Growing up in Appalachia, VA, Jason Alley spent his childhood surrounded by what he calls "good country people." With farming and agriculture as the main industry, the lifestyle was simple in Southwest Virginia. The food reflected this simplicity, as Chef Alley recalls growing up eating lots of uncomplicated and comforting home-cooked southern food. As a child his presence in the kitchen was one stemming from necessity, as the working Alley family required as many helping hands as possible. And though it may have stemmed from necessity, Alley’s cooking quickly turned into a calling.
Finding work in the culinary field came easily to Alley, as he began working his way up the ladder in a Harrisburg Country Club until he landed the chef position. The country club was traded in for work as a sous chef in the best restaurant in Champaign, Illinois, while his then-fiancée (and now wife) completed graduate school at the University of Illinois. After life in Champaign, Alley settled in Atlanta where he worked at the highly-celebrated and admired restaurants 1848 House, Blue Ridge Grill, and ENO. The ultimate career move brought him to Richmond, VA where he worked in the Europa Café and Tapas Bar (where he met his soon-to-be restaurant partner Chris Chandler), and eventually opened his renowned restaurant, Comfort.
The inspiration for the down-home style of Comfort came from Alley’s desire to serve simple and deliciously cooked food that people can relate to. The result? Comfort food with flair. “I didn’t want to scare anyone”, Alley explains with humor, describing the often-pretentious fare served at upscale restaurants. The food served at Comfort - from meatloaf to macaroni and cheese - is easy to understand and holds a wide appeal - not to mention it is incredibly well-prepared. The restaurant itself, which Alley describes as “energetic, inviting, urban hip but comfortable,” is based around the desire of co-owners Alley and Chandler to build a space that they themselves would want to frequent.
From its opening in September 2003, Comfort has quickly been recognized as one of Richmond’s most popular eating venues and a great source of the simple and soothing dishes that we have come to rely on as comfort foods. With a second location now open in Portsmouth, VA, Comfort’s success is obvious and Chef Alley’s straightforward and scrumptious fare has clearly struck a chord in the hearts and stomachs of Richmond.