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Pensiero Looking for New Chef as Baltzley Leaves

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Well that didn't take very long. Pensiero Ristorante, which has already seen four chefs in its kitchen in the last 14 months, has just lost another: Brandon Baltzley. The chef, who started there more than a month ago, announced his departure via a blog post.

Titled, "Sometimes Truth is Stranger Than Fiction," the post explained that Baltzley and his sous chef, Kevin McMullen, left after, "the hunger for press lead [sic] management to fill up on all the wrong stuff: dumbing down the food, dictating the menu, and cutting costs at the expense of sanity, which peaked at having to cater the owner’s family B’nai Mitzvah, that equated to the annual salary of a line cook."

A red flag was raised last week when Baltzley tweeted "If you haven't been to Pensiero to see my take on "Italian Cuisine" you should come within the next month," and then the next day wrote, "Don't bullshit your cooks. We are not a press release." Then finally that same day, he said, "Baltzley and McMullen, signing out."

Eater spoke with Baltzley after his tweet wanting people to come in within the month to see what was up. He said they had been misled by the owner and that they felt it wasn't the place for them to cook the type of food they had all agreed would be best for the restaurant. Baltzley said they gave owner, Michael Pure, notice of three months to get him through the holidays and to find a new chef. The next day Pure allegedly told Baltzley they could be out in a month, and then Baltzley said McMullen had been approached by Pure and offered him Baltzley's job. It was at this point, Baltzley said, they knew it was time to go.

When the two chefs approached Pure together the next day, the owner allegedly told McMullen he misheard him, but McMullen stood his ground and said Pure offered him the job just 12 hours earlier, according to Baltzley.

The news comes as a surprise as it appeared that all parties involved were excited about the new menu and the overall new direction the restaurant was taking, at least they did in this video. At the time of the announcement, general manager Marcello Cancelli (Carlos, North Pond) wrote in an email, "What really excites me is the possibility of a unique synthesis of styles and even possibly the birth of a new one. Embracing the joyous simplicity that traditional Italian cooking gives us, but then applying modern technique in a way than enhances and not detracts, innovation that preserves the integrity of the style, modern rusticity. I would love to see these initial seeds germinate into a style that takes Italian cooking into brand new paths."

Eater contacted Pure at the restaurant, who requested we speak directly to Cancelli who runs the daily operations at the restaurant. Cancelli hasn't yet returned our call; we'll post an update if and when he does.

Meanwhile, Baltzley had planned to hold his rescheduled Apicius pop-up dinner, but that now seems to be canceled. Baltzley said that he will continue to do pop-up dinners with McMullen and other guest chefs, but won't take on another job in a restaurant to focus on eventually opening his own. "We will continue doing pop ups for charity and some work on the side," he said, "but have no intentions on signing on for another owner without partnering up or just flat out doing it ourselves."
· Brandon Baltzley Takes Over at Pensiero, Revamps Menu [~EChi~]
· Sometimes Truth is Stranger Than Fiction [~EChi~]

UPDATE: General manager Marcello Cancelli just emailed the following, clarifying statement with the restaurant's side of the story:

Brandon’s decision to leave was his and he reached it after a meeting in which I discussed the immense labor costs he was incurring in producing his food. These are numbers in black and white, not allegations. He gave his notice after said meeting.

We had reached agreements when he was hired to not financially front load the project, to move forward in stages, and to integrate his style with the Italian cuisine we were producing. This was all agreed to in writing including the hiring of Kevin McMullen at a rate sought by Brandon and agreed to by us. There was no misleading involved and nothing changed after the formal announcement of his being Pensiero’s Chef. We simply could not afford, from a business perspective, to continue to incur the heavy kitchen labor costs.

Brandon was unwilling to make any changes in that regard and gave his initial notice. As to what was said or not said by whomever, I have no comments. I cannot address statements made in conversations I was not present at and hearsay begets hearsay.

We are in the process of hiring a new Chef and moving forward.

Pensiero Ristorante

1566 Oak Avenue, Evanston, IL

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