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Michael Voltaggio‘s surprising departure from the Bazaar by José Andrés — at least surprising to me — left a rather large hole to fill, given that the Top Chef contestant helped the Beverly Hills restaurant earn four stars from the Los Angeles Times.
So who did Andrés and THINKfoodGROUP tap to fill those oversize shoes (holes and shoes…sorry about the mixed metaphors)?
They turned to a former Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya sous chef who served as chef de cuisine under Barton Seaver at both Bar Pilar and Hook. Now, if you can’t tell, that’s a whole lot of José Andrés influence right there in that last sentence. Not only are Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya THINKfoodGROUP properties, but Seaver worked at Jaleo right before accepting the job as executive chef at Cafe Saint-Ex and its sister operation, Bar Pilar.
So who is this mystery chef with the suddenly plum job?
Whigham was “part of our Delta Force to support the new employees out there,” says Rob Wilder, CEO for THINKfoodGROUP. The Delta Force, Wilder adds, was Andrés’ term for the culinary team that was overseeing the cooks at the Bazaar for the first couple of months of operation in the SLS Hotel at Beverley Hills.
“He’s been there since the beginning,” Wilder says of Whigham, who was working in New York City when he got the call to start at the Bazaar last month.
It was a logical choice, yes, but it was also a good one. Whigham has been one of those unheralded stars in the kitchen for years now; Seaver routinely raved about his former chef de cuisine, saying it was Whigham who actually ran the Hook kitchen, not him.
The only problem I see for Whigham? He’s not starting out at zero stars, like most chefs at new restaurants. He’s starting with four of them. Any star that the Bazaar loses will likely be attributed to him — or perhaps to another Andrés lieutenant, Jorge Chicas, who is the executive chef at the Bazaar.
Lots of D.C. connections out there on the West Coast.