Details are coming together for The Gage and Henri project at 730 W. Grand, scheduled to open by early July, and there's now a chef in place and culinary philosophies to match. Rene De Leon, the highly accomplished (former) sous chef at Next, has signed on to light the burners in the old Orange space for Billy Lawless, Branko Palikuca (Topaz), and Clint Rogers. Rogers, who is the GM at the unnamed bar and restaurant, brought De Leon in to do a tasting and almost immediately knew that "he was the guy."
De Leon, who announced his departure from Alinea and Next in late February, was immersed in modernist cookbooks when reached by phone. He calls the cuisine "American regional," saying it will cover a wide range of "simple, well thought-out food," before adding, "people say (their food) will be simple all the time, but I mean it." For example, he prepared New England clam chowder and oyster po' boy at his tasting audition.
De Leon says he wants to "represent iconic American regional dishes" in his first time on his own. That will include soul food, Hispanic dishes, BBQ, gumbo, New England regional, and also mentioning ham hocks, whole roasts, and whole suckling pigs. He talked about clam bakes and lobster boils that'll he dump onto wax paper tableside.
His time at Next, plus events at The French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park were not lost on him, but he's looking forward to executing simpler styles. "I didn't waste my time in six-and-a-half-years at Alinea and Next," he says. "I'm not going to take fried chicken and puree it and dehydrate it, but I'm going to cook that chicken as perfectly as I can." De Leon's passion practically radiated through the phone.
Rogers says the beverage program will be constructed "in a way that no one's done before." The cocktails will be created to pair with specific dishes and be "very food friendly," but the program will be more beer-focused. Sommelier Jason Wagner is consulting on the wine list.
The space will feature three bars: Upstairs, downstairs, and in a 100-seat walled-in beer garden. The first floor will open at the start, the rest opening later. A fireside lounge will open in fall.
The menus are still in development and the space is under construction, but a veritable dream team has added an odds-on favorite for rookie of the year.
· Orange Go Bragh [~ECHI~]
· Rene De Leon [Official Site]
[Photo: Devin David]