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Inn at Virginia Tech chef cooking up ‘rustic elegance’ in Blacksburg

Inn at Virginia Tech chef cooking up ‘rustic elegance’ in Blacksburg

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BLACKSBURG — It doesn’t matter if you’re the Queen of England or a Virginia Tech freshman, Chef Scott Watson is going to prepare your meal just the same.

That’s because the executive chef at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center says he likes to treat all his guests with the same level of respect, while paying close attention to the details.

“Everybody is a VIP in my book,” Watson said.

Watson, who started at the Inn in March 2018, has taken the hotel restaurant Preston’s and its attached conference center to new culinary heights, said Tom Cupo, managing director for Benchmark.

“He’s turned it into a great place to come out and have a meal,” Cupo said.

Benchmark manages two other Tech properties, the Pete Dye River Course in Radford and the Hotel Roanoke.

Because Watson is an employee of Benchmark and not the university, his salary is not subject to public disclosure rules.

Watson said he tries to bring what he calls “rustic elegance” to people’s plates. That’s an approach of making food that’s classic, approachable and tasty, that also has a fancy look that draws diners in.

“You eat with your eyes first,” Watson said.

Watson has always had a love for the kitchen. Originally from Richmond, he said he began as a pot washer at age 14. He said he spent six years rising through the ranks from line cook to sous chef at Virginia Crossings Hotel & Conference Center in Glen Allen.

He said he then bounced around a variety of jobs — always rising through the ranks and improving on his culinary abilities — including most recently working as a chef at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, a Vermont hotel and ski resort with two restaurants.

He worked as a sous chef and executive sous chef at the Williamsburg Inn for several years, which is where he said he served Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, as well as other notable people.

Watson came to the Inn at Virginia Tech at a time of change.

“He’s a super talented chef with a great pedigree,” said Chang Yun, director of food and beverage.

Yun, who was the Inn’s chef before being promoted to his current position, said Watson has helped the about 20 people who work in the kitchen that serves the restaurant and conference center grow and improve their cooking abilities.

“They’re learning from a high quality chef,” he said.

The Inn has also improved its infrastructure for diners.

The Continental Divide bar was renovated last year and now has expanded drink options and a new buffet area, popular around lunchtime in Blacksburg.

Preston’s restaurant seats 80 and the bar seats 40. That’s on top of a ballroom that can accommodate up to 600 people, all served from the Inn’s kitchen, said Teresa Hughes, director of sales and marketing.

And though the Inn is mostly full of Virginia Tech students who will live there for now because of the university’s over-enrollment problem, officials stressed that the Inn remains open to the public.

Tech has been dealing with a housing crisis as it tries to create a good freshman experience for about 1,000 more first-year students than officials had prepared for. The university expects to spend $8.7 million to house students at the Inn and at the Holiday Inn Express.

Some of the Inn’s new resident students have already treated themselves to meals at Preston’s, Watson said.

“They act like ladies and gentlemen so we serve them like ladies and gentlemen,” he said.

But the students won’t be living there forever. Things are expected to go back to normal after this year, officials have said.

“Preston’s is here for the community,” Cupo said. “We want to be the place where people come for a nice meal.”

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