The hunt for an executive chef at 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen ended with the appointment of Jacob Coronado to the post last Saturday. The plum position at the chic, 14,000-square-foot restaurant and rooftop lounge had been open since Russell Kook, the restaurant’s opening chef, left Feb. 7 to open a new restaurant in Chicago.
Concentrics Hospitality, 8UP’s Atlanta-based parent company, took its time choosing Kook’s replacement, but it didn’t have to look hard to find Coronado. He’s been in Louisville for the past six months working as Kook’s handpicked chef de cuisine.
“Russell and I have worked together and been friends for some time, and he said he wanted me to be part of this restaurant,” said Coronado, who was last chef de cuisine at the Overlook Restaurant in Las Vegas’s The Cosmopolitan hotel. “I was ready for a change … to get back to a standalone restaurant instead of a hotel restaurant. In hotel restaurants, you do everything on a different scale, and sometimes you don’t get to do the details on the plate that I like.”
A Houston native, Coronado began working in restaurants as a busboy before moving to the kitchen and cooking in hotels. He joined Concentrics and moved to Chicago, where he, Kook and then-corporate chef Todd Stein opened Roof, the rooftop restaurant at the posh Wit Hotel.
Coronado said his move to Louisville has so far exceeded his expectations. He’d heard Louisville had an ample supply of restaurants and bars, but once you’ve lived in Chicago and Las Vegas, you can become a bit jaded.
“I’ve been here a while now, and I’ve dined at a lot of restaurants, and the restaurant scene here is real,” said Coronado, who lives near the Highlands. “I can walk to so many great places to eat. I really had no idea it would be like this.”
Coronado’s appointment is the second significant hire at 8UP this month. In early March, Julie DeFriend, the longtime general manager and sommelier at The Oakroom, was hired to replace opening general manager Len Stevens, who left in January. Coronado said DeFriend shares his commitment to honing the restaurant’s identity in the local market by building a solid team in the kitchen.
“I want to get our cooks focused on making the best food we can,” he said. “But what’s nice is it’s easy to move and motivate them because of all the excitement in Louisville restaurants right now. It’s a great time to be here.”
A bonus tied to his new position is working even closer with bar manager Sean Thibodeaux. He said Thibodeaux’s passion for drinks equals his for food.
“Everybody in this industry wants to keep learning and breaking boundaries, and he and I are right there with each other,” he said. “Sean asks questions about food and how that pertains to drinks. It’s how he thinks. And that’s also how we get started talking about ideas, having some drinks and solving the world’s problems through food and drink.”