Restaurant Roundup: Huge chef shuffle, all-day breakfast, death to bourbon’s black market

Chef shuffle: There’s been a lot of movement in the top spots at local kitchens over the past several weeks. Many times I learn of these changes long before I write about them because I’m asked by various people to wait for various reasons. So I always honor those requests–but only for a little while. Just as hot food gets cold if not moved to the table quickly, news cools off, too, or winds up on a competitor’s pages. So here goes:

Sullivan leaves 610, now at Oakroom: Nick Sullivan, the longtime chef de cuisine 610 Magnolia, left there several weeks ago in search of another opportunity.

Nick Sullivan, former chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia, now chef de cuisine at The Oakroom. | Photo courtesy of Nick Sullivan

Nick Sullivan, former chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia, now chef de cuisine at The Oakroom. | Photo courtesy of Nick Sullivan

Sullivan hasn’t discussed the details of his departure from one of the city’s most prominent restaurants, and he declined to say much about his substantially rumored position as chef de cuisine at The Oakroom. He requested I talk to Matt Durham, the Seelbach Hotel’s executive chef who will be his boss, but Durham did not respond before press time. Still, unless something unexpected happens, meet the new chef, talented as the old chef.

As you may recall, The Oakroom’s chef de cuisine spot was vacated last week by Patrick Roney, who left that position after three years to become executive chef at Harvest. Roney’s impact on the restaurant’s food was substantial, and that’s coming on the heels of Bobby Benjamin’s long service there (after he left to open La Coop). And before Benjamin, Todd Richards was the executive chef, and before him was Jim Gerhardt. Goodness, what a line of talent that restaurant has seen!

Clearly that says a lot about Sullivan’s abilities, too.

Morris moves on from Epic Sammich Co.: Eric Morris, chef at Epic Sandwich Co., has left the Highlands Avenue sandwich shop to focus solely on his new venture, Gospel Bird.

Originally, Insider Louisville reported in November that Epic owner and chef Dustin Staggers also would be involved in Gospel Bird. However, Morris now says the upcoming Southern restaurant in New Albany will be a solo venture.

Eric Morris, left, and Dustin Staggers, far right, at a Ten Tables event. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Eric Morris, left, and Dustin Staggers, far right, at a Ten Tables event. | Photo by Steve Coomes

“I have decided to do this venture alone to expand my creativity, push my own boundaries, and achieve personal goals and growth,” Morris texted. Before joining Staggers this past May, Morris spent 18 months as chef-partner of Loop 22, before it closed.

Morris insisted that leaving Staggers’ operation wasn’t due to a conflict between him and the boss.

“This decision isn’t based on bad blood,” said Morris, who will continue working with Staggers on the Ten Tables improvised dinners held at America. The Diner every Monday. “I just feel it’s time I go in on something alone for me, my family, and my career.”

Ray leaves Staggers Co.’s, joins Morris at Gospel Bird: Ethan Ray, one of the original chefs at Staggers’ first Highlands restaurant, Roux, the now-closed Rumplings and America. The Diner, will leave the fold to join Morris as Gospel Bird’s executive chef. Morris shared the news with Roger Baylor, author of the blog NA Confidential. Ray did not return requests for comments by press time.

His and Morris’ departure from Staggers’ operations marks the third chef to leave the self-dubbed Roux Tang Clan this year. Griffin Paulin, another Roux original, left when Rumplings (which he oversaw) closed in April.

Dunbar departs Corbett’s: Michael Dunbar, executive chef at Corbett’s: An American Place, for the past two years, left that spot in November. The restaurant’s longstanding and well-regarded sous chef, Jeffrey Dailey, is now in the executive chef spot.

Corbett’s owner Dean Corbett declined to comment on the switch, and Dunbar was not available for comment.

Corbett did say he’s back into the kitchen at Equus to mentor several young chefs now part of his corps there. It’s been several years since the veteran chef has worked the line, and Corbett said he wondered if he still “had the moves” required for the fast-paced work.

“I don’t mind telling you that it took me a few days to get up to speed, but now I’m having a ball.” His return to the kitchen of his first restaurant comes 30 years after he purchased what was a much smaller and struggling operation. “Being back in the kitchen reminds me that this was what I was made to do. I really love cooking.”

Maldonado leaves Wiltshire: Oscar Maldonado, chef at Wiltshire Pantry Bakery and Cafe, has left that position. His departure was confirmed by owner Susan Hershberg, though she declined to comment further. Maldonado did chime in.

“I appreciate the experience I was able to gain with Wiltshire Pantry,” he said.  “The staff and the owner were nothing but great to me. I’m thankful for the experience I gained being able to work there.”

In March, Maldonado was part of a six-chef team from Louisville who traveled to New York’s James Beard House to produce a Young Guns dinner. Those who know him regard him as calm and capable.

Clements eyes Germantown for return to Louisville restaurant scene: Remember Steve Clements, owner of Avalon and operator of the Derby Café at the Churchill Downs Museum? Insider Louisville reported in October that he’s planning a comeback when he’ll open Finn’s Southern Kitchen in March in the Germantown Mill Lots complex at 1030 Goss Ave.

Steve Clements with wife, Mary Beth. | Photo courtesy of Steve Clements

Steve Clements with wife, Mary Beth. | Photo courtesy of Steve Clements

I can’t say I expected Clements would stage a comeback following the circumstances of his departure from the local scene in 2012. Dubious bookkeeping at Derby Café got him in Dutch with the Downs folks and ended that long relationship, plus it led him to close the successful Avalon and sell the property to the owners of El Camino.

Clements told me by text he’s not ready to discuss the new concept since details have yet to be finalized, but count me as eager to see what he’s got. One of the many Casa Grisanti veteran captains who went on to operate their own places, Clements’ operational savvy is proven. There was no shortage of diners who were disappointed by the end of Avalon.

Whether Louisville, America’s Biggest Small Town, will overlook the difficulties of a few years ago and patronize his new business will be interesting to observe. Best of luck nonetheless.

Get your fancy meal on at the remodeled Vincenzo’s: Clements’s old boss at Casa Grisanti, Vincenzo Gabrielle, just completed a significant front-of-the-house remodel at Vincenzo’s, already one of the city’s most elegant and contemporary dining rooms.

The dining room at Vincenzo's Italian Restaurant. | Photo courtesy of Vincenzo's

The dining room at Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant. | Photo courtesy of Vincenzo’s

The overhaul included an expansion of its private party spaces, outdoor eating areas and a gussied up bar. If you don’t have time for a full meal there, it’s worth getting a drink at the bar just to see the rest of the space.

Bonus bite #1. All-day breakfast sends sales upward at McDonald’s: Yeah, I know, not a local restaurant company, but that sub-head says it all: Some customers want breakfast when they want it, and that’s pretty much all day long.

A chef friend told me that when he stopped on the interstate last week to get a soda at McDonald’s, everyone in line in front of him was ordering breakfast — at 6:30 p.m. on a weeknight.

Is this a trend casual independent restaurants could glom onto? Not a full breakfast menu, but perhaps a few dishes? Something to think about.

Bonus Bite #2. Buffalo Trace wants to trample secondary whiskey market to death: Seriously, it does. Much as I appreciate Buffalo Trace and the team attached to it, its efforts and threats to shut down black market sales of its coveted whiskey brands is a waste of time. Never going to succeed.

A rickhouse at Buffalo Trace. | Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace

A rickhouse at Buffalo Trace. | Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace

Here’s what a recent email (shortened by me) from BT said about the effort:

“Our strong recommendation is not to buy our whiskeys on the ‘secondary’ market, aside from the fact that it is illegal in most states, there is also no guarantee about what you might be buying from a product provenance standpoint. …

“With respect to pricing, while it is illegal for us to dictate the prices charged by a retailer, we have maintained our pricing policies over time such that both our distributor and retail partners can make an appropriate profit and still sell our whiskeys for a reasonable price so that our main goal can be achieved – the enjoyment of great whiskey at an affordable price.  If you do come across examples of price gouging, we are always interested in hearing about them.”

Gouging? High prices are relative to each location and customers’ means. In other words, booze costs more in New York than here and some people just have more money than others and they’ll spend whatever is required. Even in Louisville, bar prices for the very same spirit can vary by as much as 50 percent. So is that gouging or just gauging the market’s willingness to pay for goods?

I see gouging as opportunistic overcharging for a must-have item like gasoline, milk, bread, etc., but not whiskey. None of us has to have that, and when we decide we don’t really need a $25 neat pour of Pappy 15 year, the market for it will soften, supplies will rise and prices will fall.

It’s your whiskey, so sell as you want to, I say. The absurd prices paid on secondary markets aren’t harming Buffalo Trace’s sales of Stagg, Van Winkle and Sazerac for sure, so why bother?