Vermilion has transformed itself time and time again over its 17-year tenure on King Street in Old Town. After Tony Chittum’s stint at the local restaurant ended in 2013 (when he moved on to Iron Gate in Dupont Circle), followed by Will Morris through 2017, Tom Cardarelli stepped in. The new executive chef was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of New York, spending several years at Jean-Georges and in the role of executive sous-chef at Michelin-star Marea in New York City.
Since making his way to Vermilion, Cardarelli earned local accolades and put his own spin on the restaurant’s ever-changing menu. He brought house-made bread and butter to the table. Vermilion became a crowded spot during Alexandria’s biannual restaurant week. The restaurant earned the No. 2 spot on our 50 Best Restaurants List in 2019.
But, Feb. 14 was Cardarelli’s last day. Upon his departure, Inti Villalobos-Coady, a veteran of five years at Brabo, has stepped into the helm.
“Leaving is definitely bittersweet,” says Cardarelli. “I think we really did great work as a team during my tenure at Vermilion. I am very proud of the product that we put out and the growth we achieved in our capabilities as a kitchen and as a restaurant. I will absolutely look back at my time at Vermilion with great fondness and nostalgia.”
When asked what his favorite dish was over the course of nearly three years, the answer wasn’t easy. Cardarelli took pride in the plates of prix fixe menus and steadfast classics, such as Vermilion’s house-made pastas and ice creams.
“I was always really happy to serve our housemade sourdough with the cultured butter that we churned here at the restaurant, and proud that this was something we gave to all our guests as a welcome,” says Cardarelli.
Now in the hands of Villalobos-Coady, the menu and experience of the restaurant that served former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle on Valentine’s Day back in 2012, is subject to change. He already has ideas. A new spin on strawberry rhubarb pie to honor his grandfather. Fried fingerling potatoes that emulate his favorite snack: salt and vinegar potato chips.
But before making any big changes, Villalobos-Coady is simply excited to get involved with the future of the restaurant now that Cardarelli has laid even more of the groundwork to build from.
“[Vermilion] has been one of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria for years and now to be able to call it my new home is very rewarding,” says Villalobos-Coady. “It is important to me to keep advancing the level of cooking in Alexandria. Vermilion has always been a great restaurant and I want to try to make it even better.”
As of now, Villalobos-Coady is hoping to re-introduce himself in a way that brings his background into play at the restaurant. It’s important to him that local fans of Vermilion know one of their favorite places is in good hands.
“I’ve been cooking my entire life; starting when I was 5 years old, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my great-grandmother. She would make steaks in a cast-iron pan and I was fascinated by how this red and white piece of meat would turn into something brown and extremely delicious,” says Villalobos-Coady.
After starting work as a dishwasher in restaurants at the age of 13, Villalobos-Coady went on to become a line cook, a high school student in a culinary vocational program and a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He’s been in the DMV ever since. He was the saucier at 2941 Restaurant, followed by sous chef at Brabo Brasserie for over five years. This will be his first experience as an executive chef.
“I’d like for Vermilion to be the spot that people talk about in Northern Virginia. We have an amazing team in the kitchen and in the dining room and we all want to create the best experience possible for our guests,” says Villalobos-Coady.
As for what’s next for Cardarelli?
“Northern Virginia is a great dining scene that I would love to continue to be a part of,” he says. “I don’t want to say anything concrete at this point, but I have a few things on the horizon that I am excited about.”
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