When Michelin-starred chef Homaro Cantu died a month-and-a-half ago, many wondered what would happen to his restaurants without the dynamic visionary at the helm. Moto's executive chef, Richie Farina, had already put in his notice to leave in the middle of April and new chef Chris Anderson had begun working on a new menu, so major changes were already planned. As it turns out, all three (Moto, Berrista and the upcoming brew pub Crooked Fork Brewing) have continued on in his absence, keeping Cantu's dreams alive.
Trevor Rose-Hamblin, who has held many positions at Moto (as well as at Cantu's previous restaurant iNG), has taken an overseer role at Moto, doing everything from working the line to handling press to expediting to event coordinating.
Here, Rose-Hamblin discusses the status and future of Moto (photos of some of chef Anderson's new dishes can be seen below), the difficulties of soldiering on without his good friend and mentor and the reasons everyone has for keeping the restaurants going, along with some new details on the forthcoming Crooked Fork Brewing.
How is Moto and the team doing these days?
Trevor Rose-Hamblin: I'm super proud of this team. Not only did they have to flip the whole menu after Richie left, but it was right after Omar died. Everyone was grieving. From there, everyone pushed, setting up dinners, setting up collaborations. These guys were fighting. It means so much more right now because Katie (McGowan, Cantu's widow) owns it and she doesn't want to close it. She wants to keep the dream alive. Katie's the strongest woman I know. Omar never would have wanted us to stop pushing. When something like this happens and it turns your whole world upside down, you push harder. Now we have even more to prove because we had Richie leave and our chef die. So now it's us and what is that going to be? There's so many reasons to do well and to change. I'm really excited for the dream to keep going. I think nothing but good things are going to happen from here on out.
When you came back from Scotland in March you didn't have a place here full time, is that right?
I told Omar when I came back I didn't expect the job, that I was going to do my own thing. When we were in Vancouver, doing a dinner for TED and Target, I got a job offer from another group - nothing crazy, something where I could still brew. I said that I understand you want me at Moto, but I'm just wondering if that's the best thing right now. He said, ‘No man, I need you there. Don't go.' He had done so much for me throughout my entire career I wasn't going to go anywhere if he needed me to stay. That was his last call for me and that's why I'm still here. Now it's for Katie and making sure his family is taken care of.
What is your technical title here?
I oversee day to day operations. Honestly, I usually end up taking a station somewhere. I'll work the pass a lot and expedite to make sure things are looking pristine. Usually, I'm throwing down on the line, which is refreshing. I haven't done it in a while.
Did you have any difficulty the first few nights doing that?
Yes! (laughs) Mostly just being sore and tired. Obviously you gotta get used to it again. Knowing that I can still throw down after years of being out of the kitchen was fun, too. I had to learn how to be very clean again (laughs).
When you came back did you notice a change in Omar?
That's the bizarre part with Omar. He was actually...well. Like, really good.
Is this an example of someone keeping their inner turmoil completely to themselves?
Maybe. Honestly, there were zero signs. We had two of the best trips. He came out to visit me in Scotland. And after that, we went to Vancouver together. He was nothing but positivity. No signs.
Does that make it hard to reconcile?
Yeah, man. It's something that you have to wrap your head around. When you have someone that's bigger than life...and trust me working for him, he's on you. The guy who teaches you how to be a manager and a cook and has done all of these things for you...when he's not there anymore it doesn't seem real. You think he's just going to come back. It's a really weird feeling.
What is the plan going forward? Obviously, Chris Anderson was in place and this menu was planned.
That's the thing about Omar and bringing people in here. He never wanted to raise sheep, he wanted to raise wolves. He wanted to raise thinking minds. Look at Chris Jones and Ben Roche at Hampton Creek Farms. That was Omar's thing, respecting their creative process and respecting who they were as a person. The only reason he wanted to get attention and to be successful is to make sure that Moto was busy and his employees were happy. That and he wanted to have a lab one day so he could just be creative.
Right now the menu is how many courses and how much?
We have two nine-course menus. We have Hunt and Gather. Hunt is going to be more about meat ($150), Gather is going to be all vegetable courses ($135) and then you can get the chef's tour ($170) which is a combination of the two (there's also a special on Wednesdays of a five-course menu for $75 that requires a reservation). We went lower on the prices on this one. I want people to be able to come in and experience the food and be happy you did. (Reservations) are going up every week. I think people are seeing all of our new dishes and seeing the refinement. Don't get me wrong, we're still not a stoic, intense place.
What's going on with Berrista right now?
It's rocking and rolling. They're doing just fine. Azeez Yusuf is still running the ship there. Kind of doing what I'm doing here.
And Crooked Fork Brewing?
We're about six months out. We're shooting for the end of this year, maybe early next year. We've got the backing of some pretty awesome breweries in the city who are ready and willing to give us any kind of support we need. We have the support of the community and all of the investors are sticking around. (We're) doing a high level of cuisine in a brew pub setting. It's not going to be the taco thing anymore, I can tell you that much. We want to make it a destination, not only for beer, but for cuisine. There's some exciting stuff coming up for sure on that. Right now we're waiting on a couple more permits before we can start building. All of the equipment is built, made and paid for.