"Meet me at my house on Daniel Island at 8:30 a.m. for a morning bike ride," says Ken Vedrinski after agreeing to let us shadow him for the day. We wanted to see what the daily routine of one of Charleston's busiest restaurateurs and chefs was like.
As I arrive at Vedrinksi's the next day, his new manager Ed Greene is bringing his dog Belle inside. After learning the two men are roommates, and spotting two Maxim mags on the wicker chest in the living room, I have to ask if the 46-year-old Vedrinski is a bachelor. He isn't. In fact, it's his girlfriend's bike I am about to ride.
Vedrinski tears through dirt trails, past cookie-cutter houses and over marsh docks, greeting joggers and women pushing small dogs in strollers. A five-mile bike ride is Vedrinski's morning ritual — his only time to work off the charcuterie, ricotta gnudi, and polenta cakes he tastes all day.
By 10 a.m., he has circled the entire island and returned his bike to the garage. The invigorated chef grabs a cup of yogurt from his fridge and goes to shower.
11 a.m: Vedrinski heads to his newest restaurant, Trattoria Lucca, on the Charleston peninsula. Once there, he goes over reservations for the night with Greene, Led Zeppelin playing in the background, noting where any special customers would be. They are completely booked, as Lucca almost always is. It's Friday, and they have 119 people to cycle among 49 seats in two hours.
12:15 p.m: On the way to buy produce for the day, Vedrinski stops at the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street to check out the spot for his new restaurant, Introdaqua, named after his mother's hometown in Italy. He rolls out the floor plan for his sous chefs, showing them where the wine room/lounge and open-air kitchen are set to be. All the while, he marvels at the Cigar Factory's soaring, exposed brick walls.
12:45 p.m: Vedrinski heads to Limehouse Produce in his Audi A5 coupe. I ask Vedrinski what drives him to open Introdaqua when he already works like a horse and his first two restaurants, Sienna and Lucca, are such wild successes.
"Maybe I'm crazy," Vedrinksi says. "But it's a bigger stage. It has an amazing location and an urban vibe. We're going to serve local seafood prepared with skill and care. I think it's going to be a home run."
In the car, Vedrinski calls Lowcountry Shellfish. He asks what they have in and orders four pounds of blue crab, some shrimp, and local scamp grouper so fresh, it was swimming in the ocean five hours ago.
And Vedrinski's focus is fresh. As he pokes through the multi-roomed, warehouse refrigerator at Limehouse, he goes straight to the local goods. He creates his own box of Johns Island heirloom tomatoes, a little overripe, perfect for pasta sauce. Heirlooms, olive oil, chilies, and pecorino shavings — what more could you want? Andrea Limehouse, co-owner of Limehouse, sends him home with two boxes of organic black mission figs and a long link of Bobby Cone's onion sausage, no charge.
1:30 p.m: Heading back to Lucca, summer veggies in tow, he begins to talk about what it means to live and thrive. He says he lives vicariously through books about people who climb Everest; one of his greatest fears is feeling like he's missed something. The restaurant owner and chef wants to pick out his own produce. He wants his knife to have touched everything coming out of the kitchen. He oozes with his passion for food.
There is a problem, though. And that problem is women. Vedrinski has a hard time finding a partner who can understand that his number one love will always be his restaurants and his food.
2 p.m: At Lucca, Vedrinski, pen in hand, brainstorms an all-local tasting menu for the night in minutes. A crudo of local flounder with fresh peas, homemade tagliolini with the heirlooms from Limehouse, grilled naturally-raised veal with roasted figs and gorgonzola, and vanilla gelato with Lambrusco syrup and local berries.
Two local boys drop off a green cooler filled with flounder, just gigged the night before, on the corner of Ashe Street. Vedrinski breaks out his 20-year-old Imperia 220 — a pasta machine so well-loved parts keep falling off — and starts making the tagliolini on the bar top. The mailman comes in. Vedrinksi invites him to his Fourth of July party on Folly the next day.
3:30 p.m: The flour-dusted phone rings for about the 12th time since Vedrinski's been making pasta. But this isn't just another person calling to cancel or confirm a reservation.
"Shit. This is bad," I hear him say under his breath in the receiver. He steps outside. What the hell has happened? Did the gorgonzola shipment fail to arrive? Has someone embezzled his funds for Introdaqua? After watching Vedrinski's face drop, I decide to wait to ask.
4:30 p.m: The wait staff starts to arrive. An hour after that, Vedrinksi gives his employees their nightly pre-dinner pep talk. By 6 p.m., he is in the cozy corner of Lucca, talking to his Friday night regulars. He seems as if the phone call never happened.
7 p.m: The rush starts and Vedrinski locks himself in the kitchen. He sends out the crudo, this time with tangerine, lemon, pickled garlic, and celery; flounder in chicken jus with artichoke, olives, capers, and a farro risotto; and a warm cauliflower sformatino that looks like a molten chocolate cake, equipped with a poached egg and garnished with arugula.
9:30 p.m: The boom subsides. Vedrinski comes to the bar to greet Steven Greene, Ed's brother and a chef he helped mentor while cooking (and earning five stars) at the The Dining Room at Woodlands. As they talk, an older man visiting from North Carolina comes to shake Vedrinski's hand.
"I lived in New York for 50 years and this food is as good as it gets," he says. Vedrinksi and Steven continue to whisper in the corner. I catch a line of conversation and turn to Vedrinski.
"So, she took the bike, Ken?" He looks at me and affirms, "She took the fucking bike."
10:18 p.m: Vedrinski lets out his first yawn. "We're going out," Steven says. "We need to get you out of here."
11 p.m: At Chai's, Vedrinksi looks around at the bar filled with hot girls in short dresses, unamused. He's 46, unmarried — now single — and works six days a week in a kitchen with all men (except on Mondays, when he goes out on his boat).
"What's the point of having all this, if I don't have anyone to share it with?" Vedrinski sits with his whisky and wonders out loud.
1:15 a.m: He's back at Lucca. The lights are dimmed. Ed and the sous chefs are still there, calculating the totals for the night. Being a chef may make it hard to keep a girlfriend or start a family. But for men like Vedrinksi, the restaurant is home. And the people who work there are family.
It may be one of Vedrinksi's greatest fears, but it seems like no matter how well you live, you're always missing out on something. Though glamorous at times, being Ken Vedrinski is not without sacrifice. It's a life of early mornings and late nights, non-stop business deals and the occasional cheap thrill, but it's a life devoted to passion — to the evolution of culinary genius. It may be unconventional. It may get lonely at times. But at the end of the day, the life of Ken Vedrinski is an amazing one.