Big Name Consulting Chefs Make Reputations Smaller

It is neither unusual nor unseemly for chefs to provide their names and consulting expertise to restaurants when they ultimately won't play an integral role. Nobody, for instance, really expects to see Wolfgang Puck twirling pizza dough in the kitchen of one of his 50 Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants. But when local chefs with lesser empires have attached their monikers either to the marquees or press releases about a new venture (most in a way as to suggest that they are not mere consultants but hands-on partners), the results have been just shy of disastrous.

I'm talking here of Ken Lyon at The Cape Cod Room; Tim Andriola at the Bancroft Supper Club; Norman Van Aken at Norman's 180; the Randazzos at The Water Club; and Doug Rodriguez at De Rodriguez Ocean. Not one of these projects was a success, although Ocean opened too recently to be deemed a failure. Worse, the chefs came out, or are coming out of each venture much the worse for wear.

Here is how they were hurt:

"He was in about a month or so ago. The chef's a consultant. He always has been," replied manager Miguel, at Norman's 180, when I asked him last week why Norman isn't ever around. With a year or two's worth of Tweets and Facebook references by Van Aken about how his Norman's 180 restaurant would be a reflection of he and his son Justin's new culinary outlook, and all sorts of references to this being his glorious return to Coral Gables, few now would believe that he was just a consultant all along. Something went terribly awry at 180 -- it opened June 29 and Norman was out of there by September. Norman and his partners, however, are still making believe all is hunky-dory. That's their prerogative, but Mr. Van Aken should realize that each time somebody exits that restaurant with his name on it, they likely leave with a whole lot less respect for the hitherto renowned chef.

Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo ended their short-lived association with The Water Club last week. The couple were dubbed "Executive Chefs & Directors of Food & Catering Operations," yet upon their departure, Frank complained that "The management isn't capable of getting (the employees) to do good work." Andrea commented that she was "itching to get back into a kitchen." Both comments suggest that the two of them weren't doing much managing or cooking at The Water Club. That was not the impression that the public was given -- and, again, folks who traveled to The Water Club expecting to sample informal gastronomic treats by the Talula chefs might have left thinking the Randazzos are overrated.

When it was first announced that The Bancroft Supper Club was going to be "combining the fire power of award winning chef Tim Andriola with creative organic and natural American cuisine," I called the publicist and asked whether Andriola would be consulting at the start, or would be involved with the food to some degree even after the restaurant got rolling. She said she'd call me back and let me know, but never did. In any event, Andriola was there for the opening photo-ops, and perhaps for a short while afterward; then he left and the Supper Club folded some months later. Nobody was impressed. Luckily for Tim, the whole shebang was over so quickly that few folks ever got to even know he was involved.

Doug Rodriguez' recent involvement with De Rodriguez Ocean is reminiscent of Ken Lyon's role at The Cape Cod Room -- the former just recently debuted, the latter opened and crashed within a fairly short time frame last year. Both dining rooms are in the backs of hotels on Miami Beach and share a slapped-together feel -- the CCR wasn't nearly as comely as Fratelli Lyon, and Ocean doesn't match the standards of Rodriguez' other two Beach eateries (OLA and De Rodriguez Cuba). Rodriguez still pops into Ocean from time to time, but it is clearly run without any daily input from him. It feels like a quick, cynical attempt to cash in on his fame with the Prime 112/Prime Italian overflow tourist trade. Most importantly, neither Lyon's reputation as a restaurateur, nor Rodriguez' as a chef, were enhanced by these establishments. Not at all.

So next time you see a familiar Miami chef's name on the marquee of a new restaurant, you might want to take your considerations of dining there with a hefty grain of salt.

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