Perhaps the most photographed scene in the charming village of Warm Springs is the iconic waterwheel on Warm Springs Run. Today, it’s home to the aptly named Waterwheel Restaurant. Because of the hard work and high standards of owners John and Kate Loeffler, the Waterwheel has become a favorite dining destination for Bath County residents and visitors.
In our conversation with Chef John, we learn about the cuisine at the Waterwheel and how the entire team strives to make every meal a memorable experience.
Q. During your career, what jobs, experiences or mentors influenced your development as a chef?
Chef Mike Luksa from the Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant in Shepherdstown, WV was very influential at the beginning of my career. He taught me about making pasta and sausage using farm fresh ingredients, working with local farmers, and most importantly, about hospitality. Fast forward to my experience at the Greenbrier Resort, where I worked alongside Rich Rosendale, who would go on to captain the American team at the Bocuse d’Or. While I was front of the house at that time, I was exposed to such incredible culinary talent and the finest ingredients money could buy, that I couldn’t help but learn from their mastery. With their time honored apprenticeship program, and highly focused culinary team, it was an eye-opening and educational experience.
Q. As a chef, do you have a favorite dish or kind of cuisine that you enjoy preparing?
My heart is with the classics. I favor European influenced dishes. I grew up reading Julia Child’s cookbooks and watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on PBS. I will never tire of watching him debone a chicken in less than a minute. Kate would say that I love to roast meats and that my favorite dish is a simple whole roasted chicken.
Q. In addition to serving outstanding food, The Waterwheel Restaurant prides itself on providing a memorable dining experience. What are some ways that your team provides exceptional service to make guests feel special?
We try to offer good technical service with a personalized touch. From the very beginning, I wanted to implement a system of letting the servers know who they were taking care of, so they could identify them by name and immediately make our guests feel welcome. We like service that isn’t obtrusive, but that leaves the guest wanting for nothing, as the server is always one step ahead. We have always wanted our servers to take pride in their job and the experience they are providing. Encouraging them to be personal, yet professional, at every encounter. And, always ingraining in them the difference between hospitality and service. Service being what you do for your guests, but hospitality being how you made them feel.
Q. How would you describe the cuisine at The Waterwheel Restaurant?
I guess we’d say contemporary cuisine using as much local and regional products as we can. It’s not entirely farm-to-table, but it is thoughtful and responsible. If we can’t get something local, like salmon for example, we make sure the purveyor is using sustainable and responsible farming practices.
Q. Your restaurant uses products from Virginia and West Virginia whenever possible. How important is it to you as a chef to use the freshest and highest quality ingredients possible?
It’s very important, not only because we prefer to use local wherever we can, but also because we’re supporting our local (VA and WV) growers and farmers. It’s not easy to raise animals and grow vegetables, and we have the utmost respect for those who are making that their life’s work. We’d much prefer to support them rather than the big mass produced farms that don’t have a relationship with their livestock, or don’t use the best, and safest, farming practices for their produce. It’s all about relationships, and we care about making sure those around us are also able to keep doing what they love. We want to support the growers and farmers in our community, because they, in turn, will support the local economy, and everyone wins.
Q. The Waterwheel Restaurant has a wine cellar and you are a sommelier. How important is the right beverage to the overall dining experience?
Wine, beer and cocktails can all enhance the dish, but at the end of the day, if you don’t like what you are drinking, it’s just going to ruin your dining experience. Drink what you like and have fun, and don’t worry too much about it. Like red wine, but ordering fish? Great, then perhaps try a pinot noir that is light and won’t overpower the dish. But ultimately, don’t overthink it or worry about what other people say goes together.
Q. Are you constantly experimenting with new recipes? If so, what kind of additions might show up on the Waterwheel menu soon?
Yes, in my head I am always coming up with new recipes. We offer a more seasonal menu, so I will be looking at some slight modifications for the winter. Restaurant Week is approaching, so my focus now is on that menu and what we will offer. Kate is asking for my scalloped potato dish because she loves it, and I am thinking that might pair well with a sirloin chateaubriand. I guess folks will just have to wait and see what we come up with next.
Q. What advice do you have for young people interested in a career in foodservice?
Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!! Work with great restaurateurs and at well-respected properties and establishments. Even if you have to start at the bottom, the bottom at a place that cares deeply in their Food and Beverage program is going to open doors and help create a resume that recruiters will be excited to see. You’ll be in high demand, and that is a great problem to have. Honestly though, it is a tough industry and not for the faint of heart, but it is also so rewarding. Making people feel good, feels good. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it! Also, the hours are flexible and non-traditional, which means you get to play while most of the world works (or sleeps), the atmosphere is fun, and the co-workers are without a doubt the most entertaining and kind-hearted people you will ever meet. Everyone should spend a moment of time in the service industry!!
Q. What are some of your favorite things to do around Bath County on the rare occasions that you have free time?
What’s free time? Honestly, in the winter when it’s slower I like to snowboard, get outside and walk with my dogs on all the trails, pop into Jefferson’s for martinis in the lounge, grab a beer and a bite at the brewery with friends, go shooting, when possible, at the Homestead Gun Club, and cook at home. In the summer, when I can get away from work, I am happiest at Lake Moomaw. If I can spend the day on a boat, I am living my best life.