Posted by Lynda Bassett
Chef Ted Lahey traded his guitar for a knife, and things have never been the same.
Instead of playing with a band, he plays around with ingredients at Osteria Mattone restaurant in Roswell, GA. “But when you think about it, it’s kind of the same thing. There are a lot of parallels between music and food. You’re putting notes together just like you put ingredients together. You’re on stage, creating a harmony of flavors, and you hope it excites your audience,” he said.
Cooks are Cool
Although music was always a big part of his life, he made his living in the back of the house. He got his start washing dishes, and he knew right away that he wanted to play a bigger role. “I thought the cooks were super cool,” he said. Once the cooks let him prepare a pizza, he was hooked. Culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, SC led to a job at Grove Park Hotel in Asheville, N.C. Then it was onto the Big Apple. At Fiamma restaurant in Manhattan, “I realized this is what I really want to do,” he said.
Focus on Simplicity
There was just one thing. “Forget everything I ever learned in school,” said Lahey. Instead, his mentor Chef White “encouraged me to seek out local ingredients and focus on simplicity,” he said. This focus on simplicity became the hallmark of his cooking style. A dinner at Chef Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA helped to seal the deal. “A roast chicken prepared simply with salt and pepper and olive oil transformed the way I felt about food. It showed me that all I needed was good food, prepared simply,” he said.
The Inspiration for Osteria Mattone
Fast forward to a life-changing trip to Italy. Chef Lahey and Owner/Operator Ryan Pernice traveled together to Italy to eat their way through 31 restaurants in seven days throughout Bologna, Montepulciano, Naples, and Rome. “We saw how Italian dishes were prepared: honestly and simply, without artifice or innovation. People don’t want their food to be over the top. They just want it to be delicious,” said Lahey.
These experiences became the inspiration for Osteria Mattone. As Executive Chef and Co-owner of Osteria Mattone, he serves regional Italian cuisine with a heavy focus on Roman fare. Here, he relies on time-tested techniques. “My favorite method of cooking is braising. It adds a deeper, richer level to food. Along with salt and pepper, my favorite ingredient is thyme. It has a woody herb, calming effect,” he said. With dishes like Tagliolini di Mare, it’s no wonder the restaurant’s has received high praise.
Long Road to Success
Like any other restaurant, long hours, hard work and finding the right staff are ongoing challenges. “The biggest challenge is finding good people, and keeping them growing as part of your team. The key is engaging with people and making sure the vision and desired outcome is agreed upon,” he said. Lahey’s put his heart and soul into the restaurant, along with nearly all of his time. “As Chef-owner, my phone’s ringing at 4:00 in the morning. I’m never off the clock,” he said.
These days, Chef Lahey is still wielding a knife, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything else. “It’s a long road to success, but the best part is the positive feedback I’m getting from my guests, and the recognition for a lot of hard work.”
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