That is, at least, one way of looking at it; almost exactly this time last year, as Chicago was waiting breathlessly to see which, if any, restaurants would win three Michelin stars, the word went around that Laurent Gras had left L2O for hazy reasons which the Lettuce Entertain You management professed cluelessness about. But confirmation didn’t come until a day after Gras’ L2O had won the only other three-star designation besides Alinea. This year the timing is different: just ahead of the announcements next week, Francis Brennan is stepping down as executive chef to pursue other projects within Lettuce, and Matthew Kirkley, chef de cuisine, is being promoted. There are many possible scenarios as for why this is happening right on the eve of Michelin-mania, but if we had to bet on one, it would be this: Brennan’s version of L2O, which diners have responded positively to, is nonetheless getting demoted to two stars, and Lettuce wants to be out in front of the news, buying Kirkley a full year to shape his L2O before the Sauron-like gaze of Michelin pitilessly turns upon him.
If we’re right, this is too bad for Brennan, a very good chef and by all accounts a standup guy, though this is what any chef is in for when Michelin is calling the tunes. We hope that at least he does create a first-rate project in his own image within the company. With Brasserie Jo having given way to Paris Club, we’d love to see another really good yet not stratospherically-priced French concept in Lettuce’s portfolio— or anything else Brennan had in mind, frankly. In the meantime, congratulations to Kirkley, another name from Time Out’s “Chefs to Watch” piece last month, who had stints at Ria, NoMI and The Four Seasons between helping open L2O and returning to it recently. Clealry, he could only be better qualified to take over a place on L2O’s level if his name was “Roland Liccioni.”