Story by Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
Jason Reaves, pastry chef at The Salamander Resort and Spa, is no stranger to the limelight, having won numerous cake challenges on Food Network. But as you walk into Salamander’s ballroom, elegantly adorned for an evening wedding reception, it’s his towering, five-tier, expertly iced and entirely edible wedding cake that takes center stage. The impossibly life-like sugar flowers and intricate piping are the mark of a cake maker who has had a lot of practice.
Since entering the culinary industry at the age of 15, Chef Jason’s talent has taken him coast to coast. He completed his training in Hyde Park, New York, at The Culinary Institute of America and worked in a number of notable establishments from Virginia to San Francisco. He settled in Hawaii working as the pastry chef for Norwegian Cruise Lines. However, this Purcellville native returned home at the request of a mother who missed him.
“When my mom started seeing everything going on with the resort being built she would send me the newspaper clippings in the mail to Hawaii,” he remembers. Jason flew east to join the Salamander team in 2005, just as it was opening.
Starting with sweets at the Salamander Market, Chef Jason’s business quickly outgrew the space. He was able to move the operation to the resort and spa where he now oversees their pastries as well, in a state-of-the-art kitchen with his dedicated nine-person team.
Additionally, his reputation for tasty pastries and world-class cakes spread like buttercream through Middleburg and beyond. During his 12-year tenure, he has delivered cakes up the East Coast and as far west as Reno, Nevada.
The hype surrounding Chef Jason’s cakes is not unfounded. He has received awards for his cakes both on and off screen. He explains that part of the appeal is, “You can tell that it’s made from scratch.” His cakes are meticulously prepared with the highest quality ingredients and, when possible, local produce. Chef Jason uses berries from Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton and Allder School Berries in Purcellville.
Equally alluring is the seemingly limitless list of flavors. Chef Jason offers more than 10 varieties of chocolate cake alone, including Boston Cream Pie and Nutella Cup. “Everyone always goes for chocolate,” he says with a laugh.
On the menu you’ll also find Pumpkin Spice, Lemon and Tres Leches. “The cakes that I make are very different from the cakes you would get at a standard bakery,” he explains.
During his 12 years as Salamander’s cake master he’s changed the menu, experimented with new recipes, incorporated customer feedback and, as he puts it, “made cakes that I would want to eat.”
Chef Jason guarantees that you’ll want to eat them, too. He works closely with each to-be-married couple from inquiry to delivery.
“I handle everything from when the inquiry comes in,” he says. “It gets sent to me, and I respond directly back to the couple.” Before the tasting, Jason takes time to learn about the couple and their wedding, ensuring a personal touch from the beginning.
From there, he arranges a consultation and expansive tasting including six to eight flavors. “We are always making cakes for orders, for weddings, for other tastings, and we give samples from all the other cakes we are baking,” he says. “They pick three, but they end up tasting between six to eight cakes.”
Though guests are asked to select from a menu, the cakes are completely customizable. From filling to frosting and everything in between, guests have absolute control, even down to minor flavor tweaking.
His attention to detail, though ever present, is perhaps most obviously expressed in the cake’s decoration. He can do everything from elegant to extreme. After carefully rolling out pure white fondant and delicately draping it over an adorably small top layer of his latest wedding cake, he takes a moment to show me some pictures of his more exotic works of art. Godzilla, smashing a scaled down but no less detailed Ferrari, was a unique and vivid groom’s cake he made a few months previously. His specialty cakes—zombies, stadiums, mule deer busts and more—look almost too realistic to eat, but they make popular reception cakes.
Although each cake is constructed to reflect the guest’s vision, Chef Jason explains that there is a prevailing approach to his design: “I like things to look very organic. I don’t like it to look like I purposely put it there. With sugar flowers, I think it’s more interesting when they look like they are supposed to be there, and it’s very natural.”
Chef Jason’s boundless imagination and refined skill result in gorgeous wedding cakes that are reason enough to get married. But if marriage isn’t on your immediate agenda, you can still order one of his creations for whatever you are celebrating—or for no reason at all. ML