Cleetus Friedman says he wasn't looking to leave Fountainhead, as his pending departure was surprising news last week, but the chef says an opportunity "fell into his lap." Friedman is heading from Ravenswood to The Loop and the mini-chain Caffè Baci. He'll take over as executive chef, in charge of Caffè Baci's catering and special events division while revamping the menus at the group's four downtown restaurants.
Caffè Baci's menus haven't changed in 22 years, pointed out Chicago magazine. Friedman is excited to use his creative talents and slowly roll out changes. Caffé Baci's Joe DiCarlo originally asked Friedman if he knew anyone good for the job, but it was only after a car ride home that Friedman figured out the ideal candidate: Himself.
"I think what Caffè Baci is doing is great, but they've been doing it for so long and they're ready for a change," Friedman said.
It's a homecoming of sorts, as Friedman worked for Caffè Baci in the 1990s before he started City Provisions. He said he wants to make the menu more seasonal, but won't yet divulge specifics.
After three years at Fountainhead, the chance to have nights and weekends off appealed to Friedman, who said he leaves the restaurant and beer bar on good terms. His last day is March 3, and he'll continue to unveil collaborative beers at the bar. But the chance to spend more time with his girlfriend, perhaps coach his twins' hockey teams, or do "fun stuff" such as catering dinners or pop-ups with other chefs made the Baci job attractive.
Friedman thanked his fans and colleagues, saying that their positive energy has been great. "It was tremendous even today," he said. "I'm trying to walk away from my computer because the support has been so fantastic."