“Slinging pans among flames and rock’n’roll seemed pretty badass for a 15-year-old kid,” says Tommy Lasley, Angelo Vangelopoulos’ pick for a rising star, of his first job in the restaurant world. “It was there that I discovered I wanted to cook.”
It is that same kind of energy and enthusiasm that Lasley, now 31, brought to town last year when he arrived to take over the kitchen at Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar. Lasley already knew The Rock Barn’s Ben Thompson, whom he had met in culinary school, but, it didn’t take long for others in the Charlottesville food community to notice him too. His fresh pastas and Mediterranean octopus preparations, for example, are already turning the heads of fellow chefs around town.
Among those raving chefs is Vangelopoulos, who chose Lasley because of “his command of the basics of cooking, his ability to train and motivate a staff, and the fact that he understands what hard work means.” All of these qualities, says Vangelopoulos, add up to a future leader in Charlottesville’s culinary scene.
And that future is bright, according to Lasley, who brings a unique perspective to Virginia after working in several top restaurants of the Northeast, such as the nationally recognized agrarian kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York’s Hudson Valley. Lasley believes demand can drive quality, and we are nearing a local tipping point.
“I think soon Charlottesville will have reached a population density to justify large restaurant groups, like you see in larger metropolitan areas,” says Lasley. “The first of them to be firm in their identity and to approach it with professionalism will succeed.”
A benefit of that trend, he says, is that it’ll force smaller restaurants to up their game—and that pays off for everyone, raising quality and dropping prices.
So long as he sticks around, Lasley is destined to be a key part of Charlottesville’s food future. “I have a saying I repeat to myself often: Is what you are doing today helping you reach the goals of tomorrow?”
No sense in hiding your ambition if you’re gunning to be a top chef.
Sandwich: See below!
Burger: Brookville’s burger. I usually like my burgers simple but this one is crazy good.
Dessert: Princess cake from Albemarle Baking Company. Wow.
Cocktail: Jack and diet
Virginia wine: Early Mountain Vineyard’s Handshake Red
Virginia beer/cider: Devils Backbone, 8-point IPA
Breakfast: The only thing I need to wake up is a cup of coffee and a long walk with my dog.
Guilty pleasure: Sushi from Now and Zen—as much as I can eat!
Hangover food: More whiskey.
Pizza: Doctor Ho’s Humble Pie. I love someone who can cook great food and not take themselves too seriously.
Appetizer: Tuna tartar from Zocalo. Solid cooking.
Taco: El Tepeyac. I have a weakness for tacos de lingua.
Bodo’s order: Never been there. A bagel in the morning will put me right back in bed.
Local ingredient: The first time a forager walked into my kitchen with local chanterelle, cinnabar, and black trumpet mushrooms I fell in love.