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OPINION

A chef is not a restaurant

By Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye

12:00 AM CST, February 14, 2014

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Just to be clear: This column is written by Matt Pais. It's a Matt Pais column, and the important thing to remember is that it's written by me. Matt Pais.

Oh, does that sound egotistical? How about a restaurant that reopens with a new name just because they're so proud of the chef that they've acquired? It happened in 2011 when Perennial became Perennial Virant (after chef Paul Virant, who won awards for his cooking at suburban Western Springs hit Vie). It happened in November when Chuck's Manufacturing decided people were less interested in Chuck manufacturing stuff and more impressed that the bar and restaurant is now named Chuck's: A Kerry Simon Kitchen. And it happened again last week when once-trendy Japonais re-emerged as Japonais by Morimoto, the "Iron Chef" I don't blame them for wanting to tout.

Here's the thing: If you own a restaurant, you can do whatever you want. You can call your place Phil's Favorite Things and have it be all of your favorite things. (If your name is Phil. If it's not, you may want to rethink the name.) But a restaurant (including managers, servers, line cooks, etc.) is more than just the chef, just like a movie is more than just the director. Pretty much everyone agrees that it's the filmmaker who puts his or her stamp on a film, and that's why they go last in the credits. But is there anyone who doesn't groan when a movie is presented as so-and-so's whatever? Such as, "Tyler Perry's 'Why Did I Get Married 5?'" Even "Lee Daniels' The Butler," which was so named for legal reasons, not arrogance, sounds ridiculous. Particularly when the movie's a true story--ignoring how poorly that one was told—and the title distracts from the film's subject.

The Miami Heat didn't change its name to LeBron James' Miami Heat when they acquired him, and that happened at a time when the guy's self-confidence was at dangerously Kanye-like levels. I realize that would have been impractical and expensive and changed the jerseys and all that jazz. But it's also because basketball, like movies and restaurants, is a team game. Also, people don't stick around forever; I don't know Paul Virant or Kerry Simon or Masaharu Morimoto, but from what I know about chefs and restaurants, it's unlikely these guys will stick around at their current locations forever.

No one should blame businesses for looking for new ways to attract customers. Even popular, highly praised venues aren't guaranteed for the long haul, as the fading appeal of Japonais reaffirms. But putting a chef into the name of the restaurant screams of the snooty kind of self-promotion that makes diners think of the restaurant as a business. (Aren't you glad it's not "Stephanie Izard and the Goat"?) Plus, the spots will have to change all their signage the next time they change chefs. This should never be necessary. Though if the departing names pay for it, I'd feel better.

Matt Pais is RedEye's movie critic/music editor.

 

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