The best of the best that West Virginia has to offer – from travel to food to shopping – is showcased once a year in WV Living magazine’s “Best Of” issue.
It all begins with nominations, followed by print and online surveys for residents to cast their votes, and, in December, the winners are revealed and featured in the winter issue.
In the category of Best Chef, previous two-time winner Oscar Aguilar, was joined by runners-up Dale Hawkins and Marion Ohlinger, and first time nominee Elizabeth Nolle – chef at the Whistle Punk Grill and Taphouse in Richwood.
Despite the odds, Nolle received word last month that she was named Best Chef.
“It was so cool,” she said of learning of the recognition. “I work hard. I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I would still like to do it without any recognition, but it is fun to get it.”
Not only is the designation nice for Nolle, it validates that the path she chose for herself was the right one.
To say food has been a huge part of her life would be an understatement. Her paternal grandmother was from France and passed down her French cooking skills to Nolle’s father.
“I grew up in a real foodie household,” Nolle said. “My dad was raised by a single mom who was from France, so she had that really deep basic French cooking that she taught him. She worked a lot, so my dad was cooking four-course meals when he was thirteen years old. He did all the cooking growing up.”
Her father continued to utilize his cooking skills into adulthood, and Nolle’s house was the place to be for mealtime.
“We used to eat late and a lot of my friends would eat a light dinner at their parents’ house and then come over to my house to eat,” she remembered. “I didn’t know that Kraft single slices existed until I was probably thirteen years old, because we always had fancy cheese and high quality stuff.”
It wasn’t until Nolle was in college in a food prep class that she realized she had a knack for cooking and decided to make it her career.
“I was in a sorority in college and when we had banquets, I always did the cooking,” she said. “Then I started cooking professionally when I was nineteen or twenty. I worked at Graceland Inn in Elkins for a bit and Cheat River Inn.”
From Elkins, Nolle moved to Snowshoe, where she worked in nearly every restaurant at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in the five or six years she was there.
“I think I’ve worked in every kitchen at Snowshoe except for Brandy’s,” she said. “I liked Snowshoe. I guess the formative years of my culinary career were really at Snowshoe. I graduated college, and I was there a year after that until 2010.”
Nolle took a hiatus from being a fine dining chef to work in the corporate world, but she soon realized that the stability of a retirement plan and health insurance was not worth it if it meant she was making subpar food.
“Every time I put a burger in the microwave, a little piece of me died,” she said. “I started cooking professionally again about five years ago.”
In 2017, Nolle helped Lance and Stacy Raffo open the Whistle Punk Grill and Taphouse in Richwood.
“I worked with Lance at Snowshoe,” she said. “After Snowshoe, Lance did corporate restaurants. I came and opened the restaurant with Lance.
“The original menu was all Stacy and Lance, and then we’ve tweaked it a bit,” she added. “A lot of the tweaks are mine. I love doing dressings and sauces, so when I came to work here, Lance was basically like, ‘I need a lemon thyme vinaigrette.’ He had the idea and I made the sauces.”
For restaurant cooking, Nolle said she enjoys taking down home classics and elevating them with her selection of ingredients.
“I use high quality ingredients, and I don’t over spice things,” she said. “I like to let the food speak for itself. I’m really proud if I make something and just have salt and pepper in it.”
When cooking for herself, however, Nolle prefers Indian cuisine, which she likes to share at the restaurant, as well.
“My favorite thing to cook for myself is Indian,” she said. “Basically, I eat Indian food five out of seven days a week at home. I love the flavors. I’ve been on this weight loss thing, so I can make it really healthy without it tasting really healthy.
“I sneak in Indian at the restaurant sometimes, and it goes over better than I thought,” she continued. “I’ve very pleased with how far I can push the envelope in Richwood. I do a curry pineapple cheesecake. I call it spiced pineapple cheesecake. I actually had a couple in here the other day order one for Thanksgiving.”
Whether she’s cooking for friends and family, or at the restaurant, Nolle is proud to stand among her peers as the WV Living Best Chef for 2020.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org