How 15 Executive Chefs Transformed Their Restaurants

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It takes more than just good food to put a restaurant on the map. A restaurant needs staff that aren’t afraid to try new culinary ideas to keep a menu fresh. It needs a friendly and welcoming ambiance. It needs avid supporters, fans who will share the love through word of mouth and the Internet.

These 15 executive chefs and their staff have discovered the winning formula to restaurant success, and they’ve shared some of their tips and transformations.


Chris Lopez at BLVD Seafood, Texas

Having made a career elevating the status of restaurants across the country, these days Chris Lopez calls himself an “islander by choice” as a resident of the seaside city of Galveston. He previously cooked at Yaga’s Café. However, with his seafood knowledge, it only made sense that he’d gravitate towards BLVD Seafood.

Lopez is recognized for having “curated a savvy menu showcasing fresh Gulf seafood, coastal heritage dishes and soulful southern favorites. He exerts a steady influence within the Galveston restaurant community.” He’s also said to be “redefining Galveston’s food scene.”


Sean Leventhal, Chaz on the Plaza, Kansas

How can an executive chef get people visiting a restaurant nestled on the grounds of a hotel? In Kansas City, Sean Leventhal decided to find out. He took over cooking duties at Chaz on the Plaza at The Raphael, according to a recent press release.

Having worked at award-winning restaurants in the past, Leventhal walked into the hotel’s restaurant with a particular idea in mind: “Maryland Eastern shore meets Pacific Rim with a stopover in Spain…The emphasis is on well-done, perfectly executed food.” Other restaurant employees collaborated with Leventhal to redesign a menu that didn’t alienate long-term customers.


Chet Saign, 410 Bank Street, New Jersey

Chet Saign had already taken over the food scene in Park City, Utah, so he decided his services were required at 410 Bank Street, a quaint little restaurant in Cape May, New Jersey.

With his team of chefs, they developed a “fusion of Louisiana French, Caribbean and Asian culinary and smoking techniques” that “created a sensation in Cape May and sparked a culinary renaissance in the historic town.” The restaurant brought in various awards in 2015 from Conde Nast Traveler, Zagat and New Jersey Monthly Magazine.


Georg Paulussen, Resorts World Bimini, Florida

As Resorts World Bimini explains: “Being an executive chef of a huge hotel brand isn’t the same thing as being an executive chef of a restaurant. Think bigger scale, much bigger scale.” Luckily, Georg Paulussen is up to the challenge.

When he became executive chef, he decided to upgrade a menu he saw as stale. “When people come to Caribbean resorts, they only see typical American restaurants. I want to offer food that is authentic.” The restaurant says he’s a fan of serving braised pork belly, duck confit flatbread and marinated rack of lamb.

Kevin Weber, The Cliff House, California

Kevin Weber helped make The Cliff House into the San Francisco staple it is today even before he became its executive chef. His ideas, excitement and passion for the restaurant together with a willingness to embrace change helped propel the establishment into an award-winning success.

Weber “stays current with culinary trends by annual attendance at the Greystone Campus of the Culinary Institute of America Worlds of Flavor Program. Each year, a different area of culinary treasures is explored in depth, and have included the cuisines of Asia, India, Central and South America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.”


Yu Min Lin, The Sea, California

How does one evolve a seafood menu beyond the same old, same old? Bring in Yu Min Lin as an executive chef, who serves French and Japanese food.

When he started at The Sea in Palo Alto, he got right to work “recreating traditional Japanese and French techniques to compose contemporary dishes. Taking fresh seasonal ingredients and transforming them into a culinary experience” is his specialty.


Tony Camilleri, The Firebox, Connecticut

The Firebox made a name out of the small neighborhood of Frog Hollow in Hartford, so it needed food that would keep people coming back. Enter executive chef Tony Camilleri.

FSR Magazine notes Camilleri has taken the fresh eats the restaurant is known for and made them more nutritious, compiling more than 150 plans for healthier dishes. “I want it to be fun, I want it to be full of life, I want our customers to keep experiencing new flavors and new surprises,” he says.


Michael Toscano, Le Farfalle, South Carolina

Executive chefs do more than just revolutionize menus. Sometimes they change a restaurant entirely. Such was the case when Michael Toscano, a chef who is renowned nationwide, got his hands on Charleston’s Leaf Café. He decided to upgrade it to Le Farfalle, which serves Italian food. As Charleston Eater reports, Toscano is especially known for his restaurant work in New York City.


Neethling du Toit, La Petite Fermie, South Africa

Located in South Africa, specifically the Franschhoek, Western Cape area, is La Petite Fermie, a restaurant held in high regard partly due to the culinary chops of Neethling du Toit. The executive chef has helped the restaurant reach prominence through his menu.

As du Toit says: “Simple food is…more identifiable to people compared to complicated but pretty dishes or even dishes with unique ingredients.” That said, he “wants his guests not to worry when they eat, but yet still have the willingness to try new things.”


Rick Moonen, RX Boiler Room, Nevada

A Las Vegas restaurant always has to be willing to change with the times to appeal to the modern consumer. Rick Moonen recognized this and decided to redecorate RX Boiler Room, reimagining it as a “steampunk-inspired restaurant and lounge, with décor reminiscent of industrialism during the 19th century.” Moonen serves what he calls “classic comfort food” in this new space.


Colin Bedford, The Fearrington House Restaurant, North Carolina

Another North Carolina restaurant that blossomed in the hands of an executive chef is The Fearrington House Restaurant. Colin Bedford worked in Canada and his native UK before eventually settling in North Carolina. In 2005, he joined the Fearrington House team and has never looked back.

The restaurant calls him “equally adept at crafting the fine dining tasting menu at The Fearrington House, to directing the production of housemade jams and house-cured meats to making wood-fired pizzas at our beer garden to leading the planting and harvesting of Fearrington’s on-site garden, to whipping up comfort food at…casual eatery The Fearrington Granary.”


Simon Hardman-Taylor, Cresta Court Hotel, UK

Colin Bedford is not the only British executive chef making big changes in the culinary world. Simon Hardman-Taylor is directly involved in kick-starting the Cresta Court Hotel’s recently opened restaurant, Townfields.

“He will be responsible for overseeing menu development and kitchen operations for the new Townfields restaurant…as well as food operation for the hotel’s extensive conference and banqueting business and Townfields café bar,” writes David Prior at Altrincham Today

Steven Richard, Portobello Restaurant, Florida

Steven Richard has always been a fixture in Florida’s restaurant scene, including Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe. He’s been with the Italian restaurant Portobello in Lake Buena Vista since 2007, when it was the Portobello Yacht Club. Working with Tony Mantuano, a James Beard award-winning chef, Richard managed the club’s transformation into the restaurant it is today.


Darren Badenhorst, Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate, South Africa

South African resident Darren Badenhorst got a job as an executive chef as soon as he graduated an area culinary school. He eventually joined the Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate staff in Franschhoek, Western Cape.

Badenhorst “takes classic sate recipes and transforms them into amazing creations with interesting ingredients like slipper lobster and jicama, accompanied by the recommendations of the in-house mixologist.”


Amanda Downing, Rockit Bar and Grill, Illinois

Restaurants sometimes rebrand to excel against the competition. In those instances, the most inventive executive chefs can be a part of that change. Amanda Downing was a huge player on the team, says Chicago Gourmet, as Chicago’s Rockit Bar and Grill took over Rockit Wrigleyville. Her “ability to create familiar favorites with a gourmet twist became an instrumental and invaluable tool in the brand’s evolution.”

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