You could say his restaurant career began at age 14, when he staffed the concession stand for a minor league baseball team in Nashville. At 15, he started working as a food runner at swanky country club in a kitchen that was so big “you could throw a football across it,” he said.
“When we weren’t that busy, I’d ask the chefs what they were doing and why they were doing it,” he said. After two weeks of constant questioning, they let him help out: He started with peeling onions and carrots and cutting the vegetable of the day (typically a “gross” sauté of squash and zucchini). He stayed there until he went to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering.
While in college, entered the corporate restaurant world, working at a Chili’s and then a Famous Dave’s BBQ. His stints taught him about “mass production of food” and “how corporations streamline things, how they make money,” he said.
Then, one semester while studying for exams at 3 a.m., he realized that mechanical engineering wasn’t for him. “Why am I doing this?” he asked himself. “I don’t want to do this. I have so much fun in the kitchen. What I want to do is cook.” Right then, he decided to quit school and pursue a culinary career.
He returned home to Nashville and worked for The Mad Platter, the first chef-owned restaurant in the city. The head chef, who had done catering for the Grateful Dead, took Lassiter under his wing, answering his questions, lending him cookbooks from his personal library. “He really taught me a lot,” Lassiter said.
When he left two years later to hike the Appalachian Trail, he had obviously made an impression. The chef slipped him $1,000, just because. He found his way to Jackson that October, and worked in a number of restaurants (Couloir, Q Roadhouse, Rendezvous Bistro), before landing at Trio, where he’s come to be known as the dessert guy, kind of by default.
“Most chefs don’t like making desserts,” he said. “They say ‘I can’t make that.’ That’s really a half-ass, hack way of looking at things. ‘I don’t do desserts?’ Then you’re not a well-rounded chef.”
Lassiter ended up making them a priority. He created Trio’s wildly popular s’more after a summer camping trip on which he ate so many marshmallows he was sick to his stomach. “I was laying in my tent, thinking ‘How I could turn it into a dessert?’ ” he said.
And this summer, his newest creation has been just as popular: a lemon meringue ice cream pie. “When I can’t sleep at night, I seriously think about food,” he said. “Not joking. I dreamed about this one. … It’s like the classic lemon meringue pie I grew up eating at my grannie’s.”
But Lassiter is about more than just sweets. Since Trio owners Will Bradof and Paul Wireman have spent the summer opening their new Town Square restaurant, Local, Lassiter has been front and center in the kitchen.
Some of the favorite dishes he’s made this summer? A grilled Snake River Farms kurobuta pork chop with bourbon pecan glaze, using the leftover liquor from candied nuts for the cheese plate. It was served with a grilled peach and goat cheese salad. “I love fruit when it’s charred a little bit,” he said. “It adds depth of flavor.”
Thanks, Adam. We’re totally sweet on your food.