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The Great Chef Shuffle of 2017

November 28, 2017

Chefs. I love them. I love chefs like my mom loves rabbis.

Chefs are important. Restaurant owners, listen up. Chefs know food. An owner may have a very clear vision about how the culinary direction of the restaurant. And that’s fine. But it’s important to find a chef who shares in that vision. Then it’s important to give that chef the freedom to work.

I’m convinced that one of the big failings of restaurants, both in the Capital Region and beyond, is when chefs are micromanaged and constrained from putting their best food on the plate.

Chefs have personalities. Chefs have ideas about food. When I walk into a restaurant, I don’t want to be presented with twelve different chicken dishes. I want the very best chicken dish the chef is able to produce on that day. Don’t ask me what I want on my burger, let the chef wow me with a combination of well considered flavors and textures that will knock my socks off.

Well, there are some big changes with some big chefs in the Capital Region lately. I don’t know if it’s sun spots, or maybe it’s the coming of winter. But the news of these moves is exciting, because it is hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Let’s start close to home, and then get further afield.

Is Rob Handel on your radar? He should be. Up until recently, he was the head chef at Heather Ridge Farm. There he was doing some amazing stuff from scratch, using ancient techniques, to execute true farm to table cooking. The Bees Knees Cafe will continue without him, and hopefully Rob has left behind all the culinary secrets to the farm’s fried chicken picnics. I’ve been meaning to go, but have just never been able to get it onto the schedule.

Rob is now much, much closer to me, and I’m thrilled. Now he is at fin – your fishmonger in Guilderland! Now it’s true, I haven’t spent much time in the restaurant portion of the shop. I have tried the fish tacos, and those made a tasty snack. But I can’t wait to see what Rob has up his sleeve.

In fact, I may need to prioritize a trip out there once he officially starts on December 1. Even if it’s just for a quick taco, so I can welcome him to the neighborhood.

A few doors down from fin, on the other side of route 155, is MezzaNotte. Well Mark Graham used to be the chef there, but recently he’s been working up in Saratoga. Well, he’s back! Chef Mark is a talented guy, and I always hate to see talent leave Albany county. But it’s great to have a chance to celebrate his return. His last job as Executive Chef was at Campagna in Malta. And although I heard great things about the food, it recently closed.

Here’s where things get complicated, and maybe a little incestuous.

Do you know who else used to be the head chef at MezzaNotte? Michael Mastrantuono. He is now at 15 Church in Saratoga Springs, filling the shoes of Brady Duhame who left to helm the culinary operations of Saratoga Hospitality Group.

Well, now Brady has a new project up in the Spa City that’s super cool. He’s starting Buddha Noodle out of Sinclair Saratoga. That means this craft beer bar, filled with video games, neon lights, and pinball, is also going to be a kickass ramen shop. It’s like a Tokyo daydream. All it’s missing is the karaoke lounge.

If I recall correctly, Burnt My Fingers had high praise for chef Brady’s ramen. Seriously, noodle soup, craft beer, and pinball are three of my favorite things. I’ve already killed hours of my life dropping quarters into the machines at Sinclair Saratoga. I can’t wait to go back and start slurping.

The other exciting thing is that with Brady moving on to his new venture, I think chef Jeremy Roosa has the opportunity to step up and take on more of the culinary management for Max London’s and Saratoga Stadium, in addition to Gaffney’s.

Maybe you recall, but earlier this fall, a bunch of Yelpers were given a glimpse into what Jeremy can do on a couple of portable burners at Artisanal Brew Works. He’s another talented and passionate chef we’ve got in the region, and I’m hoping that this means great things for him and those who appreciate good food.

[Note: Somehow I missed Jeremy’s early departure from Saratoga Hospitality Group, which is a bummer on multiple counts]

Surely, I’m missing some other recent changes. The trend for the moment seems to be that we’re keeping talent in the market, and not only is that fabulous, but it’s a welcome change from the past. Let’s hope this keeps up.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2017 11:19 am

    Yes, Brady makes some kickass ramen, having taken the time and care to get the broth right. (Had my first visit to Fujiya on Central this past weekend and was reminded how important the broth is. Theirs is good, Brady’s is better.) He’s also going to have a pan-Asian selection of street food including Korean fried chicken, pork buns, jjajamien and a Vietnamese riff on his legendary zeppoli.

    I am getting pretty excited as the December 15 opening approaches.

  2. Cher permalink
    November 28, 2017 11:35 am

    How about Executive Chef AJ Richards formerly of The Henry Street Taproom. Broke off and last spring opened [forged] restaurant n bar in Hudson Falls, NY. Yes, that’s right, Hudson Falls NY. Just 20 minutes North and he’s doing some great things, including a chefs table. Even most recently won Albany Rising Chef being the ONLY chef to score a perfect score on his judges tasting. He should also be on your radar.

    • December 4, 2017 2:02 am

      Based on Forged’s name being lower case and [in brackets] I would guess that this venue will be really great, but I won’t be able to stop complaining about the name.

  3. John Galt permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:35 pm

    Campagna was awful. Did you eat there?

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