Michelin-starred restaurants don’t often lose their chefs, but Sixteen is doing exactly that. Chef Thomas Lents is leaving Trump Tower and returning to his home state. Lents’ last day at two-starred Sixteen will be Tuesday as he’s accepted a job at the forthcoming Foundation Hotel in downtown Detroit, according to Eater Detroit.
Lents is a Battle Creek, Mich. native and spent four years as Sixteen’s executive chef. The announcement comes two days before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. During the election, Lents declined comment about how politics affected Sixteen, as Chicago wasn’t exactly a hot bed of Trump support. Now that he’s departing, he spoke more candidly and told the Detroit Free Press that “the election has been difficult for everyone involved and frustrating to see all the great product that's been put out by this hotel suffer because of situations that are outside of our control.”
While surviving cancer, Lents reevaluated his life priorities and that motivated the move back to Michigan. Starting next month, Lents will oversee all of the Foundation’s food programs. That includes its anchor, a ground-floor restaurant. It’s a similar job to what his wife, Rebecca LaMalfa, does at the Virgin Hotel Chicago. LaMalfa, a former Top Chef contestant, took that job in May. There’s been plenty of commuting between Detroit and Chicago, but Lents hinted to the Free Press that the two could potentially settle in Michigan.
Sixteen opened in 2008 inside the Trump Tower, a spectacularly and lavishly designed space on the building’s 16th floor overlooking the Chicago River. Under Lents’ guidance, the restaurant regained its Michelin star in 2013 after Michelin dropped it in 2012 during its chef transition. Michelin elevated the restaurant to two stars in 2014, a status Sixteen has retained in the two years since.
Lents’ Chicago impact included his tenure at Everest in the South Loop. He’ll be there on Tuesday, Jan. 24 as the restaurant serves a special dinner to celebrate its 30th birthday.
It’s unknown who will replace Lents or if Sixteen will conduct a chef search. A restaurant spokeswoman wasn’t immediately reached.