Chef Marvin Swaner
Chef Marvin Swaner is currently working with the Aikens Group. Dedicated to bringing local sourcing to all food identities including national franchises here in the Blue Ridge
“Celebrating Virginia’s agriculture industry with today’s local source farmers is my passion”
Foodie Bites –
Your favorite ingredient: Seafood. My favorite seafood item 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 be 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 and the interaction with the customers. I like talking with people after I’m done cooking. To see their expressions while they’re eating, the good ones and the bad ones, it’s one of my favorite things. 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 do local and franchise restaurants face today?
“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 Aikens Group, 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 the restaurants he works that help set them apart from the rest. “As a hotel on the interstate, we have two guests that come and ask for something local. It is hard because of the restrictions the franchise puts on us, but I am allowed some freedom to buy locally since here at the Aikens Group we do banquets as well. We have a long way to go, however, since the quality control a franchise wants almost eliminates working with a local farmer for the main menu.
Marvin claims 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 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.”
What is your favorite thing about working at hotels?
“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.”