City Desk

Mamma Mio!

It’s true, trouble comes in threes—at least for Mio owner Manuel Iguina.

First, Iguina’s opening-day toque, former Jaleo executive chef JohnPaul Damato, left him just a month after Mio opened in May. Second, Damato’s hand-picked successor, Ryan Wheeler, decided to split this summer. Third, Iguina’s No. 1 choice to lead his kitchen, the lauded Spanish chef Alberto Hernandez Perez, hasn’t been able to sell off his current restaurant, La Calma, in Salamanca.

“I hope that it’s not that I’m difficult to work with,” says Iguina.

It doesn’t sound like it. While Iguina half-jokes that he gave Wheeler shit for buying expensive fish from Hawaii, he believes the young cook left for other reasons—from the stresses of running a kitchen to the seemingly pending arrival of Hernandez Perez, who impressed Iguina with a multi-course “guest chef” appearance in July. The meal included such creative plates as goose liver with mango, black-tea sauce, and melón air; halibut in saffron soup; and cheese ice cream with berries.

Iguina was working on the necessarily paperwork to bring Hernandez Perez over from Spain when the owner learned the bad news: The chef had to stay in Salamanca. Hernandez Perez’s partner at La Calma apparently wanted out of the business, leaving the chef to run the entire restaurant. “He wants to be here,” Iguina says, “but he cannot leave the responsibility that he has there.”

The owner has been running the kitchen himself, along with some chef friends and consultants, ever since Wheeler left. Iguina has also been searching for a new executive chef both locally and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, his home town. He says he has serious candidates from both locales.

“It has to be the right person, the right feeling,” Iguina says. “I know I’m running out of time to have somebody that people can talk about, and that’s why I’m taking my time, because I don’t want to go through everything I’ve been through before.”

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