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Chef Spotlight: Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca, Charleston

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Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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Chef Ken Vedrinski homemade pasta
Pasta from Trattoria Lucca

Moving deftly through an award-winning career spanning decades, and a variety of haute cuisine styles, Chef Ken Vedrinski has found his passion and heritage in Italian fare. He's also found his "place" in Charleston, a coastal city rich with fresh bounty from the land and sea, and a long way from land-locked Columbus, Ohio where he was born.

Vedrinski grew up cooking in his grandmother's kitchen under her passion-infused, Italian-influenced tutelage. He was an eager student with such fervor for food that it led to his degree in restaurant management from Columbus College and a three-year apprenticeship under Certified Master Chef Hartmut Handke. His lifelong passion and career was ignited. Years later, Vedrinski was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University.

Vedrinski's first stint as an executive chef was at the acclaimed Opus Restaurant in the former Swissôtel Atlanta, where his talent was quickly lauded when Opus was named "One of the Best New Restaurants in America (1991)," by Esquire Magazine. Chef Vedrinski was an early adopter to the practice and promotion of farm to table freshness as he heralded Georgia homegrown foods, landing him a spot on The Today Show.

His next stop took him to Summerville, S.C., where he served as executive chef at Woodlands Inn & Resort. Vedrinski earned the only Mobile Five-Stars awarded to a South Carolina restaurant at The Restaurant at the Woodlands. In 2002, the restaurant received the only perfect food score in North America byCondé Nast Traveler.

Vedrinski then moved to Daniel Island, a suburb of Charleston, where he co-owned and operated Sienna Restaurant, his first professional commitment to exclusively Italian cuisine. Once again, Esquire Magazine took notice with yet another, "One of the Best New American Restaurants (2004)," designations. John Mariani with Esquire Magazine said, "Were I to award points in this annual restaurant survey, only Sienna would get a ten solely for its cooking."

Embracing his culinary heritage, Vedrinski embarked on food-fueled expeditions to Italy in search of the most authentic ingredients, olive oils and wines. His journeys took him to Lucca in Western Tuscany, which he claims to be the home of "the best olive oil in the world." Inspired by the beloved olive oil and his love for the region, Vedrinski opened Trattoria Lucca in 2009, acting as sole owner, executive chef and sommelier of the charming Italian restaurant.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of downtown Charleston's Elliotsborough neighborhood, the modestly priced Trattoria Lucca showcases Vedrinski's passion for Italian cuisine prepared with the freshest Lowcountry fish and local produce. Vedrinski changes the dinner menu nightly depending on what the local ingredients inspire him to create that night, or what fresh catch the local fishmonger brings to his doorstep directly from the boat, such as seasonal triggerfish or black bass. He often showcases the freshest local fish in his locally famous crudo di pesci, which was chosen as an editor's pick for "50 Foodie Faves" by Charleston magazine in December 2010.

Each afternoon, Vedrinski can be found at Lucca's travertine bar rolling out fresh pasta for that night's dinner - everything from tagliolini and cavatelli to bucatini. He tosses the authentic pastas with local produce and seafood from the local waters to create unforgettable dishes, such as aglonotti of fresh snails and cresenza with wild ramp brodo, which was highlighted by New York Magazine as one of the top pastas in the country.

An outstanding selection of artisan cheeses imported by Manoli Davani (which earned "Best Cheese Plate" honors from Charleston City Paper), as well as traditional Italian salami choices, a hand-picked Southern Italian wine list and Monday family-style suppers are all part of the Lucca experience.

The charming restaurant was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2009, and Vedrinski was also recognized as a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2011. With a devoted local following and industry acclaim, Vedrinski and Trattoria Lucca are redefining Italian cuisine in the Lowcountry.

Staff Writer
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.