Matt McCallister‘s Facebook post this morning hinted at the news: “You know what I always love about my job,” FT33‘s chef-owner wrote, “is to have people that work for me that have great talents, get opportunities to grow outside of what I have to offer and move on to do great things for themselves. I am really excited for Brady and Josh on their endeavors.” Now FT33′s publicist, Lauren Sancton, confirms: Pastry chef and Top Chef star Joshua Valentine has left the Design District restaurant. “Yes, Josh is headed to Oklahoma,” she writes.
The Brady whom McCallister refers to in his post is his former chef de cuisine, Brady Williams. Last week FT33 announced his departure, and his replacement, Bradford Hodgkins. In February there was a major front-of-the-house change at FT33, as well: General manager Ryan Tedder left, to be replaced by Jeff Gregory.
FT33 was the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW: Restaurant of the Year for 2012.
I can’t help but think back to the way I wrapped up my review of the restaurant in December: “If there is a weak link at FT33, it is the sweet side of the menu,” I wrote.
Pastry chef Joshua Valentine, a star on this season’s Top Chef, demands a lot of the diner. His desserts may impress, as in an elaborate modernist assemblage featuring the flavors of Meyer lemon, citron, hibiscus and passion fruit. But even when they please (and often as not, they don’t), you’re faced with a daunting array of gels, crumbs, powders and foams. After McCallister’s highly orchestrated, fairly formal savory dishes, you want a dessert that makes you feel good; these do not. One night I find myself clinging to a tiny wedge of sticky toffee pudding — the only thing I can sink my teeth into — like a life raft.
There’s another problem, as well. The success of McCallister’s plates relies heavily on McCallister himself taking charge of them. One night when he’s not in the restaurant, the dishes suffer. Brussels sprouts petals accompanying a sunchoke starter are overwhelmingly spicy and sweet; a big slab of Duroc pork coppa is hit-you-over-the-head hammy and salty. Hopefully, McCallister can get the kitchen brigade to the point where he doesn’t need to be there every night.
Even so, it’s a thrilling restaurant — dynamic, exciting, unpredictable and delightful. It will be a pleasure to continue to experience it as it evolves.
I’ve contacted Valentine to try to learn what his plans in Oklahoma are, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we learn he’s going over to the savory side. As I tasted his desserts over the course of the months he cooked there, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was a savory-side chef who found himself in a pastry chef position — his desserts, particularly those involving cheese, were so un-dessert-like. Just a thought. He may well be a talented chef, but I didn’t feel he and FT33 were a good match.
I certainly look forward to seeing whom McCallister will bring in to replace Valentine, and to experience the restaurant once the new staff is in place.
— Leslie Brenner, eatsBlog.DallasNews.com