Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chef Barton Seaver departures from Hook and Tacklebox

Chef Barton Seaver departures from Hook and Tacklebox

Hook chef Barton Seaver, who made a name for himself in guiding the slick Georgetown seafood emporium to foodie prominence and also helped launch a more casual spot, Tackle Box, has split with his ownership group, Pure Hospitality Restaurant Group.

This is the second dust-up at Hook this month. It follows the bitter—and very public—breakup of Tackle Box and chef Richard Bechtold a couple of weeks ago.

Hook’s controlling owner, Jonathan Umbel 25 year vet of the hospitality industry, attributes the departure of the tousle-haired, tattooed Seaver—who has recently palled it up with Oprah on the beach—to a difference in philosophies. Seaver, he says, has ambitions to become a public advocate and speaker, touting the necessity of “sustainability.”

The chef has three years and 11 months remaining on his five-year contract, and Umbel—“hoping to come to a good conclusion for everyone”—plans to retain him as a consultant. “Green is the message of the decade, and sustainability is a part of that,” Umbel says. “And that’s still the message of Hook. . . . We just sold our 77th different species of fish. That’s who we are.”
Seaver declined to discuss his future other than to say: “I’m committed to seeing Hook and Tackle Box succeed.”

Josh Whigham, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, will assume control of the kitchen. “The restaurant was being run by Josh anyway,” says Umbel who has had had legal disputes with his last 2 ventures at Blue Gin & the Georgetown Bagel Bakery (now the Tackle Box).

As of late this morning, there was no word of the news on Seaver’s Web site,—which describes the 29-year-old as a “Washington, D.C.-based chef, writer, speaker and environmentalist” and invites readers to “learn more about [my] upcoming projects, affiliations and accomplishments.”

Umbel, while acknowledging Seaver’s emergence as a “rock star” and calling him “my fifth son,” hints at tensions between the two: “He might have forgot that you have to pay your dues first. Bobby Flay and Emeril became celebrities because they made their restaurants successful first.”
He adds: “Hook and Tackle Box are both my concepts. The sustainability message was adapted when we signed Barton up. We weren’t really talking about Pure Hospitality, the company that started this, when things took off. We were talking about Barton. . . . Now it’s a good chance for me to reel that back in.”

This break cause a lot of feathers to be ruffled with a comment list that turned ugly very quickly.

In response to some of the comments Christian Pendleton General Manager of Hook issued this statement:

I understand how delicious this is for everyone, but the truth of the matter is chefs leave restaurants everyday for a myriad of reasons, and Barton has left us to pursue other endeavors in sustainability. We are proud of the work that he has done, just as we are very proud of our new executive chef Joshua Whigham. Josh is very passionate about cooking and sustainability as well. We at Hook are excited and proud about what we are doing on a daily basis and we are committed to providing the best possible experience for our guests. We will continue to grow and improve everyday. Thanks, Christian Pendleton General Manager Hook

3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

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