Changes at MessHall: How Important Is An Executive Chef, Really?

Outgoing MessHall chef Keith Silverton
Outgoing MessHall chef Keith Silverton
Anne Fishbein

Late last Friday, LA Magazine reported that MessHall's opening chef, Keith Silverton, was leaving the restaurant, to be replaced by Nick Erven. The timing of the change was a tad inconvenient, seeing as the reviews had only just come out, both here at LA Weekly and in the Los Angeles Times.

When reached by phone, MessHall's owner Rob Serritella explained that Silverton was brought on as a consultant rather than a chef who they expected to stick around. As the LA Magazine story implies, that seems a little odd, given that he was very much touted as an executive chef in the press materials. But Serritella says they are still good friends, and in fact he expects to work with Silverton again in the future. He believes Silverton will be doing other consulting work as well as private chef and catering work rather than going to another restaurant. When asked if we could expect the food to change much, Serritella said, "MessHall has always been about MessHall rather than just one person," implying that the concept of the place is more important than the chef in charge.

This got me thinking -- in this era of chef celebrity and chef-driven restaurants, is it possible to have a serious restaurant with a personality that is wholly independent from the head of the kitchen? At MessHall, it's obvious that the summer camp theme rules, but it would be possible to serve the exact same menu and do it very poorly. While I understood the concept-heavy nature of the restaurant, the quality of cooking was what impressed me, and I assumed the responsible party was Silverton and his crew (of which incoming chef Nick Erven was part).

It's easy for owners to say that their restaurants are about more than just one person, and of course that's true. But it's also common for a good concept to start out strong then lapse into mediocrity, especially with an early change in the kitchen. I'm not saying this will be the case at MessHall, but it will be worth keeping an eye on.

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