Young and Hungry

Lawson Out, Robinson In As Executive Chef at Black’s

BBKEntranceArra Lawson performed so well at Addie's in Rockville that, earlier this year, the toque was given the executive chef position at Black's Bar & Kitchen, the Black Restaurant Group's Bethesda property. But Lawson couldn't summon the magic touch a second time; he apparently ran into conflicts in the new kitchen and was ousted by a majority vote of BRG principals, says owner Jeff Black.

"Something misfired," Black tells Y&H. "The chemistry just wasn't right."

It wasn't any one major issue, Black says, but more a collection of small ones, like a "punctuality problem" and conflicts with some of the cooks in the kitchen.  Instead of letting it fester into a stinking black mess, BRG management decided to tackle the conflict. Black and two other BRG managers, including the one for HR, looked into the situation and took a vote amongst themselves over whether to release Lawson. The vote was 2-to-1 against the chef.

Black was the lone dissenter. As the big dog at BRG, Black could have trumped his managers, but he opted to let the majority rule. "I have to look at the whole and what's best for the restaurant."

BRG typically doesn't offer severance packages, but in this case, Black says he gave Lawson "the single largest severance in the history of the company."

Black didn't have to look far for Lawson's replacement: Quanta Robinson was already the No. 2 cook at Black's when BRG tagged her to take the lead spot. She's been with the Black Restaurant Group for years now, working her way up from line cook at BlackSalt to the top position at Black's.

Robinson isn't revamping the menu at Black's — at least not yet. With all the changes in the kitchen of late — Robinson is the fourth executive chef at Black's in the past 15 months — Black says he doesn't want to create more chaos by overhauling the menu, too. Instead, Robinson has been using the specials menu to test her new creations, like a soft shell crab with black-eyed peas in a light veal-based sauce.

"There's been enough change," Black says. "We got to think of the customer here."

Photo courtesy of Black's Bar & Kitchen

  • frankmifflindupont

    I think it is tacky beyond belief that Jeff Black continues to comment to the press regarding his chefs. To me, he comes across as a petty employer who refuses to respect the dissolution of a professional relationship as private. It is no one's business what kind of severance an employee receives, and in any profession, usually this type of arrangement is quantified as "sealed." It seems that he is rolling this information out simply to boost his ego as a positive employer. Is it simply happenstance that he has been through four chefs? He cited the want to stay "within the family" for his current chef, and yet, he still ended up with a "bad seed." Perhaps the issue is not with the chefs that take that ill-fated position, but with the position itself, and the ego-maniacal employer they find themselves answering to. I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of the Black's restaurants...and this does not do anything to prove my opinion in error. I am a corporate HR representative who works in hotels, and I have never seen anyone behave so erroneously in the press.

  • dan riley

    Unlike the previous poster, I have enjoyed nearly all of my experiences at Black's places. I also have a previous cordial professional relationship with Jeff. I do agree however that he should keep this stuff more discreet. Kitchen business doesn't always need to be in the papers. That kind of disclosure (the vote tally even) tends to repel potential talent.

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