In a very rare (but welcome) move for local food journalists and writers, Tennessean columnist Jim Myers this morning fired off a warning to both already established and incoming celebrity chefs in a piece titled 'Success for Celebrity Chefs Won't Come Easy in Nashville.'
Prompted by the onslaught of big name out-of-town chefs and restaurateurs looking to capitalize on Nashville's current popularity and apparent continuing 'It City' status, Myers lists off many a helpful tip, including Nashville's lack of caring regarding celebrity ("Celebrity doesn't move us like it might in other cities, and your television-earned status might not carry the same cachet"), the need for more restaurant diversity ("We want to experience more cuisines, more flavors that are new to our palates") and the need for chefs/restaurateurs to be present ("Without your regular presence, or outstanding people in your place, it simply won't work").
But things really get interesting when Myers turns his eye to two specific "cautionary tales." First up is that of Sean Brock and his popular Husk Nashville outpost. Opened in May of 2013, the restaurant has garnered loads of acclaim (including inclusion in Eater's recently announced first ever National 38 list), and he acknowledges that "[w]hen Brock is in the house, [he] would hold up Husk Nashville as one of our best." But when he is absent, things take a different turn.
But when he is not, it has lagged, and talk among the dining cognoscenti has begun to sour, much of it is warranted. Food quality and preparation have been inconsistent, and at times service flutters between the pretentious and the absurd. Chalk it up to growing pains, but most of it comes down to personnel and the absence of their leader.
Next up, New York City celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman takes a bit of a beating over some "serious miscues" at his Gulch restaurant Adele's.
At a cocktail party for Bon Appétit Magazine's Grub Crawl, I looked on in embarrassment at the haphazard and crumb-laden display of food and the poor attention to detail. It looked more like a frat party afterthought than a "best foot forward" for a national food media event.
And it continues:
Waxman's signature roast chicken is glorious when done right, but has been served undercooked more than once. Other dishes, such as his sprouts and potatoes, have shown similar inattention. Waxman is a great chef, and a pioneer of a defining American cuisine from his days in California, so disappointment is all the harder to swallow.
Myers says up front that he likes and has great respect for both chefs, but they certainly haven't been called out like this before, not in Nashville.
So what do you think about the influx of big name chefs from larger markets? Good or bad? Let us know in the comments.