Loyal Orzo customers were sad to learn recently that chef Bryan Szeliga was leaving Orzo to follow his wife to Philadelphia. In his place, we are pleased to welcome to Charlottesville chef Tommy Lasley.
Lasley’s cooking philosophy is a perfect match for Charlottesville. Lasley says that he is religiously devoted to respecting the ingredients he uses, from their production to the time they are on the plate. Lasley cites his upbringing in rural North Carolina as the foundation for this philosophy, as he grew up immersed in a network of farmers and producers. After beginning his career as a dishwasher, he eventually advanced to the position of Chef de Cuisine at the acclaimed Cyprus International Cuisine, in Highlands, NC.
From there, it was off to the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY.
After graduating in 2007, Lasley joined the kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of the nation’s most groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurants. This only further strengthened Lasley’s ingredient-focused philosophy. Lasley recalls weekly meetings at the restaurant to honor farmers and producers. The whole experience, says Lasley, provided an example of what is achievable if you push a producer-focused philosophy to the highest level.
Next was two years as Executive Chef of Sweetgrass Grill, in Tarrytown, NY. At the helm of a kitchen for the first time, Lasley had a chance to cultivate his own relationships with farmers and producers, “from local goat herders to guys raising hogs in their back yards.”
After Sweetgrass, Lasley did a brief stint in the corporate restaurant world, working for Z Hospitality Group. While Lasley valued seeing the science behind running a profitable restaurant business, the corporate mold limited his freedom and creativity.
Which brings us to Charlottesville. Lasley already has several connections to the area. For one, Lasley spent the first ten years of his life here, before moving to North Carolina. In addition, Lasley is friends with the Rock Barn’s Ben Thompson, whom he met in culinary school.
Now 30, Lasley says that the timing and fit of a move to Orzo are just right. While he dazzled us with some of the exciting possibilities he has in mind for Orzo, he says he has to get first things first. Namely, Lasley plans to immerse himself in the Charlottesville food community of farmers and producers so that he can learn what it has to offer. Next, Lasley aims to get a sense of what appeals to Charlottesville diners. Once those fundamentals are under his belt, we expect Lasley will be an outstanding addition to the area. Welcome, Chef Lasley.