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Top toques are up in the air

Despite the brisk pace of restaurant openings over the last several months, a startling number of this city’s most celebrated chefs don’t have a stove to call their own. The list of restaurant-less chefs reads like a Who’s Who of SoCal fine dining: Alain Giraud, Nancy Silverton, Eric Greenspan, Chris Behre, Nick Coe, John Sedlar, Michael Cimarusti. And the latest chef without a home base? Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill, who left Naya in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago. Kanfer-Cartmill left after just three months on the job, primarily over philosophical differences with the owners, she says. “It just felt that the owners were departing from the initial mission statement,” Kanfer-Cartmill says. “I didn’t want to be associated with that.”

Not all of these chefs are actively looking for a regular gig; some have found other ways to bide their time.

Giraud has his catering company, Four Stars Private Cuisine, and though he admits business could be better, he says he has excellent clients and thoroughly enjoys the work. “Ultimately, I dream to make a restaurant somewhere,” he says. “But I don’t want to rush it.”

Silverton has taken on something of a nomadic role since severing ties with Campanile, running mozzarella night Mondays at Jar and Tavola Italiana night Tuesdays at La Terza. At the same time, she is working on her next cookbook and location-hunting for a new restaurant she plans to open in Los Angeles with New York chef Mario Batali.

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Greenspan, who was dismissed from his post at Meson G a few weeks ago, says he is considering several offers. He’s also contemplating opening his own place.

Behre left Cinch in Santa Monica in mid-March to get married, he says, and enjoy a long honeymoon. After that, he plans to visit his native Australia “to get some fresh ideas,” and then return to Los Angeles and find another job. “I’m after something smaller [than Cinch],” he says. “No more than 100 seats.”

Coe, who left 310 Lounge & Bistro in Santa Monica earlier this year, and had his own place in South Pasadena in the late ‘80s, is once again hoping to venture out on his own and is currently shopping for a location.

Sedlar, whose restaurant Abiquiu is still fondly recalled by many Angelenos, even though it closed nearly 10 years ago, has been busy working on project near and dear to him, a tamale museum focused on the foods of Latin America and Mesoamerica. (Sedlar expects the museum to open in Los Angeles in 2006.) He also does catering. Although he has no plans to open a restaurant anytime soon, Sedlar does hope the tamale museum will eventually have one. “But it won’t be any one chef’s personal vision,” he says. In other words, it won’t be his.

Cimarusti, who left Water Grill last summer, soon plans to open his long-anticipated Providence in the old Patina space on Melrose Avenue. But a number of hurdles have delayed the opening from when it was originally scheduled (late last year) to the end of May.

Chefs being out of work or between gigs is nothing new. “This is the most volatile industry there is,” Greenspan says. “But this is out of the ordinary. I don’t know that chefs were so expendable before.”

Or in the words of Giraud, “Maybe there’s a new profession: formerly chef.”

-- Leslee Komaiko

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Small bites

* Fogo de Chao has opened in Beverly Hills. This marks the fifth U.S. location for the chain of Brazilian churrascarias. The spacious eatery, which seats 300, offers an all-you-can-eat menu of beef, chicken, pork, lamb and sausage, all cooked over an open fire, for $48.50 per person (salad bar included). In late April, the restaurant will begin lunch service. Menu offerings will be identical, but the price will be $32 per person.

Fogo de Chao, 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755.

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* Koa Duncan, formerly pastry chef at Bastide, is now at Water Grill. She expects to have a new dessert menu in place by mid- to late April.

Water Grill, 544 S. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 891-0900.

* Taste is set to open in early April in the former Bourbon Street Shrimp space on Melrose Avenue. The American eatery will offer “healthy to comfort food,” says Lone Pedersen, former general manager of Napa Valley Grille and one of three restaurant partners. Nothing on the menu will exceed $20.

Taste, 8454 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 852-6888.

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