Young and Hungry

Black Restaurant Group Pulls the Old Chef Switcheroo

Y&H is late in reporting this — but, hell, so is everyone since Jeff Black doesn't typically employ an army of PR agents to spoon feed us food writers with tips and breaking news  — but the Black Restaurant Group has filled the executive chef position at its flagship operation, Black's Bar & Kitchen, following the short, messy tenure of Todd Wiss.

The nod went to Arra Lawson, former chef de cuisine at Addie's in Rockville. Lawson, former executive chef at Daniel O'Connell's in Old Town, took over the top spot at Black's about three months ago, says Jeff Black, and has already overhauled the bar and brunch menus and has added a number of composed fish dishes.

So who's in charge at Addie's now?

That would be Nate Waugaman, former executive sous chef at Black's who was, with the owner's assistance, running the kitchen and developing the menus at the Bethesda restaurant after Wiss' departure. Waugaman was up for the executive chef gig at Black's, but the owner felt that Addie's would be a better fit for Waugaman's debut as head toque.

Black's Bar & Kitchen "is such a big restaurant and it's such a busy restaurant," Black told Y&H via the phone today. Addie's, by contrast, does smaller numbers and has an extremely loyal clientele that likes its menu to remain fairly constant. As an example, Black tells me about a customer who called the owner at home when Black dared to take the steak off the menu.

Nonetheless, Waugaman has tweaked the Addie's menu in small ways since taking over earlier this year, securing a local source for that beloved rib-eye steak and adding a scallop entree. More impressive, Waugaman has joined a number of local chefs — Peter Smith at PS 7's and Nathan Anda for Neighborhood Restaurant Group — who are making their own charcuterie. Black says Waugaman is curing his own salami and prosciutto in-house and even making his own head cheese.

The recent hiring decisions, Black admits, were based in part on the troubles Black's had with Wiss, who apparently never fit into the BRG system. "Barring catastrophe, that will be the last time I hire a No. 1" outside of the Black Restaurant Group, the owner says.

In other BRG news, Black says he's partnering with former Black's head chef, Mallory Buford, on an upcoming project. Buford will be a partner in the restaurant, which will likely be in the District. Black and Buford are currently scouting locations. Black preferred not to talk about the concept yet, since it could change depending on the location.