While the news of Walter Abrams' departure from Le Bec Fin today was a bit of a surprise, there have been signs that things weren't going quite as well as new owner Nicolas Fanucci had hoped. Most telling is the fact that even casual diners could score a weekend dinner reservation at any time for the new Le Bec Fin, even though a few tables were removed from the dining room during the re-design, and all the local critics (including Craig LaBan's 3 Bells) gave the redux a lot of love.
"Philly responds well to local chefs, or chefs who have established themselves in our scene, no matter how talented you are," Charlotte Calmels (her husband, Pierre, was the executive chef of Le Bec Fin for many years) told Eater. "Philly diners are educated, but are also opinionated, and can be very fickle."
Multiple sources close to the restaurant are saying that the money hasn't been coming in as they had hoped, and the restaurant needs to get things turned around quickly. "Something needs to be done fast, these problems are all about the money," said one anonymous source. "But, then, do you have the money to pay the kind of talent needed to get them up off the mat? Well, they had the talent with David Breeden, who was originally supposed to run the kitchen."
Breeden, you might recall, was the chef Eater had reported was going to save the day for Le Bec Fin 2.0, coming from Thomas Keller's orbit at Per Se in NYC. Breeden and Fanucci had been spotted dining together on multiple occasions in Philadelphia before LBF 2.0 announced who the new executive chef would be. One restaurateur mentioned that they saw Fanucci and Breeden dining with the wives, and when family gets involved, it really means business. Whether Breeden used the Philly meetings to leverage a new deal with Thomas Keller, or if his price tag was ultimately just too high for the new LBF regime, he wasn't going to be the new chef.
Even now, running the kitchen at Le Bec Fin is a huge draw for top shelf talent. It would catapult a young chef to superstardom or take an established star to the next level. Kevin Sbraga—who already has a hit with his eponymous restaurant and a Top Chef crown—said he would love to be involved.
"I would consult for them in a second if the opportunity ever arose," Sbraga told Eater. "The legend Perrier established hasn't waned one bit, and it would be an honor. So, if they're looking for help, I would surely do it."
While it's a nice thought, Sbraga can't really be the savior of LBF 2.0 in the real world. But, there is someone out there that would fit the bill nicely: Jennifer Carroll. Yes, we know she's working on a restaurant in NYC, but it's not up and running at this very minute. She has the support of the Philly crowd, is about as Philly as any chef could be, and has worked in a high-volume French restaurant, Le Bernardin, with one of the greatest chefs in the world, Eric Ripert.
Are you listening Jen? How about you, Nicolas? Someone get these two in a room right away. It'll save a Philly culinary landmark, and bring Ms. Carroll back where she belongs. Profiteroles for everyone!
If any of our readers have better suggestions for whom should take over in the kitchen, please pitch your candidate in the comments below.