Michelin director Jean-Luc Naret was able to talk by phone Tuesday with L2O chef Laurent Gras, now a three Michelin star chef, but Gras' (former?) boss wasn't so lucky.
"I called Laurent about an hour and a half ago and left a message on his answering machine, on his cell phone," said Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You honcho.
About three months ago, Gras told Melman he wanted out for personal reasons. Melman told him to take some time and think through things, and early this month, Gras left.
"I really, truly don't know [if Gras will return]," Melman said. "My feeling is we're going forward. I love the team we have in place. And we've already made many changes, so hey, if he comes back, I'm thrilled and if he doesn't, I'm going forward."
That team includes chef de cuisine Francis Brennan; Doug Psaltis, who trained under Alain Ducasse, and Jeff Mahin.
Those changes include -- well, Melman says it best:
"There were souffles I didn't love. I thought some of the sushi, the sashimi should be more understandable. Some of the sauce weren't punchy enough.
"There was a chicken dish that I absolutely loved with a foie gras sauce and you had the option of truffles with it, and Laurent would make it for me at Christmas and I'd say, You've gotta put this on the menu. And he'd laugh and wouldn't do it. . . We put it on the menu and it's been selling like crazy.
"There is a rosemary croissant, a little, tiny one that was the best roll. People would always comment to me about it. And Laurent liked changing it all the time, and we'd get all these complaints from people. So I put the croissant back. . . There's been many, many little things like that. But Laurent set the standard for what that restaurant is, was and will be, and in that respect, I won't change it."
Melman says he and Gras talked about Michelin's arrival in Chicago; Gras was certain he wouldn't get three stars. "He always thought one or two," Melman said.
Melman is pleased with all the stars -- the three for L2O, and one each for Everest and Tru -- but like any driven restaurateur or chef, it's not enough. "There's never a restaurant that I'm not working on. There is no such thing as a perfect restaurant, one that can't be better," he said.
Whether L2O gets better with or without Gras remains to be seen; Melman says he's giving Gras a "couple months" to figure it out. Gras is expected to be at tomorrow's reception in Chicago for the Michelin guide; Melman has other obligations.
"There's a good chance he won't come back," Melman said. "Let me put it this way -- it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't."