As with Brad and Jennifer or England Dan and John Ford Coley, the professional marriage of Chris Cannon and Scott Conant at Alto and L’Impero seemed perfect to the world until the day it broke up. Both men tell Grub Street that they have oodles of respect and love for the other, but in speaking to both, we were able to gather a basic time line of what happened. Some time in the last year, Conant talked to Cannon about new and ambitious plans outside the restaurant, which we gather are still in play but which Cannon wanted no part of. (Conant is doing a little casual consulting for Il Tutto Giorno, a friend’s tiny, 30-seat restaurant in Sag Harbor, but by Conant’s account, that is a minor, separate affair, and he is certainly not to be the chef there.) “There are things I wanted to do, and he wasn’t necessarily on the same page with that,” Conant says. “I need to achieve my potential. The restaurant business is changing, becoming more fluid, and I need to evolve with it.”
Cannon, for his part, seems to have liked things just the way they were, and in December, the two men decided to call it quits. Cannon bought out Conant’s share of both places, and unilaterally made the decision to replace him with Michael White, formerly of Fiamma. “Sometimes you need a change of quarterbacks to get you to the Super Bowl,” he tells us. The choice was easy — White is one of the few Italian chefs with comparable repute to that of Conant, and he will take over on July 1. (Conant’s last day will be May 17).
Conant, for his part, understands Cannon’s desire to keep the status quo at two highly praised restaurants but feels bad anyway. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s not difficult to walk away from my restaurants, my vision. Everything I do stems from what those restaurants were. But all my dishes will be coming with me – in due time. I’m going to surround myself with the right people, and the results are going to be spectacular.”