Some kitchens have revolving doors. Chefs come and they go, sometimes shouting, screaming, laughing. But that's the restaurant business, ever-fluid, never a dull nanosecond.
Still, I was flat-out bummed to hear the news that Chester Gerl is leaving Matt's in the Market. Yes, of course, I understand. He's de-camping to NYC to be close to family. Plus, he's got a kick-ass job waiting for him thanks to Top Chef Masters judge Jonathan Waxman. (More about that in a jiff.)
And it's not like Matt's is going to be starving for talent in the kitchen. Gerl and owner Dan Buggee have put together a winning team over the past couple of years. It's obvious the crew digs what they're doing. Diners can catch a contact high just watching the action in the kitchen, which was expanded last January.
No doubt chef Chet's leaving the place in good hands: Sous Chef Shane Ryan will assume head chef duties December 1.
“We’ve assembled an incredible team at Matt’s In the Market full of talented people who could be stars anywhere,” Bugge said in a news release. “Shane is one of them, having executed the menu at Matt’s In the Market as sous chef for a year and a half. In addition to his experience here, he worked at Café Campagne in the Market, a number of Ethan Stowell’s restaurants, and with Joël Robuchon’s The Mansion in Las Vegas. The transition will be absolutely seamless.”
One reason this chef's departure hits me in the solar plexus is chef Chet and I go way back. When he was starting out as a chef at Fugazzi—the very first cool venue in Spokane, kicking off the culinary revolution there in the early 1990s—I was just cutting my fangs as a restaurant critic for The Spokesman-Review. Because you double up on duties at smaller newspapers, I was the food writer and critic, so I routinely interviewed chefs and even back then, I could tell Gerl was going to go places. He was sharp and so dedicated to soaking up everything possible to become a better chef.
When I landed back in the Northwest after a richly rewarding stint in Memphis, Tenn., I was delighted to find Gerl blossoming like one of those stunning Pike Place Market bouquets after getting on board the Matt's juggernaut in 2005. Yes, he's been there that long, though there was a brief stint at Brasa, too, during that time. Among many fine accomplishments at Matt's—including launching the Planes, Trains and Traveling Chef series—he's leaving a super swine-y legacy, introducing some incredible charcuterie and stellar sausage to the menu. He's going to get the chance to shine in the culinary center of the universe, signed on to work for red hot executive Marc Meyer at Tenth Avenue Cookshop in Chelsea, thanks to some sweet networking.
"Jonathan Waxman came into Matt's while he was here shooting Top Chef Masters and I made him a halibut dish that wasn't on the menu, with porcini mushrooms and chanterelles in a corn broth. He loved it," Gerl said.
The chefs got to chatting and Gerl mentioned his wife Juliana's roots in Brooklyn, and lickety split, Waxman asked for chef Chet to share his resume. "You never think somebody's going to actually call, but two weeks later, I heard from Marc Meyer," Gerl said.
Good luck with your next chapter, chef Chet! I know you'll impress 'em in the Big Apple!