The post-Top Chef shuffle of chefs seeking to maximize their moment of TV fame apparently continues. Redeye reports that Chuy Valencia, the chef of Lakeview’s cozy small plates Mexican restaurant Chilam Balam, who was more famous for his cocky audition tape than for what he actually did in his relatively short time on the show, will be selling his share of the restaurant to his partners to focus on two future endeavors— at first. One is a cookbook-slash-dishy-memoir called “M.E.A.L.S.: Menus, Entrees, Anecdotes, Lies and Some truth to protect the innocent and equally evil.” (By the way, you can help test recipes for it at a dinner on Monday night; tweet @chuyvalencia and tell him why you should be one of his guinea pigs.)
The second is a diner concept which he hopes to open on Broadway near Chilam Balam and ultimately franchise, with fresh-roasted coffee in front and “old-school dishes like buttered noodles, lasagna, patty melts and meatball sandwiches.” This diner thing is the hot concept of the moment, certainly (although it remains to be seen if customers want it as badly as restaurateurs do), and we certainly don’t begrudge Valencia thinking like a businessman and building a company. But to judge by reaction among foodies on Twitter, there’s disappointment that one of the few Latinos to successfully move into more artisanal Mexican food a la Bayless seems to walking away from taking Mexican in new directions in favor of another American comfort food concept.
As Josh Steinfeld put it on Twitter, “Who needs creative, seasonal Mexican. What the world needs is buttered noodles and meatloaf… Chilam Bilam was different from [other upscale Mexican restaurants]. Valencia is wasting his talents if he’s going off to make buttered noodles.” But Valencia is all of 26; let’s hope there’s more to this concept than is apparent at first, and that in any case, this is just one step along a career with many opportunities ahead.