There are lots of reasons to be hopeful: Change is inevitable, and it sure does keep things interesting.
Doug Flicker has put in his notice at Mission American Kitchen, and according to owner Anoush Ansari, it is an amicable and friendly separation. How else could it be, considering that Doug and Anoush are two of the classiest guys in the business? Both Mission and Flicker will flourish, but any chef's exit is a great time to take inventory of the situation at hand.
When Doug took over the stove at Mission, I wrote that this was a grand experiment. Would Flicker get bored executing from a playbook not entirely of his own design? Would an offer come along that would persuade him to open up his own restaurant cooking food more to his liking? Would he attempt to re-imagine some of Mission’s menu in an attempt to inject some excitement into the dinner menu there (clearly things are going gangbusters at lunch)? Well, throughout the next few weeks, I am sure we will find out more, but this much is clear: Customers were not responding to what Doug was permitted to bring to the menu. If they were, ownership and Flicker would still be together. You could see this one coming from a mile away.
The toughest thing to achieve in this business, from a chef's point of view, is to change your style away from what you are most passionate about. I would guess pumping out 200 salad bowls at lunch is not what Doug does best or even wants to do, based on my conversations with him throughout the years. I really liked a lot of what he was doing to remake some of the menu at Mission. I reviewed the restaurant very favorably after he took charge and started to throw some of his dishes on the menu, his touches and flourishes were everywhere. But I think you have to be all-or-nothing to succeed, and Mission was in-between under Flicker.
Ansari and his partners have found a great niche serving well-designed, recognizable fare at decent prices in a smart, clean environment. Their recipe for success is working at Via as well. Simple grilled food, pasta, sandwiches, and salads at lunch. More fish and chop at dinner. It works. Flicker is one of the finest chefs in the Upper Midwest, and he is a radical aesthete when it comes to his food. I loved his food at Auriga. I thought what he was doing at Mission was biding time. I want his lamb tartare and so on. I think he will light it up in whatever his new venture will be—I am hoping that it is his own restaurant, cooking from his heart. God, I miss Auriga just writing this.