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Enzo Fargione, the chef who put an antiquated Teatro Goldoni back on the culinary map, was fired from his job earlier this month after owner Michael Kosmides allegedly told the toque that he was “just too expensive,” according to the dismissed cook.
Teatro’s owners, says Fargione, plan to turn the K Street institution into a more informal trattoria. The first step in the process was apparently firing the guy who had created what is possibly the best chef’s table in the D.C. area.
According to Fargione, Kosmides approached him earlier about the possibility of converting Teatro Goldoni into a trattoria but did not indicate it was a done deal. Then about a week later, Kosmides fired the chef and gave Fargione approximately 20 minutes to gather his books and tools and leave via the back door without saying goodbye to either his kitchen staff or his fans in the dining room.
“I was left without even a crumb of gratitude,” Fargione says, “and that kind of hurts my feelings.”
The chef was also left without a severance package. Fargione says that, according to his five-year contract with the Teatro owners, he was due, if terminated, a severance package worth two years of his base salary. He was also due a 90-day written notice before any firing. Fargione says he received neither but hopes the attorneys now involved will work out a deal to everyone’s agreement.
Kosmides says that the firing had nothing to do with Fargione’s food costs or expenses and everything to do with customer feedback. “Our customers weren’t responding to the changes he made in the menu,” the owner says. “Our sales declined significantly since he changed the menu and concept.”
The decline, Kosmides adds, started from the moment Fargione revamped Teatro, despite all the good press he received. “We were as surprised as any,” he says. “I would have loved for it to work out.”
Kosmides describes Fargione as a “genius chef suited for 40 seats,” not a sizable space like Teatro, which needs a menu that will draw large crowds night after night. In this down economy, the days of $40 entrees are over, he says, maybe forever. Customers who will pay that kind of money are “few and far between,” says Kosmides who is indeed revamping Teatro’s menu to include more pasta plates, smaller plates, and half-portions.
As far as Fargione’s abrupt firing and hasty exit, Kosmides thought that they had parted on good terms. He says his former chef was asked to leave quickly but had returned to the restaurant the next day. And what about the severance package? Kosmides says it only kicks in if the owners decide to exercise the non-compete-clause in the Fargione’s contract, which they haven’t.
Which brings us to Fargione’s future. He’s currently lining up investors and, starting next week, scouting locations for his own place. He envisions a restaurant that’s an expansion of his chef’s table, with two separate tasting menus and a glass-enclosed wine cellar with a private dining space. “Something like Komi,” Fargione says.
He hopes to have all the financing lined up by the end of April, if not a location by then. “I’d like to think that my best is yet to come,” he says.
“Maybe this is a blessing,” Fargione says. “Maybe it was time for me to move on.”