I learned a couple of weeks ago that Chris Howerton, executive chef at Corbett’s An American Place since it opened a few years ago, left one of the most coveted kitchen posts in town to spend more time with his young son.
Hardly a nobler calling, but surely a tough decision for one of the town’s top toques, a man whose easygoing manner belies his deep-rooted passion for food and cooking.
Howerton now is selling meat for a Cincinnati-based company, which, I’m sure, will be a good challenge for him and a blessing to his customers. It’s not everyday a guy with his creds is on the sales side of a company. He probably knows more about meat than the people he’s selling to.
I write all that to lead up to the most significant part of this blog, and that’s the pressure Howerton’s departure puts on the already burdened shoulders of owner Dean Corbett.
In August, Dallas McGarrity took the kitchen reins at Corbett’s first property, Equus and Jack’s Lounge, which allowed Corbett a little more big-picture thinking time. But that culinary collaboration ended this fall when the two agreed the fit wasn’t the best.
Corbett told me there would never be another chef over Equus and that he was thrilled to be back in the kitchen cooking, not cooped up in the office. Having worked with Dean 27 years ago at Sixth Avenue, I know firsthand that this was a guy not created to sit still.
So when Howerton left, I asked if a replacement was in the cue. Not for the time being, Corbett said.
“Yikes,” I thought privately, “that’s a big load on him.” But Corbett wasn’t deterred. Not only did he support Howerton’s decision, he was certain his current team of chefs and cooks—with his oversight, of course—could keep one of the city’s most magnificent restaurants moving forward.
My dinner there last night proved his confidence is well placed, that his team is doing exceptionally well in Howerton’s absence. That’s a tribute to both Howerton and Corbett, who know how to hire, train and maintain staffs for the long haul.
Back to last night: I got lucky and was invited for dinner at Corbett’s by my good friend, Richard Lewis, an accomplished local chef (Club Grotto, The Flagship [now Rivue], Sixth Avenue) who now oversees food programs at some 70 hospitals for Morrison Foodservice Management.
He and his uber-supervisors were in town for a meeting, and I got to tag along.
At Corbett’s. Sure beat the heck out of that bean tostada dinner I had planned.
Suffice it to say, the food and service were spectacular as ever. Yes, Corbett himself was in the house, and Lewis, a friend of Corbett’s, let him know we were coming.
But I believe his presence didn’t make our food any more special than any other table’s. Sure, he threw out some lovely, unexpected nibbles to the table, but any good chef loves to do for other chefs anyway.
But when he led us on a kitchen tour (to Corbett’s cooks, you guys are SPOILED with great toys!), it was plainly evident that his cooks were doing the legwork, and that their work was just tremendous.
Corbett knows he can’t touch everything, but he’s there as much as possible to guide the touching. No shock, therefore, that he owns a pair of Louisville’s best restaurants (a trio, if you count Jack’s separately), and no worry that Corbett’s will soldier on in Howerton’s absence.