FACETIME-- Maupin's highbrow: Clifton Chef is living his dream

Dean Maupin
Photo by Jen Fariello

In some careers, good advice to those starting out would be "don't be afraid to get your hands dirty." Executive Chef Dean Maupin of the Zagat-rated Clifton Inn might suggest to would-be chefs, "Don't be afraid to get your hands wet."

The long path to his coveted culinary position started when he took a job as a dishwasher. It was during his junior year of high school in Waynesboro back in the early '90s.

"I worked six days a week– got out of school at three, be there at four, get out at 10– all for $5.50 an hour," he recalls. "It's a lifestyle."

After the early dishwashing gig, Maupin moved steadily up the ranks at various restaurants– from prep-cook to grill-cook to landing a four-year apprenticeship at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The five-star, historical hotel only accepts eight apprentices a year and operates its 150-person kitchen staff on a very "hands-on" basis, according to Maupin, now 34. 

"Cooking is a craft that is taught and learned by doing it," says Maupin, whose recipes have included in several issues of the prestigious Food & Wine magazine.

Following his apprenticeship, he returned to Charlottesville where for a decade he worked at some of this area's most respected eateries: "Metropolitain, under Gerry Newman at Albemarle Baking Company, at the C&O," he says, in addition to opening Fossett's restaurant at Keswick Hall.

 "I've hit all the right notes," he says. Former employer Newman agrees.

"The simpler you make things, the more skilled you have to be," says Newman. Maupin, he adds, is "very good at bringing out the flavors, but his creativity doesn't get in the way of the taste." 

While many top chefs leave the grunt work to their colleagues, Maupin rolls up his sleeves and works alongside his staff each night. 

"The kitchen is young and needs guidance," says Maupin. "The day is spent managing, cooking, teaching."

His kitchen staff aren't the only ones benefitting from his expertise. The last two winters Maupin and his staff have hosted free Wednesday night cooking demos for the public. This year's demos began with drinks and hors d'oeuvres, covered the art of homemade pasta, and wrapped up with a dessert exhibition given by Clifton's executive pastry chef– and Maupin's wife– Erin Maupin.

"You can turn on a channel and see a chef demo-ing something anytime," Maupin says. "This allows people to be a part of it, be face to face."

And while he's not planning on leaving Clifton anytime soon, he has dreams of a restaurant all his own, inspired by the local foods produced in and around Albemarle County. 

"The oven would be made out of the bricks of the Downtown Mall, and it would represent Albemarle style and culture," says Maupin, who plans to spend the rest of his cooking days in Central Virginia.

"I'm an Albemarle County guy, a Charlottesville guy," Maupin says. "I love the people here."