The restaurant group behind Nashville’s special occasion staple the Catbird Seat has ousted two critically-acclaimed chefs from the restaurant and already hired a replacement, according to industry sources.
James Beard Award co-nominees for Rising Star Chef Will Aghajanian and Liz Johnson are no longer with Catbird Seat (which is operated by Strategic Hospitality), according to multiple anonymous tips and industry insiders. The departure comes as quite a shock, given that the nominations were just released a week ago, and the co-chefs have built a reputation for constantly pushing the envelope for creativity in Nashville dining.
The co-chefs (who met while working at Copenhagen’s Noma) were in Nashville for just about a year, replacing Ryan Poli after his swift departure at the end of 2018. While it’s true the restaurant itself is defined as a chef incubator intended to develop young chefs and give them their own eventual restaurants, this stint seems curiously short, especially given the recent national spotlight.
Eight people are James Beard award semifinalists in Nashville this year — and six are affiliated with Ben and Max Goldberg’s Strategic Hospitality, including the owners themselves, who were also nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur.
Strategic Hospitality is also currently involved in a pretty big lawsuit, filed by employees of their most recent project, the Downtown Sporting Club. According to the Tennessean, the suit claims that DSC violates federal labor laws by siphoning tip money away from its servers.
Eater Nashville reached out to Strategic Hospitality, which declined to immediately comment on the situation. Eater Nashville also reached out to Aghajanian and Johnson for comment, and will report back with more information as the story develops.
*Here Are Nashville’s 2020 James Beard Awards Semifinalists [ENASH]
*Downtown Sporting Club illegally took tips from servers and bartenders, lawsuit claims [TENNESSEAN]
*The Catbird Seat Announces Two New Chefs [ENASH]