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Newsy Nuggets: Chef moves and Noma no mo

Written By Scott Joseph On January 18, 2023

California Grill Brunch dining roomCalifornia Grill

Some chef nuggets to note. Way up on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort, the kitchen at California Grill is under new management, so to speak. Matthew Birch has moved up to the title of chef de cuisine and Daniel Rogers has been named area chef, a title that’s a little confusing when it comes to CG.

Usually, area chef means that someone oversees more than one property – those found within a certain area, if that’s not getting too technical. But according to Rogers, who explained the chef hierarchy at California Grill to me in a Facebook private message, area chef is second in command to chef de cuisine, which would make it more of an executive sous chef position but for some reason Disney has decided not to use that term. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for it. CG also has three sous chefs and cooks, assistant cooks and others in the kitchen. Dennis Thompson is the executive chef for the Contemporary Resort, overseeing all culinary, including California Grill, and the legendary Scott Hunnel is culinary director for the Contemporary and other properties. An area manager, if you will.

Up Maitland way, Jason Campbell has announced that he is leaving the executive chef position at Luke’s Kitchen and Bar and will move to the yet-to-open Primrose Lanes in the Milk District, where presumably his food will be consumed by people wearing rented shoes. Campbell’s last day at Luke’s is Sat., Jan. 22.

Moving to Copenhagen (figuratively), René Redzepi, the chef/owner of Noma, putatively the best restaurant in the world – oh hell, let’s just say in the Solar System – has announced that he will close the restaurant and turn it in to a full time food laboratory. The closing is being viewed as an indicator that luxury level fine dining is at a crossroads, but it’s also a tacit acknowledgement to the often abusive treatment of the dozens of cooks that toil for low (or no) wages to produce the precious dishes for those willing to pay exorbitant prices. (Dinner at Noma runs about $500 per person.) For an example of the kind of bullying workers face in such kitchens, see the first episode of “The Bear” on Hulu. Redzepi has admitted to abusing his staff, verbally and physically, in the past.

I’ve never been to Noma. Even when I was in Copenhagen a few years ago I didn’t even look into the possibility of a reservation. Why? I’d much rather have real food than something painstakingly constructed and manipulated. I also know that some chefs try to out outre each other by serving odd items and asking for grand sums of money just to see if they can get away with it. Consider former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s remembrance of being served a still-alive and wriggling shrimp when he dined at Noma.

But if that’s your thing, take heart (reindeer heart on fresh pine needles, according to another Noma dish description) – the restaurant will not close until the end of 2024. I assume that’s how far out its reservation book is filled.

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