Nothing “Ordinary” About This Chef

There’s nothing ordinary about the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Tourism Association’s “Ordinary Awards.” And Massanutten Resort Executive Chef Michael Ritenour is no ordinary culinary professional. Chef Mike recently received VRLTA’s prestigious honor of Chef of the Year Award. He beat out some stiff competition with his passion for excellence and dedication to his team and community.

VRLTA Chef of the Year Mike Ritenour

Chef Mike Ritenour of Massanutten ResortThe supportive staff at Massanutten Resort nominated Chef Mike for this award. “When I heard I won,” says Chef Mike, “I was excited for the resort and my team. It takes all of us to win something like this. (The award) shows us that we are getting things done the way we want and the guests are getting us.”

Chef Mike came into the awards competition with a strong nomination. Judges from the travel and hospitality industries looked at the applicants’ body of work as well as their involvement in their industry and community. And Chef ticked off all the boxes.

From food integrity and quality to safety and cleanliness, Chef Mike is ardent about his role as Massanutten’s Executive Chef. Drawing on his culinary training and twists on classic dishes, he leads the resort’s four restaurants in creating unique dining experiences. And by using locally sourced products, Chef Mike promotes fresh ingredients while supporting area farmers.

Says Mark Litz, Vice President of Shenandoah Provision, “Chef Mike’s creativity and ability to face challenges head-on has been a huge part of our success here at Massanutten Resort. This honor is well-deserved and a testament to the caliber of Chef Mike’s expertise and leadership at the resort for the past 26 years – and counting.”

Supporting the local community

Supporting local farmers is just part of Chef Mike’s devotion to his community. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Chef and his team have dedicated significant time to a food donation program. They prepare and deliver free meals to the elderly and those in need. The success of the program continues, delivering 75 meals each week and having served more than 1,000 people to date.

Before Massanutten’s reopening, Chef Mike reached out to the resort’s community of visitors with instructional cooking segments. These lessons were part of the “Massanutten Moments” video series. The mission aimed to bring value-focused, positive content to viewers at home while restrictions were in place.

Check out Chef Mike’s Massanutten Moments:

A Proponent for Continuing Culinary Education

Chef Mike is also a strong proponent for continuing education in the culinary world. His resume includes launching the American Culinary Federation Certified Sous Chef program at Massanutten. This program has an emphasis is on cleanliness standards, food safety, and food integrity.

Says VRLTA President Eric Terry, “All of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association’s 2020 Ordinary Award winners are truly extraordinary, and Chef Mike Ritenour is no exception. His focus on connecting with area producers to use local ingredients, his work to develop young culinary talent, and his efforts to serve and uplift his community during the pandemic all contributed to his selection as the Chef of the Year.”

More About the Winner

That devotion to his craft and community are just part of the reason Chef Mike has been a fixture at Massanutten Resort. “I’ve been here for so long,” says Chef, “because the job is constantly evolving. It’s never the same job twice – so it’s like I’ve been here not that long at all. It’s always new”.  Chef Mike and his team are constantly coming up with ideas and programs, from working with local beef farmers, developing custom sausages, and baking 90% of the resort’s bread in-house to mentoring international culinary interns.

Classically trained in French and Italian cooking, Chef Mike received his degree from Baltimore’s International Culinary Arts Institute. And like most chefs, he’s been cooking since he could see over the top of the stove. “(Cooking) was a hobby of my father’s and that’s how the whole thing got started,” says Chef. “I would help him with dinner parties for his friends, getting exposed to it early on.”

In addition to the VRLTA Chef of the Year Award, this culinary veteran has received an Iron Chef distinction. He has also been featured in several magazines including Southern Living and Gourmet.

The Extraordinary “Ordinary Awards”

Sponsored by the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, the awards take their name from the historical definition of an “ordinary”. An “ordinary” during Colonial times was an inn or tavern catering to travelers.

And while this definition fits the facets of VRLTA’s membership, those who excel in the hospitality and travel industries are anything but the current definition of the word. “Our industry truly is anything but ordinary,” states the association’s website. “This juxtaposition is almost too good to pass up. The true goal of these Awards is to honor those in our industry, be they individuals or companies, that are truly extraordinary.”

Starting with just five awards in 2007, the association received nearly 150 nominations from the travel, lodging, beverage and restaurant industries for this year’s 18 judged awards. VRLTA created two new “Hospitality Hero” awards for the challenging times of 2020. An individual and a business received this award for going “above and beyond to innovate, support frontline workers, provide assistance in the community, or act selflessly during the COVID-19 pandemic”. Winners received their awards through a “virtual banquet” on September 30th.

Final Thoughts from Chef Mike

“It’s an honor to be recognized as Chef of the Year by the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association. I am grateful to my team at Massanutten Resort for their continued support of my dedication to my career,” says Chef. “I look forward to continuing to serve our community and guests during this challenging time while showcasing the tremendous talent and creativity at our on-site restaurants.”

Congratulations to Taste of Blue Ridge Top Chef Mike Ritenour. Keep serving up a sterling example of what it means to be part of a community.

Massanutten Oysters

Mountain views at Massnutten Resort