Two weeks ago, when we broke the news that more than a dozen staffers from TAG, Troy Guard's restaurant in Larimer Square, had walked out the door or submitted their two-week notice as a result of personal issues between Troy and his wife (soon to be ex-wife) Leigh Sullivan, people wondered where those employees might land jobs.
Jensen Cummings, TAG's former chef de cuisine (and a former exec chef of Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House), didn't have to wait long to jump back on the line.
He's the new executive chef of Row 14, the kitchen of which was originally commanded by Arik Markus, who departed Row 14 just over a week ago. "Arik and I had a difference in management philosophy -- and in the direction of the business and the restaurant," says Row 14 owner David Schneider. "He was a great chef, and not easy to replace, but I feel good about replacing someone of Arik's caliber with someone like Jensen, who will continue to keep things going in a positive direction. I'm so fired up to work with him, and I don't think he'll miss a beat."
The deal between Cummings and Schneider was cemented on Tuesday, after the two spent several hours chatting about the evolution of Row 14. "David and I talked quite a bit, and I spent time with him, his wife and his kids at their home, and everything fell into place," says Cummings. "I want to build a family at Row 14 -- that's really important to me -- and this is a restaurant that's still new enough that I can start with a blank canvas, make an impact, progress the menu, develop and teach the staff and define a culture and build a community," explains Cummings.
The menu, he says, will continue to evolve and change, albeit gradually. "If there are things that are working, I'm not going to change them, but seasonality will be really important, and there are a few things on the menu, like the lasagna, which are a little heavy for this time of year -- but mostly, I'll just be washing dishes and scraping plates to stay out of the way," he jokes.
Cummings, who starts tonight, also says that he'll be adding a few "secret menu" dishes to his culinary lineup. "The secret menu stuff gets people excited, and it builds an underground counterculture around food," says Cummings, adding that he might start with the burgers, which have already generated juice-dribbling praise here at Cafe Society headquarters.
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And he'll have assistance from at least two ex-Taggers: Diane Snider, the former sous chef, and John Wallace, TAG's prior kitchen manager. "I'm bringing a strong leadership crew with me that will allow us to have a really dynamic team in pace," notes Cummings. "Honestly, I'm super-excited about this opportunity -- about working in this part of downtown, abut reconnecting with other employees here who also used to work at TAG and about evolving the menu."
And we're excited, too, because Cummings is undeniably one of the top up-and-coming chefs in Denver.