By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

When aspiring chef Shamon Hill joined forces with celebrity chef Chris Clime to make a gourmet smoked salmon dish consumed by some of the nation’s top military brass, he didn’t expect a job offer to work in Clime’s kitchen.  

But that’s exactly what happened to the 19-year-old resident of Stafford, VA, who says he’s figuring out how he’d balance working at PassionFish restaurant, where Clime serves as executive chef, with upcoming classes at Northern Virginia Community College.

Chris Clime, left and Shamon Hill preparing their winning salmon dish at the 2019 Blue Star Neighbors Celebration at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which attracted 300 guests. (Courtesy Photo)

“I thought it was amazing,” Hill says of Clime’s offer. ‘Cooking with Chris more and more will be able to expand my horizons to do more things.”

Hill and Clime are both “military brats” whose fathers had or have careers in the military that required them to frequently move. Hill’s father, Master Sergeant Marvin Hill is in the United States Marine Corps. Born in New Jersey, the younger Hill followed his father to Fredericksburg, Virginia, Camp Pendleton in California and now to Stafford, Virginia — his father works at Quantico.

“You’re constantly on the move, which can be very tiring, but at the same time, you’re also meeting new people in different environments that you never thought you’d be living in, so at the same time, it can be a good and a bad experience,” Shamon Hill told the AFRO.

Meanwhile, Clime’s father, Robert Clime, a retired captain in the United States Navy, served in Virginia Beach, Rhode Island, Oceania, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Fairfax. Besides working as executive chef at PassionFish, the younger Clime is also chef de cuisine of Passion Food Hospitality, the restaurant group that includes PassionFish.

Hill and Clime met through Blue Star Families, a 10-year-old nonprofit that supports military families through several programs that help military spouses secure jobs, connect military families with civilian neighbors, help “military brats” adjust to life on the road and more.

The organization has reached more than 1.5 million military families and distributed more than $80 million to its members and military families since 2009, according to its website, and it operates more than 30 chapters across America.

On May 14, Blue Star Families held its annual Blue Star Neighbors Celebration at the United States Chamber of Commerce to recognize three of the organization’s crucial supporters — the Walt Disney Company, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and Susan Masser, a civilian who helped rescue a military family’s daughter in a medical crisis.

As part of the celebration, Hill and chefs from different branches of the military teamed up with seven D.C. celebrity chefs to prepare a dish for attendees. Guests voted on their favorite dishes and the chefs behind the winning cuisine scored bragging rights.

“We put out a call for military kid chefs because our celebrity chef himself had been a military kid and he cooked for us in the past,” says Kathy Roth-Douquet, chief executive officer of Blue Star Families.

Hill and Clime won the contest with their smoked salmon pizzelle. They made it on an everything bagel crisp smeared with Coleman mustard aioli, and topped it with pickled red onions, chopped eggs and capers, then served it cold. The duo made between 230 and 280 of them and people were scooping up the salmon so fast that Hill and Clime had to constantly reassemble more.

The event drew Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva, U.S. Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, actor Ian Bohen, and other notable guests, for a total of 300 people. Other culinary stars included mixologist Todd Thrasher, chef Ris Lacoste of Ris, and chef Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s.

“It was very overwhelming,” Hill says. “I never thought at the age of 19 I’d be out here serving food to VIPs and generals.”

The two men bonded over their shared backgrounds as military kids and foodies as they created their dish in the Bethesda location of PassionFish.

Hill sliced and baked the bagel to a crisp, and shredded the egg white and yolk, while Clime took care of the rest.

Right now, Hill works in the kitchen at Mission BBQ in the chain’s Stafford location. He credits his parents (his mother is Ladeesha Hill) with schooling him the basics in the kitchen, like how to make spaghetti, pancakes, eggs, French toast and home fries.

As time went on, they taught him more, and he sharpened his skills by taking two years of culinary arts studies at Brook Point High School in Stafford. Once he gets to Northern Virginia Community College, Hill hopes to study culinary arts and baking. His goal is to become executive chef of a fine-dining restaurant or to run his own.

Hill’s already learned quite a bit from Clime, like how to be more efficient, about presentation, how to transform a raw product into something delectable and how spices and syrup combined can enhance a dish.

“When we smoke salmon at Mission we … use different seasonings,” Hill says. “His way was different, it was something that I never would have thought of before because for salmon to be sweet, it was something that was totally new to me.”

And Clime sees himself in Hill.

“It’s nice to work with a younger kid that’s as passionate as he says he is to cook,” Clime says, adding that Hill has the right attitude, listens, has a firm handshake, a solid work ethic and learns fast. “It’s nice to see, because that’s the way I was.”