So much for the Harlem Shuffle. The Louisville Chef Shuffle is underway in at least three restaurant kitchens.

• Curry running Napa kitchen: Two weeks ago, Brian Curry, a long-time sous chef at Napa River Grill, was appointed executive chef there. Under direction from its new owner, Junior Bridgeman, he and sous chef Seth Butkus have recently overhauled the restaurant’s dinner and lunch menus. (Skip down to read more details.)

• McCandless bids St. Chuck fair well: Patrick McCandless has left the executive chef’s spot at St. Charles Exchange for as of yet unknown reasons. Longtime sous chef Tyler Powell has been promoted to executive chef.

A Sullivan University graduate, McCandless successfully led the one year old kitchen for the past several months and executed the restaurant’s first James Beard House dinner in February. By all accounts, he knocked it out of the park.

Patrick McCandless, former executive chef at St. Charles Exchange, has left the year-old restaurant.

No word on whether he’s looking for work within the Louisville scene.

• Hungerford cools on Coals: Michael Hungerford, executive chef and pizzaioli at Coals Artisan Pizza, has stepped away from the 1,000-degrees Fahrenheit fire-breathing coal oven to pursue other interests.

Despite having no formal pizza training, Hungerford was instrumental in perfecting the pizzeria’s dough and menu and helping the business achieve significant success from the start.

Given that owners Mark and Madeline Peters are seeking a location for a second Coals, the question of who will captain the ovens remains unanswered.

A call to Mark Peters hadn’t been returned by press time.

But there is possible employment … According to the grapevine, Big Springs Country Club is looking for a new executive chef.

• Napa River Grill menu culled to refine focus on California cuisine: When J.D. Rothberg co-founded Napa River Grill (NRG) a decade ago, he and partner Michael Grisanti — as well as a host of multiple chefs who lay claim to creating the original menu — presented Louisvillians with a terrific new restaurant unlike any in the city.

The hard-driving Rothberg later created the hugely successful breakfast-brunch spot, Wild Eggs, and sold Napa River last year to focus fully on expanding that concept.

NRG’s new owner, Junior Bridgeman, owner of a combined 300 Wendy’s and Chili’s restaurants, recently charged his kitchen crew (sans longtime chef, David Malthaner, who moved to Colorado a while back) with reducing the number of items on the expansive menu and refocusing it on its original California cuisine theme.

“We had large lunch and dinner menus, but neither really had an identity,” said Curry, who was made executive chef two weeks ago. “What’s at the restaurant now is our first attempt at changing it, and we’re pretty happy with the results.”

Napa River Grill’s seared scallops topped with cilantro chutney, strawberry gazpacho “shooter,” avocado-lime puree and red pepper oil.

Curry said item counts on both menus were reduced by about 25 percent. He said fewer items simplifies kitchen procedures and allows his staff to become more creative with seasonal specials.

He said new owner Bridgeman has given him “a sense of freedom, if you will, to explore our creativity. He’s really let us take it by the reins.”

Curry said that when Bridgeman was introduced to the staff as NRG’s new owner, he made clear his intentions to expand the concept.

“He said he doesn’t like to have one of anything” when it comes to restaurants, Curry said. A former University of Louisville basketball star in the early ‘70s and a legendary sixth man on the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Bridgeman, according to Forbes, is the 18th wealthiest African-American businessperson in the U.S. “He wants to build Napa.”

Some new menu items Curry is pretty proud of include:

  • Seared scallops topped with cilantro chutney, strawberry gazpacho “shooter,” avocado-lime puree and red pepper oil
  • Togarashi blackened sea bass with white miso broth, wild mushroom sticky rice, pickled carrots and shaved cucumber
  • Seared salmon topped with lemon pesto butter and balsamic “caviar,” red quinoa, and cucumber tomato salad (Coolness alert: The “caviar” is made from balsamic vinegar heated with sugar and agar-agar, which gels it slightly, and then that mixture is added to cold olive oil, drop by drop, where it congeals.)

Curry said to expect another large-scale revision in a month or so.

“Once we get through Derby, we’re going to re-explore making more changes, maybe taking a few more things off the menu and then rolling out a summer menu,” he said.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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