When Javier Angeles-Beron left Latin Concepts in early November, the chef knew it would be different from the two other times he tried to quit the company that runs such restaurant-lounges as Guarapo, Chi-Cha, and Ceviche. This time, he knew it would be for good.
Angeles-Beron won’t discuss, for the record, the exact reasons behind his departure. He says only that he felt compelled to leave after Latin Concepts founder Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld reorganized the company. The chef’s decision required him to surrender a lot. Angeles-Beron walked away not only from his position as executive chef with Latin Concepts (and his gig overseeing the two Ceviche locations) but also from his stake in the forthcoming Yaku restaurant, where he would have been a partner and chef.
“We have a good relation,” Angeles-Beron says about Fraga-Rosenfeld. “We just have a different way to operate.”
Angeles-Beron’s departure would seem to cast a shadow over Yaku, the eagerly anticipated Peruvian-Chinese restaurant set to open next spring in the Odyssey building in Arlington. For months now, the chef, a Peruvian native, has been developing the restaurant’s chifa concept—chifa being a sort of interchangeable term to describe both the fusion cuisine and the vast number of Peruvian eateries that serve it back in the mother country. Angeles-Beron has traveled repeatedly to Peru, researching both chifa cuisine and the Peruvian brandy pisco, which was to play a central role on Yaku’s bar menu.
Latin Concepts spokesperson Jessica Gibson says the concept is not dead. Fraga-Rosenfeld has been talking with some chefs in Peru to replace Angeles-Beron. “Javier had not yet submitted any menus to us,” Gibson says, “so when we do open, it will be completely whoever our new executive chef actually will be.”
In the meantime, Ismael Otarola, head chef at Guarapo, has been put in charge of the Ceviche operations. It shouldn’t be much of a stretch for Otarola, also a Peruvian native. “Actually, we’ve got a lot of crossover between Guarapo and both Ceviches,” Gibson says. There are “a lot of similar items on both menus.”
Perhaps this is what the new, restructured Latin Concepts means for the restaurant-lounges under its guidance—less innovation and more standardization across menus. If so, I can understand why a chef with creative impulses, like Angeles-Beron, would want to flee. As he told me: “I want to do something excellent in my life. I want to cook good things, excellent things.”
For his part, Fraga-Rosenfeld says his goal has never been to run with the big dogs. He explains his restaurant-lounges this way: “I want the energy of a lounge, with good food,” he says. “I do not want to be a fancy restaurant or compete with fancy restaurants. I want a place for you to go everyday…have a good meal, have a good time, and you don’t feel like you’re burning your pockets.”
Since leaving Latin Concepts, Angeles-Beron has been consulting for Yorktown Bistro on Lee Highway, a modest neighborhood restaurant set in a drab Arlington strip mall with a motley assortment of retail stores and South Asian eateries. But with its conventional American menu of steaks, pastas, fish, soups, and pizza, Yorktown won’t be the place for Angeles-Beron to fulfill his dreams either.
At the moment, the chef is working on a plan to open a more upscale pollo a la brasa restaurant in Arlington. The details have not been finalized yet, but Angeles-Beron hopes to make an announcement soon. He’s also not ruling out other projects in the future, and he says he may turn one day to his old boss for support. He might even get it.
“We do have a good friendship,” Fraga-Rosenfeld says about Angeles-Beron. “I’m very sure that in the future…our paths are going to cross again. I’ll say, ‘OK, Javier, what should we do now?’”
Man at Work
Chef Greggory Hill was supposed to lead the kitchen at Hudson Restaurant and Lounge, the West End eatery that took over the old David Greggory space, Hill’s former restaurant. But this summer, word got out that Hill wasn’t the chef anymore. I tried calling Hill several times to find out his whereabouts. He never returned the calls. Last I heard, he was on the West Coast, doing something with wine.
Hill finally rang me back in late November. He was packing his bags to leave the next day for Australia. An old friend, Patricia Philips, and her husband had lured the chef Down Under to work up a small menu for their tasting room in North Adelaide, which will complement the couple’s wine importing business. “If things work out, then I’ll probably stay on,” says Hill. “They want to open a restaurant.”
In other words, after nearly 30 years, Greggory Hill could be gone from the D.C. scene. He says it’s a good time to go; his mother passed away in April. “I always stayed here because she was only an hour away,” Hill says. “I wanted to go to New York and cook and see what it was like there…and I didn’t. I just stayed here. Now I feel like I have an opportunity to go out and see what else is out there.”
Besides, the idea of working at yet another cookie-cutter American restaurant like Hudson didn’t appeal to him. “I really wasn’t interested in doing things I had done a few years ago,” he says. “I need to be happy every day going to work, and I didn’t foresee myself being happy.”
It’s almost 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6. My column on Gillian Clark (Young & Hungry, “Colorado Rocky,” 12/7) had just hit the street racks. My phone rings; I’m expecting my wife, Carrie. Instead, it’s Clark, who wants to clarify her position on the signage at Colorado Kitchen in Brightwood Park. She doesn’t sound angry.
“A lot of people don’t like being told what to do by a black woman, and that’s fine,” she starts.
I feel myself already getting annoyed at the direction of the conversation, as if having an opinion about Clark’s signage automatically marks me as a racist. “I think you’re putting this in racial terms,” I interrupt Clark, “and it’s not justified.”
“You’re misunderstanding me,” Clark continues. “I’m not telling you that you put it in racial terms. I’m saying that when customers come into this restaurant, they don’t often treat the room with the same respect that they treat someone else’s room…I’m not saying you don’t. I’m saying that the signs came out of things that were going on in here.…It seems like people think because of where we are and because we’re two women [Clark owns the Colorado with Robin Smith] that our restaurant doesn’t deserve the same respect. You’re not going into Equinox and put your gum under the table. That’s where those signs came from.”
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