10 Questions for Chef Geoff Lazlo of The Whelk in Westport

Stephanie Webster

On any given day, Chef Geoff Lazlo can be found in his vegetable garden, with his young family, or in the kitchen atThe Whelk in Westport. After years of working at renown restaurants such as Blue Hill Stone Barns, Chez Panisse, and most recently Gramercy Tavern, Geoff came back to CT where he was born, to join team Bill Taibe. “I made an effort to work at the very best restaurants while I was in New York City,” says Lazlo, “but I was never really an urban person. When I was 5 years old I turned my sandbox into a garden.” As passionate locavores who care deeply about the integrity of each and every ingredient, Taibe and Lazlo would agree that this has been a perfect match. 

After a few months at Le Farm which Geoff says “was a great opportunity to be in a small chef driven kitchen after Gramercy Tavern," Geoff took over the helm at The Whelk (recently voted Best Seafood Restaurant in Fairfield County). When asked about The Whelk, Geoff said, “I’m a really academic guy and I like the challenge of approaching seafood with multiple cooking methods.”  “Bill and I have a similar spirit, but we come at food from two different angles. I cook clean and light, and Bill encourages me to add that last ingredient that pushes it further.” 

As the Whelk continues to thrive, Geoff Lazlo works to explore seafood in new ways. “We’re trying to create and do justice to the classic seafood dishes, but also make it relevant in our own time and space.” The continually packed dining room at The Whelk bears witness to their success in this endeavor. 

Chef Geoff Lazlo recently answered 10 Questions for CTbites. You can find his answers below:

If you had unexpected guests arriving at your home for dinner in 1 hour, what would you whip up?

Whole roasted chicken and a variation on a black kale salad. This is my go-to dinner that I usually prepare for my family and close friends who come to dinner on my 'friday' night. the chicken is slowly roasted over coals and the salad is wother a variation of an anchovy dressing, the rendered juice from the roasted chicken or pickled tomato from my garden. 

What is the last dish you cooked for yourself?

Bucatini, chili flake, garlic, pecorino, olive oil and young brocolli rabe from my garden

What are your guilty pleasures in terms of food?  

Craft beers. I really enjoy small-batch craft beers from artisan makers. I have an appreciation for them bc i home brew using hops that I grow. One of the beers I like to brew is a sour cherry stout. Sour cherry has a very short season so you have to use  them as soon as they are available. 

What ingredient could you not live without?

Espellette pepper

The chef I’d most like to spend the day with is _____________ Why?

Chef Francis Mahlman. I like to cook a lot on a grill using coals. Chef Mahlman utilizes many different types of fires. I had the pleasure of cooking with him at the Share Our Strength benefit that we hosted at Gramercy Tavern last fall and learned a tremendous amount from that experience. He has such a depth of knowledge and I barely scratched the surface, so I'd love to cook w him again. 

What was your worst kitchen nightmare? 

During a routine fire inspection at Gramercy Tavern, the inspector accidentally pulled the ansul system for the hood of the Tavern Grill. Everything was covered w the ansul extinguisher fluid including the line cooks and shut that kitchen down. Fortunately, it was toward the end of lunch service and we had already served all of our guests in the last seating. However, we had to build a makeshift Tavern kitchen in order to cook dinner service. It was a very hectic afternoon but we were able to recover and have a successful dinner service.

What is your most useful kitchen tool or appliance?

Stick blender. I like its versatility in making sauces and aiolis.

What dish on your menu most defines you and your cooking style?

Last week at the Nantucket Wine Festival I prepared a sugar snap pea salad with farro verde, almonds, pickled ramps with a yogurt dressing. I like to highlight seasonal vegetables paired w whole grains. Farro verde is my favorite grain that I often use because it is so delicious and versatile. My cooking style is ingredient-driven utilizing seasonal produce from area farms. 

What defines an outstanding meal for you?

An outstanding meal has many components.  I am inspired when i see a chef use an ingredient that I like to use in a new or interesting way. I sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation of seeing what the dish will look and taste like. beyond the food itself, the experience of the diner is impacted by the service and feel of the restaurant. A true hospitalitarian can elevate a good experience to an excellent one when the diner feels valued

Whom do you like to cook for the most? 

I enjoy cooking for my wife and close friends at home on my day off.

Extracurricular activity you enjoy when not cooking?  

I have been gardening and growing my own vegetables since I was a kid.  My entire family for four generations has lived in CT and kept large gardens which they fed their families with and put up preserves for the winter.

My hobby is restoring my vintage Land Rover Defender 90.  I have owned if for 18 years and have been putting it back together one piece at a time.

People would be surprised to know that you.....

I am an avid golfer.  I often go out at 6am on my day off to play an early morning round

What is your favorite recipe for this season? 

Hot Smoked Arctic Char: English peas, buttermilk, ramps, tasso, chive blossoms

Note: Take a good look at your next meal at The whelk. Chef Lazlo grows 8 different kinds of beans alone in his elaborate vegetable garden, and on any given night you will find a bounty of freshly picked herbs and vegetables featured in the dishes he creates.