New Year's Eve, says Lance Barto, the executive chef of Central Bistro & Bar, was a smash hit. "We had a maxed-out dining room that rocked out, everyone had fun, and we had a great service."
Inexplicably, it would be the last service that Barto would spearhead at the Highland restaurant that he was instrumental in creating.
Hours before service began, Isiah Salazar, Central's owner, made the decision to let Barto go. "Isiah approached me earlier in the day, and I discovered that he was unhappy about different parts of the menu and the way the kitchen was being managed," Barto reveals. "He felt the future of the restaurant would be in better hands if it was left to someone else."
Salazar, for his part, admits that he and Barto had different ideas for the future. "Lance was instrumental in getting Central up and running, and he created an innovative menu that our guests continue to crave, but after six months of being open, we began to emerge with differing visions for the restaurant," he says, noting, however, that he and Barto "left on good terms." He says, too, that he continues to have "tremendous respect for Lance, and Central remains in good stead, as our line has always been chock-full of powerhouse talent."
Still, Barto is reeling from the news. "We definitely parted ways amicably," he echoes, "but I'm heartbroken," he admits. "It was my baby and I lost it, and the most heartbreaking part is that we've had nothing but super-positive feedback from guests and media, and it's so sad that I was pushed out of something that I helped create and was really proud of."
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But Barto, whose food at Central was remarkably good, isn't wallowing in sorrow -- at least not for long. Before he became the exec chef of Central, he was cooking at Linger, the kitchen he's returning to. "I met with the crew of Root Down and Linger, and I'm going back to Linger, at least to start. That's a warm and cozy home for me, and there are more opportunities there in the future, including Root Down in DIA," notes Barto.
As for who will command the burners at Central now that Barto is gone, that's still being sorted out. "We emphasize no one chef, but instead draw our strength from our collective talent and the mission to be a great neighborhood restaurant focused on the fine presentation of dishes that draw upon the heritage of American classics," says Salazar.