When they were young, Mt. Rushmore chef Tim Burgess’s five children would beg him to make the same dish on his days off: fresh pasta. Especially fond of the dish was Burgess’ middle child, Travis, who also came to share his father’s love of the food industry itself. Now 26, chef Travis runs food operations at both of his father’s restaurants — Bizou and Bang! — and is next poised to launch a place inspired by that favorite childhood dish. Offering fresh pasta to-go, Luce will open this month in the takeout window on 2nd Street NW.
Like many in the industry, Travis began by washing dishes, which is how he and his siblings spent summers as young teens, at Bang!. “I would prep goat cheese dumplings and crab potstickers, and scrub piles of pans that would tower above me,” Travis said. “Those summers are where it all started and when I got hooked on the kitchen life.”
During college at George Mason, Travis washed more dishes at Trummers on Main in Clifton, and then suddenly became garde manager when the prior one quit. It was there that Travis decided that this is what he wanted to do for the rest of the life. And so, after graduation, in 2015 Travis scored a gig at one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants and best training grounds, FIG, in Charleston. As luck would have it, Travis was assigned to hot appetizers, which was essentially a pasta station, where he cranked out thousands of iterations of dishes like stone crab spaghetti and gnocchi bolognese. “Standing over the pasta pot became my zone,” Travis said.
Travis returned to Charlottesville in 2017, becoming Chef of Bang!. And, despite Bang!’s focus on Asian small plates, Travis’ heart remained with pasta, which he began working into the menu wherever he could, with dishes like ricotta gnocchi in curried sweet potato sauce.
Then, this summer Travis sprung on his father the idea of opening a takeout pasta place and calling it Luce, Italian for “light.” His father did not blink, and immediately pulled up from his iPad an old photo he liked, which he had stowed away in case it ever proved useful. A mural covering a storefront in Madrid, it depicted the beam of a streetlight in yellow paint.
“The concept of Luce is my dream,” said Travis. “To sell the pasta I’ve been making every day for the last two years, fresh cooked to order.” The idea is for the food to be fresh, fast, and affordable, he says. “Fine dining quality fresh pasta cooked to order for $10 or less,” Travis said. “Kinda like Bodo’s meets Tavola?”
Travis says there is no secret to his pasta — aside from good quality ingredients: 00 flour and semolina, local organic eggs, and a splash of Spanish olive oil. That’s it. Though the Luce kitchen is tiny, the focus solely on pasta means there will be space to prepare it. Roll and cut fresh pasta by hand, boil it, and toss it in sauce. “It’s just fresh and cooked to order which is a real gamechanger,” Travis said.
At least initially, the size of the menu will match the size of the space: a kale caesar salad, cheesecake for dessert, and just three pasta dishes, like the “Bolo” – pappardelle with pork ragu, toast crumbs, mint, and parmigiano-reggiano. Travis’ favorite is the one that reminds him most of his childhood. The “Cacio” combines tagliatelle, parmigiano-reggiano, olive oil and cracked black pepper, and takes Travis back. “Just the memory of eating my dad’s pasta was mind-blowing,” Travis said. “When we’ve had menu meetings for Luce, I’ve been licking the container reminiscing about the pasta my dad used to make.”
But, Travis says, his pasta and his father’s are not exactly the same.
“I think mine’s better. Sorry Dad?”
Luce opens in late October at 110 2nd Street NW. Hours 11 am – 8 pm.