Two weeks ago, I wrote about all the positive changes at Porter + Frye, and this week the restaurant has undergone a sea change. Steven Brown is no longer running the kitchen there, let go in an ongoing purge and exodus of salaried cooks and hotel employees (restaurant and hotel GMs have turned over already at least once). Ivy GM Chuck Paton called me over the weekend and indicated that Joan Ida (alum of Tria, Lake House, Goodfellows) will be the new chef of the restaurant, and her husband, longtime front-of-the-house guy, Scott Ida, will manage the place. I was asked to sit on the news 'til today out of respect for everyone having the time to tell current employers and employees, etc., etc.
Paton reiterated the restaurant's commitment to the current staff (No knock against Joan, whom I adore, but why not put Flicker and Anderson in charge then?) while at the same time hiring a chef who cooks in a much different style than Brown. Clearly, her hiring is intended to send a strong signal to the dining public that P + F will offer food more in keeping with Ida’s style (homey, comfort, American contemporary, and decidedly not experimental). I can’t wait to see if any of the amazingly talented kitchen folks at P + F stick around.
Remember, Ida did cross paths with Flicker, Brown, et al. in the early Loring Café days, if memory serves me correctly. Paton told me that the rumors of Cindy Pawlcyn coming here to open a restaurant in the Ivy are unfounded and that Ida’s hiring is intended to expand on what Steven Brown has been doing there for the last year. Interesting.
Further complicating the mix is the new Mobil four-star designation that the hotel received, the only property so designated in Minneapolis. That also puts a lot of pressure on the food service to keep the level of execution very high indeed.
What no one is saying is that management clearly felt changes needed to be made, and hiring Joan is smart because she knows this market and cook more recognizable fare, and in this economic era, perhaps that is in the hotel's best interest. Personally, I have always loved Joan's cooking, but I would be even more excited if she was doing an Asian concept. After spending the better part of a year in Hong Kong, opening restaurants for an investment group there, it would be interesting to see what she could do if pushed in that direction. Anyway, once she gets settled in to the new digs, I will find out what she is up to. Ditto on Steven’s plan . . .
Meanwhile, I have received several anonymous e-mails from chefs and cooks around town, all spilling their beans about who knew what and when they knew it. Tales of management at several restaurants asking staffs not to speak to bloggers and then being undone by staff postings on Internet bulletin boards that food industry folks flock to . . . pretty great stuff.
I got one e-mail in particular from someone within the Ivy Hotel who praised Brown and what he built there, hitting the nail on the head: They told me that Brown's legacy was in creating an amazing laboratory where everyone contributed dishes, ideas, menu items, and more, fostering a unique collaborative environment that produced outstanding food. Very true.
Another e-mail said that as of Monday morning, no one had been announced internally as a successor to the reins of the P + F kitchen and that Erik Anderson was not seeking the position. To me, that is code for he will be looking to go somewhere else, and he deserves his own restaurant as much as any other young chef in town. He is very talented. Based on talent level alone, Flicker/Anderson would have made an excellent pair to lead the kitchen at the restaurant.
According to the P + F staff who took the time to write me, they mostly feel that Joan is a “respected chef," but most are unfamiliar with her (Remember, Goodfellows closed years ago, and since then, she has cooked outside of the frame of reference of many young cooks in the city.), and they all praise the vibe at P + F as an egalitarian democracy; cooks are always happiest when they are able to contribute to the menu. If that spirit stays on, some of them surely will.