Patrick Roney, chef de cuisine at The Oakroom since 2012, will take the executive chef’s position at Harvest in NuLu in early December. The position opened last month when the restaurant’s original chef, Coby Ming, left to become chef at a new restaurant and catering operation set to open next year in the newly refurbished Speed Art Museum.
A veteran private yacht chef, Roney weighed anchor in Louisville in 2012 at Avalon, until that restaurant closed abruptly that summer. When Bobby Benjamin left The Oakroom that same year to open La Coop Bistro a Vins, Roney replaced him as its chef de cuisine and brought a blend of whimsical and molecular touches to its menu.
Roney called his hire at Harvest a bit ironic since it was the first restaurant he visited when he and wife, Heather Roney, moved here. (She’s a Louisville native and manages events at the Seelbach Hotel.)
“Harvest’s food philosophy was what drew me to move to Louisville,” Roney said. The last restaurant kitchen he ran before becoming a private yacht chef was a certified organic eatery in California, which sourced all its ingredients from within a 30-mile radius. “That similar philosophy was what had me jazzed about eating at Harvest. And when the opportunity to become a part of that came along, it was a no-brainer. It was like, ‘I want that job.’”
Ivor Chodkowski, one of Harvest’s four owners, said that following Ming’s departure, the restaurant received nearly two dozen applications from well-qualified chefs outside of Louisville, and another 10 résumés from top Metro-area candidates.
He said Roney’s exposure to hundreds of international ports as a yacht chef gave him an unusually broad and advantageous culinary skillset. Yet he said a combination of several intangible factors made him the right fit for Harvest.
“It’s important that he’s already involved in the community and gets that outreach component of Harvest,” Chodkowski said. “And he shared with us that one of the things he’s most interested in is teaching and giving our existing staff opportunities to grow.”
Chodkowski said he’s as excited as anyone about learning where Roney will take Harvest’s upcoming menus. Yet despite the firm foundation put in place by Ming, he said every candidate interviewed was told that ownership wanted a chef who would not blindly execute her previous menus.
“We wanted whoever we chose to make it their own and have their own food passion come through,” Chodkowski said.
Roney insisted he views the tack from The Oakroom’s elevated fine dining food to Harvest’s more casual and rustic cuisine as a challenge, not a step down.
“While I don’t think there’s a parallel job in the city with the chef de cuisine job at The Oakroom, Harvest just takes my focus on local ingredients and magnifies it 10 times more,” he said. “While my food at The Oakroom has allowed me to come into my own at the (AAA) Five Diamond level, I know I can take that philosophy to Harvest, too, but without the rules and the stuffiness of fine dining.”
He expects his post at Harvest also will afford more opportunities to be in direct communication with artisan producers, farmers in their fields and barns, and cheese makers at their creameries.
“My passion for the food will show through by being where the product is coming from, seeing how it’s made and where it’s being raised,” he said. “I plan on doing a lot of dinners with farmers and producers … at a chef’s table I want to put in Harvest’s kitchen. There’s a ton of space back there.”
That the team of chefs and cooks Ming built during her term at Harvest remains in place gives Roney a lot of confidence that the transition to his leadership will be smooth.
“The people still there running the show are doing a really good job, and I know I’ll have a talented team to join,” Roney said. “It’s not my plan to come in and change a bunch of stuff. I want to become part of the team and then slowly implement different things I want to do. If it’s going to work, it has to be done as a team, not as just one individual changing a whole dynamic.”