We’ve all heard aboutpeople having guts or cojones. According to my dad, if you have either, you canarrive home after a long night out with the guys and, finding your wife awake and holding a broom, have the guts to ask, “Are you still cleaning or are youflying somewhere?” He’s got big ones—I can’t pull that off at my house. Neithercan Lenny Russo, whose wife would kill him just like mine would for a retortlike that. But he did have the stones to walk away from a big corporate job at Cue,the Restaurantistan of the Bon Appetit Gulag.
Lenny Russo and I spokefor a half hour yesterday. He’s a gentleman, so for the record, he gave all thecredit to his staff and regaled me with a great story or two about walking awayinto the sweet night after completing a one-year deal. Mission accomplished. His wife missed him, he missed Heartland, and his Cue job hadbecome more about managing people than about cooking.
Now he can pick up allthe projects that he put on hold when he got the last minute notice that Cuewas really going to happen. He’s focusing on books, a TV show, setting up a nonprofitdistribution network allowing farmers to help get product into underserved areas, and opening a nonprofit restaurant.
Rumors have swirledrecently that the mild-mannered but streetwise Russo smacked some corporatesuit on the way out the door. He laughed and said it never happened. WhateverLenny decides to tackle next will do very well, I am sure.
Now, let’s looks atwhat Russo isn’t talking about. Bon App is an institutional food-servicemanagement company, a giant food monolith whose style and substance isdiametrically opposed to Russo’s. This marriage was doomed from the start, butLenny was smart to take the job. It gave him a monstrous platform from which topreach his message. Bon App got a lot out of Russo as well, garnering nationalattention for doing a ‘local-fresh-best’ eatery in such a large setting. Lookfor a dumbed down and less-inspired version of Cue to roll out as of yesterday.I have spoken to a lot of people associated with this project over the last fewdays—purveyors, former and current employees—and, despite Russo’s staff stayingon, the suits want the menu to change, want the philosophy of the purchasing,the plating, and the cooking to change. And change it will. This relationshipwas a head-scratcher to many of us when it started. Corporation-vs-Artiste pairingsalways end badly, and while Russo and Bon App will both move on and besuccessful, the big losers are the Guthrie and you and me. The Guthrie becausethey now have a restaurant(s) on their hands that is built and set up to be thestage for substance. Now it will be only a pale version of what was and willmotivate no one to eat there except out of convenience, erasing any shot theyhad at garnering extra business from food fans without show tickets. And usbecause when it was firing on all cylinders, Cue was a good place to grab ameal.
Zander Café is closing for remodeling in March. In light ofall the food news of late, any hiccup in the dining forest scares me stiff.Last time my friend had lunch there, he was the only table in the joint.
La Belle Vie is participating in restaurant week, and Ipreviewed some of the food yesterday. The sautéed skate with roasted beets,blood oranges, and black olives is so good it should be classified as a class-fivenarcotic.
The Town Talk boys are seven to eight weeks away fromopening their new project on East Lake St. More on that after I chat with them this weekend.