and forth between wanting to go into the medical field or to pursue a career in culinary arts.
While watching television one day, she saw a commercial for the Culinary Institute of Virginia (CIV) and researched the school online; shortly after that fateful day, she was enrolled. Smith says, “it was an eye opening experience since I didn’t know the basics and it was cool to build on an elementary level.” Not surprisingly, she fell into the overachiever group at the school pretty quickly, was involved in volunteer activities, and even helped to build CIV’s greenhouse.
Although Smith didn’t necessarily know she would be a chef, being in the kitchen wasn’t a foreign concept. “My mom was a stay at home mom for 16 years and I stayed in the kitchen with her growing up and cooking. My grand- mother, who is one of the most influential people in my life…I remember being in the kitchen with her and shucking corn. It’s not a particular moment, but moments that have good memories associated with it.”
By industry standards, Smith is a relative newcomer; however, in her professional career she has already received accolades, such as winning the public vote in this summer’s Young Guns of the Industry chef competition, and continues to grow under the tutelage of Anne Galante, co-owner and Executive Chef of The Stockpot, whom Smith considers to be a mentor. Smith says of Galante, “she loves teaching me things and wants to teach…she gets excited when I ask questions. She’s brilliant and kind, and I love working with her.”
In addition to working with Galante, Smith works in a kitchen comprised of women. In fact, Smith wears a bandana each day while she’s cooking as a tribute to Rosie the Riveter, the popular figure from World War II that represented women who worked in factories while men were overseas fighting. She says, “working in a kitchen with women is empowering. It’s a lot more organized and there is an attention to detail…it’s actually cool doing something not a whole lot of women do.” And she does it well.
For more on Michelle Smith and The Stockpot visit: stockpotsoups.com
The Stockpot is located at 700 19th St, Ste 106 in Virginia Beach