CHARLESTON, W.Va. — James Beard Award winner Chef Paul Smith says the prestigious honor he received for his culinary skills is really putting West Virginia on the map.

“Now everybody knows who West Virginia is. Now everybody knows we are a forced to be reckoned with in tourism, in the culinary world and I’m just happy to be able to lead the charge,” Smith said on Tuesday morning’s “580 “Live” with Dave Allen heard on MetroNews affiliate 580-WCHS in Charleston.

Smith became the first West Virginia chef to be named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation during an awards ceremony in Chicago Monday night.

A watch party was held at Charleston’s Capitol Market where a large crowd cheered on Smith as they watched the event on the livestream.

“It was surreal. I woke up this morning thinking it was a dream and then my wife pinched me and I realized it wasn’t,” Smith said.

Smith is the owner of 1010 Bridge, Ellen’s Icecream and the Pitch in Charleston. He was nominated for the James Beard award this year and last year. He competed against chefs in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Smith said the support has been incredible. He said the reaction of the Capitol Market crowd back home brought him to tears.

“It was epic. I ugly cried,” he said. “I literally had almost 650 messages in my inbox. That’s the beautiful part about all this. The hardware is great, and the win is great, but just the outpouring from our great state of West Virginia is amazing.”

Smith said the award is for everybody in his organization, not just him.

“I don’t do it alone. My team was on cloud 9 and 1010, at the Pitch, at Ellen’s Icecream. It’s just awesome to be able to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

The James Beard Awards are considered to be the “academy awards for chefs.” The categories are comprised of regions from all across the country.

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