MIDDLETOWN — Travis Ross said he has always dreamed of being an executive chef. Now, at the Wayside Inn 1797, he’s made that dream come true.
Ross has taken over the kitchen at the inn in Middletown thanks to a push from Rich and Angie Orndorff, who are leasing and managing the inn for an ownership group that purchased it at the end of December.
Ross previously worked with the Orndorffs at Hotel Strasburg.
“This has been a dream of mine for a very long time, to be an executive chef of a restaurant with Rich and Angie,” Ross said. “Going back to our time at the Hotel Strasburg, I always dreamed of them owning that hotel someday. Now we can make that dream happen together here.”
Ross has hit the ground running, the Orndorffs said.
He’s been tasked with taking the inn’s comfort food and making the menu items his own.
Rich Orndorff said Ross has “mastered” the inn’s famous peanut soup while putting his own twist on it with his homemade peanut butter. Ross will also continue to make the spoon bread recipe as well as Miss Irene Washington’s meatloaf and pecan pie.
“With the menu, I’m excited to keep comfort foods but also give it a new twist to make it exciting for customers to come in and continue to want to come back because of the excitement in the food,” Ross said.
His menu items are made with fresh, local ingredients and “pretty much everything” is made in-house.
In the inn’s first week of reopening, one of the big hits has been a fully-loaded macaroni and cheese with three different types of cheese, crab and pancetta that’s served over grilled baguettes.
Menu items like that have helped Ross flex his culinary muscles and have allowed the Orndorffs to trust him in the kitchen.
“That’s Travis’ kitchen. Obviously, we have a little bit of editorial privilege, but Travis creates the menu and then we all meet to go over it,” Rich Orndorff said. “Chef is so forward-thinking, and he comes up with things that I might not think will taste good. But they do. He’s phenomenally gifted in the ability to be forward-thinking and think outside of the box.”
Ross is working on perfecting all of the different menus that will be implemented.
“We’ll have vegan options, gluten-free options,” Angie Orndorff said. “We want to cater to all niches here — the young, the old, the millennials. We want to have everyone come and enjoy our food here.”
Customers can now order from the tavern menu, which features dinner options including a rib-eye meal, Cajun steak bites, crab cakes, Scotch eggs and meatloaf sliders. Future menus will likely include a Wayside Classics section to keep the history of the inn alive.
The inn’s tavern will offer trivia nights, live music and other events that could have featured menu items such as a Wednesday chicken wing night.
Ross, 35, has been cooking since he was 16. He graduated from culinary school at 18 and started working at the Hotel Strasburg. He got his first head chef position at 21 at Jimmy’s Steak and Seafood in Winchester and then went back to the Hotel Strasburg. He later made stops with Genesis Healthcare and Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury before landing at the Wayside Inn.
Ross, with a smile, said he’s excited for the opportunity to help the Orndorffs bring the inn back to prominence, but he’s also excited to work with his kitchen staff to create memorable meals.
“Here,” he said, “I get to be me again.”