THREE LOCAL CHEFS TURN THEIR CHILDHOOD PASSIONS INTO CAREERS IN THE KITCHEN
EXECUTIVE CHEF LUCA PESCI VITO’S RISTORANTE, COCKEYSVILLE
Chef Luca Pesci has come a long way—both figuratively and literally. Italian by birth, Pesci dedicated his life to cooking at 14, when it was time to choose between high school and work. Despite his parents’ wishes for him to continue his studies, Pesci began to train at local restaurants, later enrolling at the lnstituto Bernardo Buon Talanti, a Florentine culinary school. At 22, knowing very little English, Pesci arrived in the United States.
After long stints in other area kitchens, Pesci made his way to Vito’s Ristorante in Cockeysville, known then as Vito’s Café. The Italian mainstay has been beloved by foodies and families alike since 1994. At Vito’s, Pesci focuses on incorporating Maryland produce and seafood into the restaurant’s offerings in stellar dishes like branzino al forno (baked sea bass) and capellini al granchio (pasta with crab). In fact, produce and seafood are the two things the chef misses most about his homeland, stressing that Italy’s geography and climate make for a flavor that’s almost impossible to recreate. Not that he won’t keep trying.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT COOKING, WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
“I love sushi. My go-to spot is Umi Saki (in Cockeysville). I’ve never made my own sushi; I’d much rather have someone else make it for me!”
Chef Thomas Casey–For the Love of Food, Pikesville
For Thomas Casey, the transition from kitchen to classroom was a natural one. He’d always thought a chef was a lot like a teacher. Maybe that’s because the first chef he knew was his mother, who also showed him his way around the kitchen.
Casey’s mom is one of 11 children and Casey is one of three, so preparing large meals for a crowd is in his DNA. At For the Love of Food, the Pikesville cooking school that offers classes on everything from knife skills to from-scratch pasta, Casey gets to lead the crowd in learning new skills, cultures and cuisines. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, Casey worked in just about every kind of kitchen imaginable—restaurants, hotels, country clubs and caterers—before finding his home at For the Love of Food.
Casey, a Baltimore native, has also found ways to give back, hosting a series of classes called Feed the Community in which participants make meals for local hunger-relief organizations. The cooking school is also a favorite for date nights and corporate team-building events. Casey says watching novice chefs stand back and admire their work is the best part of his job.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE DISH THAT YOUR MOM MAKES?
“It has to be her sweet potato pie. It’s a secret recipe. So secret, in fact, I had to come up with my own version of it. It’s close, but not the same.”
Executive Chef Josh Vecchiolla-Towson Tavern, Towson
Josh Vecchiolla caught the cooking bug young, standing beside his grandfather in the kitchen. When most kids were watching cartoons, Vecchiolla was mesmerized by his idols on the Food Network. He became the head chef in his childhood home and snagged a job washing dishes in a restaurant as soon as he was old enough. After some time working for tips in the front of the house, Vecchiolla realized his heart belonged in the kitchen.
Vecchiolla honed his skills at some of Baltimore’s best restaurants, including Parts & Labor and Woodberry Kitchen, before he signed on as the executive chef at Towson Tavern. With Vecchiolla at the helm, this scratch kitchen serves up global cuisine made with ingredients from local farms, dairies, apiaries and small-batch producers from across the Chesapeake Bay region. This global perspective is very much a part of Vecchiolla’s cooking philosophy. He says he feels lucky to have worked alongside professionals from all over the world and that the diversity in the kitchen is what keeps his menu so unique.
WHAT’S THE BEST DISH YOU’VE EVER MADE?
“If I had to choose I would have to go with my pork Bolognese. It’s a classic and an homage to my grandfather’s cooking. I did a variation at the Tavern with hen of the woods mushrooms, baby lacinato kale, St. Malachi reserves and herb breadcrumbs that was incredible.”