"So, I'm officially fired," read the text from Samir Mohammad, the now former executive chef of the Village Cork, who took the job -- and a risk -- when he first stepped behind the butane burners in January of 2010. "I knew this was a job that would either make me or break me, but it was an awesome challenge, I fell in love with the place as soon as I walked in, and despite the fact that the kitchen had no hood, no walk-in, no heat lamp, and not much more than a hand blender, I saw the potential there, and I wanted to see what I could do to build a really great menu," says Mohammad, who was hired by Lisa Lapp, who opened the wine bar in 2001.
But yesterday morning, he was fired.
"I knew it was coming," admits Mohammad, who was on his way to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Thursday when he got a call from his sous chef, Spencer Horton. "He told me that he wanted to give me a heads up that Lisa would fire me on Monday morning, and that he'd be fired, too, for telling me," recalls Mohammad. Horton, as it turns out, resigned Friday night following dinner service, and he was right about Mohammad's future tenure at the Village Cork.
"I went in for a meeting yesterday morning at 11 and asked Lisa what was going on, and she asked me the same question," says Mohammad, who just a week prior had hosted a smashing Denver FIVE dinner at the Village Cork, which was sold out. "The truth is that she'd been treating me like shit ever since the FIVE dinner, and then she shunned me for the next three days by giving me the silent treatment, which was the most freaking awkward thing ever," he tells me.
But their final conversation, he says, was amicable, although he takes issue with her reasons for giving him the ax: "She said I was spending too much time away from the Village Cork and that she had hired a chef, not a PR person, and I told her that when you hire a successful chef, you're automatically getting PR with it, but that's obviously not what she wanted," he allows.
Lapp, who insists that this "was not a decision made without tears," maintains that Mohammad "wasn't at home often enough", and that while firing him was akin to "kicking the kid out of the nest," it was the right decision for the restaurant, for the staff and for Mohammad. "His priorities have changed, and we no longer see eye to eye, but he's charismatic and creative -- I would never take that away from him -- and whoever hires him will be very lucky and fortunate." Still, she contends that "it was absolutely the right decision to let him go."
And a good time, too, to cancel brunch, which the Village Cork started just two months ago, unleashing an awe-inspiring menu, which included, among other morning glories, a sensational foie eggs Benedict. But Lapp, who has since promoted Dan Sedlack, a former pantry cook at the Village Cork, to the interim exec-chef position, says that there was just too much on her plate to continue it. "It was so much work for everyone, and we were tired. We needed that one day off," she explains, noting that she's in the midst of interviewing potential executive chefs. "I'm talking to a few people, but we're just going to stay the course for the time being."
And search, she says, for a space to open a second restaurant. Lapp recently submitted a contract to take over the old Heidi's Brooklyn Deli address on South Broadway, but the deal fell through. "We wanted to buy the building, but the landlord decided that he wanted to lease it instead, so the deal didn't come to fruition. But we're definitely pursuing another restaurant that will be a buttoned-up version of the Village Cork that's a little bit finer," she reveals.
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Mohammad, who's heading off for the weekend to weigh his options, is being wooed by several restaurateurs, but he's taking his time before committing. "I honestly just want to keep doing simple food that focuses on local, organic ingredients, I want to stay involved in the community, and I want to make sure that wherever I end up is the right fit," he says, adding that he'd like "an open, full kitchen with full owner support."
And Lapp hopes that Mohammad gets his wish. "This was the hardest decision I've had to make since opening the Village Cork, but it was purely a business decision, and Samir is a very talented, very likable chef who will go on to do great things."