Many young guys who enlist in the Army stumble on a culinary career through kitchen duty. Chef Justin Addison, who oversees the Traditions restaurant in the Williamsburg Lodge, found his love of all things food in the markets and cafes of the Middle and Far East.
Enlisting in the Army after high school — his mom served in that branch of the military — Addison worked in special operations units from 2003 to 2007 with tours to Iraq, Thailand, Japan and Korea. There he combed the areas outside of the military bases, talking to locals and buying their food.
"I believe culture is a blend of food, music and people," Addison said. "I fell in love with food over there.
"They used to call me the chow hound because no matter where I went I was interested in food. I would go into the local stores and spend $20. I would support the people by buying food. It would make their day."
Returning to his home base in New England — Addison was born in Kittery, Maine — he left the service and enrolled in a branch of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dover, N.H. An externship brought him to Colonial Williamsburg in 2008, and he never left.
"I saw the opportunity for growth here," said Addison. "Chef Rhys (Lewis) and Chef Anthony (Frank) guided me, not just in culinary but in a lot of things. I learned to communicate in a different way."
Lewis, who is executive chef of Colonial Williamsburg's culinary operation, called Addison a "natural leader.
"When he walks into a room, he looks around and says, 'This is what we've got to do.' He gets things done."
Beginning as an intern, Addison rose through the ranks. At age 30, he's in charge of a bustling Colonial Williamsburg restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner including a popular Friday night seafood buffet. His duties extend to the hotel's lounge and 24-hour room service.
Three years ago, the restaurant underwent a renovation that brought a new name and menu. Addison's goal was to embrace the "farm to fork" movement by connecting with nearby farms to bring his customers locally produced meats and produce. His efforts are part of a plan to make Colonial Williamsburg a destination for fine food as well as historic preservation.
"I traveled to all the local farms in North Carolina and (Virginia's) Southampton County," said Addison. He now works with places such as Autumn Olive Farms in the Shenandoah Valley and Manakintowne Specialty Growers in Powhatan.
A typical menu reflects that growing trend among tourists and locals who want locally sourced food that the region excels in. Appetizers include Rappahannock River Oysters, and Anson Mills White Corn Grit Fritters with collard greens slaw and smoked tomato aioli. The entree section includes Grilled Carolina Shrimp and Virginia Shore Scallops, Joyce Farms Chicken, and Goat Cheese Stuffed Berkshire Pork Chop.
Even more exciting for Addison is making use of the 900 acres of gardens scattered around Colonial Williamsburg. In the past the produce produced there was given away or used as compost.
Now, "we've taken that product and we serve it to our guests," he said proudly. "That's how people were growing and eating food back then."
David Nicholson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4794.