Food guru’s Chambers Kitchen shuts down

Why did the illustrious Jean George Vongerichten’s local project fail, and what will D’Amico do with the space?

The current dining area of Chambers Kitchen
PHOTO COURTESY SARAH JOHNSON

Ashley Goetz

The current dining area of Chambers Kitchen PHOTO COURTESY SARAH JOHNSON

Celebrities, fine-diners and the generally swanky are going to have to cross one local eatery off their list. As of July 20, the Chambers Kitchen will be no more. Call it a story of big New York chef comes to the little Minne-apple gone wrong, or tack it to the momentum of eating local as the illustrious Chambers hotel signs its restaurant over to Minneapolis firm DâÄôAmico and Partners. The closing of the Chambers Kitchen will not happen without a fair amount of public dialogue, most of it mystification. Opened by food world rock star Jean-George Vongerichten, the menu was a blend of Asian and American cuisine tied into a legacy of successful projects. The French chefâÄôs ventures have received four stars from The New York Times and won him title of âÄúChef of the YearâÄù from Esquire magazine. A noted purist, his belief in hard-work and a simple approach to foreign cuisine has helped him spawn projects all over the country and even in Europe. In a New York Magazine profile about the chef, âÄô80s-glam writer Jay McInerney tasted his food and wrote, âÄúPersonally, I find the food worth fighting for; those explosive little dishes are like Green Day songs âÄî loud, hooky and addictive.âÄù So what went wrong? Local chef, blogger and Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern speculates that VongerichtenâÄôs low presence at the restaurant nullified any buzz attached to his name, and pointed out that the profits just werenâÄôt cutting it. Zimmern is looking forward to the change, writing on his MPLS-St. Paul magazine blog, âÄúbut do we CARE at all that it [Chambers Kitchen] closes? Not me. I had higher hopes for a JGV restaurant here in MSP.âÄù While the hotel doesnâÄôt want to discuss negotiations in detail, spokeswoman Jacqueline Hanson assures that the ending of the contract with VongerichtenâÄôs Culinary Concepts was a mutual agreement. And as far as nervous employees go, the hotel hopes to find them employment under the new management. During the transition, DâÄôAmico will keep the establishment serving food, although dining might be relocated to the rooftop or other bar areas. The DâÄôAmicoâÄôs menu, as well as the new branding and name of the restaurant, are still being hashed out, although the hotel management plans to update the public next week on their decisions. DâÄôAmico and Partners have a fair amount of success within the Twin Cities, as their DâÄôAmico and Sons franchise is popping up in new locales at a rapid rate. Started by two brothers, the chain has overseen several entrepreneurial ventures (they have started 24 restaurants between Minnesota and Florida) but prefers to tack its name to Italian cuisine. DâÄôAmico and Sons features plenty of fresh mozzarella, minestrone soups and the famed endless cup of wine, most of their entrees falling under ten dollars. In their more upscale restaurant, the recently closed DâÄôAmico Cucina, roasted sea scallops and homemade spaghetti with razor clams added more refined flavors to their repertoire. A night out at Cucina would probably cost about $50 per person, and owners state that the recession and recent construction of the TwinâÄôs Stadium forced them to close up shop. But donâÄôt let all associations with DâÄôAmico and Partners fall into Italian cuisine. The firm also started up downtownâÄôs foray into authentic, upscale Mexican dishes, Masa, and forebear the New American food movement, Café Lurcat (pronounced âÄúlur-swahâÄù officially and âÄúlur-cotâÄù by staff). Whatever DâÄôAmico chooses to do with the space, it appears to have a fair chance at success. TheyâÄôre familiar with the local dining scene, and a re-branding of the restaurant might make it seem less hotel exclusive, drawing in more downtown diners.