The best thing I ate this week came from a business with no brick-and-mortar presence. Not a faceless Reef Kitchens ghost kitchen, mind you, but from chef Thomas Boyce. After multiple attempts to snag one of these lasagnas—they can sell out as quickly as three hours after Boyce posts them on Instagram—Boyce himself pulled up at my apartment building on Tuesday night to hand-deliver a piping-hot oxtail lasagna bolognese, stacked with seven layers of handmade pasta and oozing with béchamel. For $40 including delivery, I got four servings of lasagna—though the tender, fragrant, slightly gelatinous oxtail stewed in red wine and mirepoix was so good, I ended up eating half the lasagna within minutes.
Boyce has been involved with a number of high-profile ventures. He spent 15 years at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Los Angeles, then came to Portland and took over the kitchen at Bluehour. He also worked with Andy Ricker to expand Pok Pok into Los Angeles, and with then-wife Kim Boyce opened the beloved bakery Bakeshop. Most recently, he worked in catering at Nike’s Beaverton headquarters.
“I thought [it] was going to be a super-stable corporate chef job—definitely wasn't the most inspiring food I've done,” Boyce says. “But it was Monday to Friday. I've got three kids. So it kind of worked with my lifestyle, somewhat. And then COVID happened and the Nike campus shut down, and just like everyone else in the hospitality industry, I'm left sort of trying to figure out what's next.”
In the meantime, Boyce, like many of us, took on his own pandemic home cooking project: lasagna bolognese, inspired by the pasta cookbook American Sfoglino by Evan Funke. He began seeing people selling quiches and charcuterie plates on Instagram, and decided to get in on the game.
In August 2020, Boyce launched Lasagna Project PDX, which wheels and deals handmade lasagnas exclusively through direct messages on its Instagram page, @lasagnaprojectpdx. He started with the classic bolognese—beef and pork tomato sugo, creamy béchamel, handmade pasta, and Parmesan cheese—and has since expanded to combinations like pork shank with foraged chanterelles and vegetarian white lasagna with wild mushrooms, chard, and fontina. Many of them are inspired by the various pastas he made back at Spago; they’re also seasonally driven, with winter greens highlighted now and eggplant and summer squash coming in the summer.
Right now, Boyce offers lasagna dropoffs two to three times a week, available baked or unbaked, with a maximum of 15 lasagnas per drop due to the limited size of his home kitchen. That means these lasagnas are in high demand, including lots of repeat customers and several moms’ groups on Facebook. But the next evolution of the Lasagna Project is coming soon.
“I'm talking with some different companies about helping distribute the uncooked lasagna. I think about a brick-and-mortar, but also I'm a little apprehensive of that right now ... it adds a lot of overhead,” Boyce says. In the meantime, he’s planning to expand the menu and obtain a liquor license so he can bring accompaniments of salads, homemade garlic bread, and hand-selected wines to customers’ doors.
As for that job at Nike? Looking back now, he doesn’t miss it too much—particularly the constraints on creativity that came with that job.
“I mean, I'm not making nearly the money I was making before,” Boyce says. “But I'm working from home. I'm making lasagna. My kids are doing their homework in their rooms, I finish the lasagna, we have lunch. It's much better.”