As Graham Elliot was being honored by the Chicago Culinary Museum and Hall of Fame last night, he was having to deal with the loss of the highest-ranked chef in his flagship restaurant's kitchen... for the second day in a row. On the heels of Andrew Brochu exiting the kitchen on Tuesday, Bryce Caron, who joined three months ago after being let go at Blackbird, quit on Wednesday. Eater reports two sides of the story: Caron's is that he was talking about moving into Brochu's spot but that he was unhappy with the idea of the restaurant moving back to a la carte items as well as the tasting menu which had been the cornerstone of its effort to reinvent itself as a top-level fine dining spot. Elliot's is that he wasn't ready to move Caron to that spot yet and he felt piqued and quit.
Either way, it seems that the sticking point is that the restaurant seemed to commit to a conceptual tasting menu format some months back, with the aim of reaching at least a two-Michelin-star-level that would make it competitive as a fine dining destination with places like Alinea, L2O and Sixteen, but is now backtracking to what had worked before. And Caron, a Food & Wine best new pastry chef earlier this year, was unwilling to just keep doing what Graham Elliot had been doing for years.
One other wrinkle in all this: with the next edition of the Michelin Guide due in less than two months, is there a possibility that it has already gone to press with a verdict on that more ambitious Brochu-era Graham Elliot? Or will it be changed just in time (meaning we'll never know what that verdict was?) In any case, this dramatic turmoil in the kitchen, probably the most of its kind at a place of this level since at least Powerhouse in 2009, suggests that even as Elliot the man's celebrity status continues to rise, his flagship restaurant is in disarray which will require some personal attention and strategic thinking about what it really wants to be and how to get there.
Elliot's thoughts were perhaps best summed up by his tweet last night:
You know what's funny? When life hands you lemons, then says "haha, I was just fucking with you", then takes em back. Life's funny that way