Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chef Shake-ups at Panisse and Plum

By Jesse Hirsch
Sun, Oct 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM

October has been a big month for upper-tier chef turnover in the East Bay. First there was the high-profile revelation by the Chronicle’s Inside Scoop blog that Jeremy Waag would be taking over David Tanis’ co-chef role at Chez Panisse starting next summer. Waag is a busboy-turned-sous chef, but his upward arc isn’t exactly groundbreaking; Panisse has a long-standing democratic tradition of discovering and promoting internal talent.

Besides his culinary chops, Waag has also been integral in the OPENRestaurant food/art collective, the group responsible for this summer’s Panisse birthday takeover of the Berkeley Art Museum (where I spent an inordinate amount of time communing with honeybees). He replaces David Tanis, who announced in May that he would leave his post to pursue more literary interests (cookbooks and a column for the New York Times). Like Tanis, Waag will alternate head chef duties with Jean-Pierre Moullé, who runs the show from November through April.

In an announcement that’s sending more shockwaves through the gossip-hungry blogosphere, last week Inside Scoop got word that Charlie Parker would be leaving his post as head chef at Plum. I’m trying not to take this one personally, but it seems I'm cursed to always arrive late to the Parker party.

First I visited Santa Cruz’s Cellar Door Café this winter on a friend’s recommendation, only to learn Parker had left that kitchen a month prior. I tasted the eminently fine vapor trails of the last menu he had designed, but still was left wondering: what was I missing?

Then several times this year, I’ve been muy close to visiting Plum for a special occasion meal, but something always got in the way (read: lack of reservations). Until, to celebrate my new position at the Express, my partner had planned a surprise date for me there. The day after I learned about this upcoming dinner, Parker quit. Was it something I said?

Personal wistfulness aside, this is the most recent in a string of high-profile departures from the Daniel Patterson empire. First Jeremy Fox, who was initially slated to helm Plum, abruptly parted ways with Patterson last fall. Then this year Patterson protégés Lauren Kiino and Evan Rich also left the fold. Each parting had its own set of circumstances but still: that’s a lot of shake-up in a brief period. No word yet on where Parker will land, but you can be sure I’ll try it out shortly after he departs.

Waag and Parker could not be reached for comment.

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