Chef of the Month: Sandcastle chef says ‘don’t be afraid’

Pam Griffin
Sandcastles Restaurant Chef Jason Smith’s professional background includes a variety of techniques and styles, including pastry and confectionery, wine pairing, butchery and international cuisine.

When Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa reopens the redesigned Sandcastles Restaurant and Lounge March 1, Chef Jason Smith will be the new executive chef.

The Log’s Chef of the Month for March, Smith is a native of Colorado who received an associate of arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Trained in classical French cuisine, Smith still uses those techniques today, but he wanted to be a chef long before he knew about French food.

“I have wanted to be a chef since I was seven years old,” he told The Log. “One day, I decided to play hooky from school and they called my mother. She came home and caught me trying to make homemade tapioca pudding.”

His tastes have changed, and at home today, Smith experiments with Thai food, his favorite cuisine.

“I occasionally infuse Thai influences into other types of cuisine,” he said. “The robust spices and flavors of Thai cuisine compliment other dishes really well.”

Smith’s favorite food to eat is, of course, Thai — Thai Green Curry.

“I love the different ingredients that go in it. I also prepare it with a little bit of French culinary influence by using chicken stock instead of water.”

A chef for about 12 years, Smith credits his grandmother for inspiration and influence.

“She made everything from scratch and canned her own fruits and vegetables. Everything she touched, she made magical.”

Q: Do you have a signature recipe you are known for?

A: Fennel Dusted Seabass. I got the idea working with Brad Thompson, 2006 James Beard Winner “Best Chef of the Southwest.” We worked together at Mary Elaine’s, a luxury French restaurant in Scottsdale, which has since closed. Seabass is definitely my favorite fish — fennel makes it incredible. I invented this dish while at the Rookery in Naples. When everyone tasted it, their reaction gave me the “I’ve made it” feeling! My signature dessert is Chocolate Chocolate that I created with Chef Roy Pell. It will be featured on the Sandcastle’s menu this coming year. It’s a crowd favorite.

Q: Are there any foods you just don’t like?

A: Sweet potato. I don’t like the flavor of them. I don’t mind cooking with them — I can make a nice Sweet Potato Hash — it’s just the only food I don’t like.

Q: What is the most necessary ingredient for the majority of recipes?

A: Salt and pepper enhances the flavor of EVERYTHING, so you should use it on everything. 

Q: Any advice for the home cook?

A: If you want to be a really good cook, read all about food and use very fresh ingredients. Read, read, read! Don’t be afraid to experiment — give it a try and if you have to throw it away and start over, it’s OK. Keep it simple, fresh and perfect.

Sweet and Spicy Rub

7.5 oz. brown sugar

1 oz. paprika

1 oz. Chile powder

1 oz. cumin

1 oz. cayenne pepper

1 oz. kosher salt

1/2 oz. garam marsala

1/2 oz. ground star anise

1/2 oz. black pepper 

 Combine all ingredients. 


7 oz. filet, one per person

Rub as needed

1 oz. clarified butter

Heat butter in a sauté pan. Add salmon, presentation side first. Cook 3 to 4 minutes then turn over. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let it rest 4 to 5 minutes. Serve.