Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sometimes you have to go out and actually do some reporting

April 3

Nearly three weeks ago, the New York food-blogging world started rumbling with rumors of a shakeout in the kitchen of Varietal.
Although the young pastry chef, Alinea alumnus Jordan Kahn, had gotten some good press, overall media reception of the place was not particularly warm, and the initial rumor was that Jordan had quit.
Now, I know Jordan. I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen with him, I've interviewed him on the phone at least twice, and I’ve given him plenty of ink in Nation’s Restaurant News (and on this blog). I also have worked with his publicists for years, and so I e-mailed them.
“The Eater rumor mill is churning,” I wrote, in a message with the subject hed: “Your friend Jordan.”
“I trust you’ll keep me posted on any developments,” I added.
“Yes, it’s a nasty rumor mill,” I was told, and as far as any of them knew, it was simply a rumor.
Fair enough.
Then word began to trickle in that the restaurant’s chef, Ed Witt, was gone, too. Indeed, Grub Street claimed it got confirmation from the owners.
So I e-mailed the publicists again who assured me they’d let me know when something happened.
I called Varietal to ask what was going on and they denied everything, so I let it go. I didn’t want to report on something that I believed was true but couldn’t confirm. It’s tacky.
Then the blog world reported that Wayne Nish, the chef of Nish, which in its more famous past incarnation was March, was now also in charge of the kitchen at Varietal.
Damn it!
Shortly thereafter, I got an e-mail blast from Nish, promoting its Easter specials and reminding people to vote for them in the Zagat surveys. I hit the “reply” button and asked if Wayne Nish were in fact the new chef at Varietal.
“Yes he is” was the response.
Did that mean that Ed Witt was gone?
Again: “Yes he is” (I don’t know if Nish himself were responding and I don’t know the guy that well, but he seems like he would enjoy that type of staccatto, repetitive response).
I asked about Jordan.
No answer.
So last night I stopped by Varietal, climbed onto a bar stool, ordered a glass of Albariño and a plate of octopus with salsa verde and asked the bartender if Ed Witt were gone, and what about Jordan?
He said they were both gone, and that Jordan had moved to San Francisco.
And was Wayne Nish the new chef?
That was easy.
After I paid with a credit card with my name on it, one of the owners bought me another glass of wine and we chatted. I don’t know if he knew who I was, but he did give me more information, to wit:
Working under Nish will be chef de cuisine Scott Riesenberger. I confirmed the spelling of his name and previous position earlier today with Christopher Day at Gilt. Riesenberger was a sous chef there under Paul Liebrandt.
With Nish and Riesenberger doing the food, Varietal is likely not headed for boring cuisine. Although Nish has been on the New York restaurant scene for years, his food is anything but staid, and of course anyone associated with the food of Paul Liebrandt is bound to do something unexpected.
We’ll find out soon enough. Varietal’s new menu is rolling out on Friday.

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