Chef Marvin Swaner
Chef de Cuisine at the George’s Food and Spirits
Chef Marvin Swaner of George’s Food and spirits brings regional fine dining to the Blue Ridge
“Celebrating Virginia’s past with today’s local source farmers, George’s Food and Spirits salutes George Washington our first President. As a young man he lived right here in the Shenandoah Valley and supported agriculture.”
Your favorite ingredient: Seafood. My favorite seafood is scallops. I grew up with seafood so it’s kind of my thing.
Favorite dish to cook at home: A really nice piece of fish and a salad. It’s simple and fresh.
Most essential kitchen item: I always say tongs. Every time I start to cook I have to have a pair of tongs on the table.
Guilty pleasure snack or dish: Cookies!
Meet Chef Marvin Swaner
Who influenced your love for food?
“I guess just growing up with my mom… when we’d go see my grandmother she always had dinners. I’d just my family.”
Getting into the culinary scene…
Explain your background and how you got into the culinary scene.
“I had a childhood friend whose parents owned a seafood house. I was 14 when his father asked, ‘Want to cook crab legs this weekend?’ I liked the environment, I liked the interaction with the customers. I like talking with people after I’m done cooking. I like to see their expressions while they’re eating, the good ones and the bad ones. That’s why I do it. I like to be able to talk to people about their meal.”
Challenges moving to a different restaurant…
What makes George’s Food and Spirits different from other restaurants in the area?
“The direction we’re trying to turn is to do more local and keep it as fresh as possible. It’s hard to do that year round. Before I came to George’s Food and Spirits, I came from a farm that had 17 acres of garden. Prefer that [spontaneity] over having a set menu. I think you have to be a little bit personal in restaurants to make it different from other places.” For Marvin, that’s adding little personal touches here and there and really listening to what the customers like. If they love the fresh tomato on a certain dish, Marvin may just give them a whole tomato for them to enjoy as a ‘thank you’ for coming out.
It’s the personal energy that Marvin brings to George’s that helps set it apart from the rest. “We have two guests that come, and they said ‘We haven’t been here for a long time. We used to come regularly.’ So as we got to talking and they were talking about things they liked, I just kind of went back into the kitchen and made a couple of snacks from talking to them. Now they come once or twice a week!”
Marvin claims that at George’s, it’s just about keeping it fresh and keeping it simple. He’s a firm believer in quality over quantity. “If you’re going to have a piece of fish or a steak, don’t hide it with sauces! It’s okay to have something with it, but I want you to taste that cut of meat or seafood. So many people will spend less money on something and hide it with sauce.”
How has George’s Food & Spirits challenged you?
“Making people feel welcome to come back.” Marvin explains that most of the people he’s talked to haven’t been back to experience the restaurant since the change over from the Dancing Goat, primarily because it had been established as a luxury dining spot.
“In a downtown area, you have to make sure you’re reaching out to everyone. Not just the business guy staying in the hotel, but to families as well. So I think the challenge is just getting people to trust that the food that they’re ordering is going to be affordable.”
What is your favorite thing about working at George’s Food & Spirits?
“My favorite thing is just getting to know new people. Because the restaurant is hooked to the hotel, you never know who you’re going to meet. You go talk to a table and they just flew in from England or wherever, and the conversation is just nice. You hear people’s opinions and take on the food compared to their home version, where they’re from.”
Love of locally sourced ingredients…
How do you feel about the locally sourced, home-grown ingredients?
Marvin comes from a background heavily imbued with locally sourced ingredients. He prefers things to be locally sourced, but also has a few qualms with the huge mainstream push towards buying everything locally.
“I think so many people are starting to take advantage of that and charge so much for their product. Sometimes it makes it so hard to be economical. It’s harder to be competitive when you buy local because you have to charge accordingly to what you’re buying. We just started working with Audley Farm, and they make our special blend of beef for our burgers. We also get our brisket from them, and that’s taken off like crazy here… But that’s just the one thing about ‘local’. You really have to watch it because it gets used to widely now.”