Star Chefs Debut New Concepts

Yeah, yeah, we know, the economy is in the doldrums and nobody’s lending money to open restaurants. But people who are proven commodities seem to have their choice of deals. Let’s look at four prominent chefs who have just opened, or are about to open, new eateries.

Hurricane Katrina almost put New Orleans chef John Besh out of business back in 2005, but he’s made up for lost time since. His Besh Restaurant Group has just opened its ninth restaurant, eight of them in the New Orleans area. The new one, Borgne, is located inside the Hyatt Regency New Orleans in the city’s Central Business District.

Besh has a chef/partner on this project: Brian Landry, who had a long run as executive chef at legendary Big Easy restaurant Galatoire’s. Both men say they grew up fishing on Lake Borgne, the namesake waterway for their restaurant. Their menu puts heavy emphasis on coastal Louisiana seafood, served “with a touch of Isleno influence.”  

So who are the Islenos? That the term applied to immigrants from the Canary Islands who settled in south Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish in the 1770s. The Canary Islands, located on the Atlantic coast of North Africa, are controlled by Spain, so New Orleans foodies are looking forward to seeing how Besh and Landry interpret this seldom-visited regional Louisiana cuisine.

One thing you’ve got to give Besh is that each of his nine restaurants is markedly different from the others. Brian Massie is another high-profile chef who has pulled off this genre-spanning magic act multiple times during his career.

Massie is the executive chef for the Light Group, having conceptualized and executed menus for five different concepts in Las Vegas. Anyone who has strolled through Diablo’s Cantina at the Monte Carlo or who once dined at the playful and glitzy (although now shuttered) Union inside the Aria wouldn’t think Massie’s next one would be anything like the just-opened Bianca in Miami Beach.

But Bianca, the new signature restaurant at the uber-hip Delano hotel on South Beach, is definitely his baby. It features Italian-inspired cuisine that’s packed with enough local, farm-to-table and organic ingredients to make Slow Food movement adherents weep with joy. Massie, a restaurant opener of wide-ranging experience, also oversees Umi Sushi & Sake Bar at the Delano. The revamp of this hotel’s foodservice means that expectations are going to be high, but it looks like the Light Group has come with the right guy for the job.

Massie has opened an impressive portfolio of restaurants while working as an employee of the Light Group. Washington, DC-based chef Robert Wiedmaier has done much the same as a chef/owner. He operates six DC concepts, including his fine dining flagship Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, Brabo, Brabo Tasting Room and the Butcher’s Block. But it’s a second unit of his gastro-pub concept, Mussel Bar, that will be going into the new Revel beachfront resort in Atlantic City, NJ early this spring.

“Casual eateries like Mussel Bar were just the place my friends and I used to go to kick back and relax when living in Belgium and Germany—eating mussels, drinking beer and listing to rock and roll into all hours before we had to head back to the kitchen or home,” is how Wiedmaier describes this concept’s basics. “People enjoy that. It’s good, reasonable everyday food. It’s comfortable.”

Other chefs going into the Revel include Jose Garces and Marc Forgione.

Atlanta-based Top Chef “All Stars” winner Richard Blais is taking a different route than Wiedmaier. Blais already has super-casual hangouts in FLIP Burger and HD, a hot dog concept where the “HD” stands for “haute doggery.” Now he’s going a little further upscale with a restaurant called, which is shooting for a mid-February opening.

The word “Spence” is a synonym for “larder,” so Blais and his backers decided it would fit the kind of food they plan to offer.

“In keeping with its many meanings, The Spence will be about the contents of our pantry and coolers, our fantastic purveyors and specialized ingredient sources and sitting down to eat with family and friends,” Blais says. “It will be a place where you want to hang out, sip creative cocktails and order perhaps Dover sole with brown butter foam and kumquat chutney, a prime steak cooked sous vide and finished on a wood-burning rotisserie, a bowl of handmade pasta or even a straight-up cheeseburger.”

“There will be no 10-course tasting menus here,” Blais promises, perhaps alerting those leery of his molecular gastronomy-style approach to cooking. The Spence will be the eighth concept for Blais’ partner on this project, Atlanta-based Concentrics Restaurants.