The writing was on the wall, says Joe Freemond, the soon-to-be-former executive chef of Cellar Wine Bar, which lost three of its kitchen staffers last week -- Freemond included -- after what the chef describes as a "long list of problems" that the owners, including Brian Delgado, refused to address.
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"It really came down to myself and the rest of my kitchen crew not willing to bust our asses for owners who have no sense of appreciation, no sense of purpose or vision and who made it completely impossible to get anything done," says Freemond, who spent nine months at the helm (and will depart for good on Saturday) creating handcafted pastas from a kitchen that's barely big enough to boil a pot of water. The "reality of the situation," he continues, "is that there was a complete lack of communication, coupled with owners who ignored every useful piece of advice that we tried to give to them."
And Freemond, who's spent the last ten years as a chef, doing time in the kitchens of TAG, the Village Cork and Il Mondo Vecchio, decided he'd had enough. "I've been in this business for a decade, and I can't continue to bust my butt unless there's a good reason, and while this is not at all the way I wanted things to play out, it was just too much of a struggle to get anything done, and after a meeting with the owners, it became even more apparent that they had no vision for the future, so I gave my two-week notice, as did my sous chef and my line cook."
His sous, Wil Sumner, landed at Lala's Pizzeria + Wine Bar, cooking alongside Samir Mohammad, while his line cook, Ian Batholomew, a culinary student, will help Freemond out on a part-time basis at DiFranco's, an intimate Italian restaurant owned by Ryan DiFranco in the Golden Triangle. Freemond is now chef de cuisine there.
"Joe and I worked together at TAG -- I was bartending and he was back in the kitchen, and he was actually my original chef choice when I decided to open DiFranco's, but we were delayed, so the timing was poor, but now the timing is right," says DiFranco, whose menu, he adds, is an ideal foil for Freemond's talents. "He brings passion to the kitchen, he'll breathe new life into our menu, he has a great following, and he makes the most amazing pastas."
And Freemond is a self-described pasta fiend, with an endless repertoire that goes way beyond starchy strands of noodles. "I'm capable of making 1,300 different pasta shapes, thanks to a encyclopedic pasta cookbook I have, and during the time I was at Cellar, I never made the same pasta shape twice," he says, noting that one of the primary reasons that he's joining DiFranco in the kitchen is because of the emphasis on pastas. "Fresh-made pastas are a big component over there, and I'm definitely going to try to continue my streak of not repeating the same pasta twice," he says. And he'll also delve into creating pasta shapes that you normally don't see outside of Italy -- maltagliati, for example. "I'm obsessed with the history of pasta and pasta shapes, and I barely scratched the tip of the iceberg at Cellar, because the kitchen was so small. I was relegated to making small handmade shapes and different variations of noodles -- but nothing stuffed, like ravioli."
In addition, Freemond says he'd like to introduce an in-house butchery program to DiFranco's. "I spent some time working with Mark DeNittis at Il Mondo Vecchio, and I'd definitely love to start making our sausages in-house, along with a few other things," he says, divulging, too, that he'll bring DeNittis in for a whole-beast disassembly dinner down the road.
And in early February, Freemond and DiFranco will unleash a new menu. "It'll be a combination of of revamped family recipes that incorporate seasonality and contemporary components," says DiFranco. "We're not trying to do anything complicated," he stresses, "but Joe definitely brings a lot to the table in terms of pastas and meats -- especially braising and roasting -- and I think that we'll be able to offer a few things that you don't see everywhere else." And starting next week, DiFranco's hours will expand during the week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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"I see this as a really great opportunity to join a business that's already been branded beautifully," says Freemond. There's definite room for growth, and I want to be a part of that."