You say tomato. We say bravado.
Because that’s what we anticipate from kitchens now that tomato season is upon us in Charlottesville. Our favorite milestone on the culinary calendar kicks off when Mother Nature’s annual offering to hard-working farmers paves the road for chefs to strut their stuff without breaking a sweat.
How's that work? Well, here’s the dirty little secret: if properly sourced and creatively incorporated, the summer-ripe tomato is glad to do all the work, to inspire orgasmic food experiences that roll eyes into backs of heads. Chefs who get this truth know they are just directors in this production of food porn.
Now here’s the catch: summer tomato season is one of the most reliable litmus tests for getting to know the mettle of a chef. For example, if we detect the styrofoam taste of refrigerated, store-bought tomatoes in a dish this time of year, we can’t help but question the instincts or motivation of the cat running the back of the house. Or, if this this gift of an ingredient from the gods is overproduced and overshadowed by other flavors on a plate, it conveys a sense of lousy casting and hubris on the chef’s part.
We’ve quoted author, chef and sustainable seafood advocate, Barton Seaver, before on this, but it bears repeating, especially right now:
"I, like most young chefs, initially thought that the best ingredient on the plate was me, that through my manipulation and effort, I was going to make plates that wowed. But as I tasted the produce that was being brought to my kitchen, I began to understand that the flavor of an unadorned, summer-ripe tomato would never be bested, not even by my greatest efforts. That's when I learned to step back a little, to take myself off the plate. I then understood that my role was to taste the ingredients, come up with intelligent and supportive pairings, and do only what was necessary to get those flavors to the plate."
A local favorite of P+K, Lampo Neapolitan Pizza never fails to embrace and execute on that virtuous philosophy. This trio of badass chefs pulls together ensembles of locally-sourced, lively ingredients to spark unforgettable dance numbers of choreography.
Case in point, the Pizze Filetti - house-pulled fior di latte, garlic, cherry tomatoes, basil, smoked sea salt, olive oil - conceptualized by Chef Mitchell Beerens.
For us, Lampo is the guide star for all things pizza in Charlottesville and beyond, so we don’t mind resorting to hyperbole when it comes to their game. This jam is the current leader in culinary highlights of local peak tomatoes that we've tasted so far.
Chef Ian Redshaw happily dotes on this one: "The real stars of this dish are the Down Branch Farm tomatoes and the extraordinary garlic grown by Forrest Green Farm. It shows off their talent in two summer veggies that are incredibly hard to grow well in volume."
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Last Friday, on the heels of too many gluttonous days to count, Will saddled up to the bar for lunch with a spread of Lampo’s lovely vegetable dishes in mind. Instead he crushed an entire Filetti and was so food buzzed that he drowned any traces of shame in a dealer’s choice of cocktails from Andrew. It was a serendipitous lapse of willpower that he fully intends to repeat.
Pro tip: Lampo gets its fresh tomatoes delivered on Fridays, so your best bet at diving into this lovely pie is on weekends.
You have roughly six weeks to experience it. So what are you waiting for?