Meet the Talented Chefs of Charlottesville and Albemarle County

Discover the chefs and innovative eateries redefining Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s food culture.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County have experienced an exciting culinary renaissance, led by a new generation of gifted chefs and visionary restaurant owners. The region now boasts a vibrant and distinctive flavor profile, thanks to the imaginative stories behind each extraordinary dish. From resilient chefs with remarkable journeys to passionate restaurateurs shaping a diverse community, this article takes you on a journey into the lives of the culinary trailblazers who have transformed Charlottesville into a thriving, one-of-a-kind food destination. 

Omar Al Shaban – Al Basha

Food from Al Basha in Charlottesville, Virginia

At Al Basha, the secret behind the extraordinary bread lies in its heritage. The roots of Omar Al Shaban, the man behind this stall at Dairy Market, the first food hall in central Virginia, trace back nearly a century. His grandparents laid the foundation for one of Iraq’s most renowned bakeries, Al Samadi, in 1948. Inspired by the warmth and hospitality of his family’s restaurant, Al Shaban embarked on a mission to bring the authentic essence of a traditional family dining experience to Charlottesville. One of the highlights at Al Basha is the samoon, a soft and pillowy Iraqi flatbread made from Al Shaban’s ancient family recipe. The samoon serves as the foundation for a variety of mouthwatering sandwiches that have already caught the attention of sandwich enthusiasts in the city. Al Shaban finds immense joy in sharing his family’s culinary legacy. The opportunity to introduce the community to the flavors of his childhood and create a welcoming space for all is what drives him every day. 

Ryan Becklund – Botanical and Bar Botanical

Food from Botanical restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia

In March 2022, chef Ryan Becklund opened Botanical in downtown Charlottesville, a restaurant that has quickly become a local hotspot. Specializing in modern American cuisine with a touch of Asian flavors, Botanical and Bar Botanical, Becklund’s second location with a rooftop bar in Crozet, offer a diverse and enticing menu that caters to both vegans and nonvegans alike. Becklund ensures that her establishments have minimal impact on the environment while bringing joy to customers through delectable, cruelty-free food. From comforting fall favorites to seasonal creations, every dish is designed to make you crave vegan food. Love and respect for all living things are deeply ingrained in the restaurant’s culinary philosophy, creating an exceptional dining experience that reflects Becklund’s values. As a chef who once lacked access to vegan role models, Becklund is thrilled to be part of a growing community of chefs creating outstanding vegan cuisine in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.   

Markéta Čiháková Johnson – Praha Bohemian Bakery and Café

Pastries from Praha Bohemian Bakery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Indulge in a culinary journey to Prague in Crozet, Virginia, at Praha Bohemian Bakery and Café, owned and led by the talented Markéta Čiháková Johnson. With a master’s degree in international trade and commercial languages from the University of Economics in Prague, Johnson brings her lifelong baking experience and business training to her bakery, offering a variety of traditional Czech pastries fused with American baked goods. Their specialty is the Czech Koláče, available with fruit or sweetened farmer’s cheese and poppy seed filling, or savory options such as spinach and artichoke. For Johnson, baking is a wonderful artistic outlet, and she loves experimenting with new recipes from different cultures and fusing them with her Czech heritage. Additionally, Johnson finds immense joy in witnessing the bonds formed and the conversations shared among her customers and friends at Praha Bohemian Bakery and Café. 

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