We started hearing rumors three days ago that Ricardo Zarate had been ousted from the three restaurants where he serves as executive chef/owner: Picca, Mo Chica and Paiche. After contacting some of the interested parties and being told the whispers were just "rumor-mongering" we thought maybe a small dispute had been blown out of proportion. But then yesterday Eater reported on the rumors and the L.A. Times followed suit.
So what's really going on? Zarate did not respond to several messages seeking comment. But we spoke to Bill Chait, the restaurateur who shares ownership in Picca, as well as numerous other restaurants in L.A. He implied that the situation was much more complicated than it seems. "It's incredibly unsavory to be having this conversation in public," Chait said. But, he added, there is no way for the restaurants to continue without some level of involvement from Zarate.
"Ricardo is a principal owner in all of these businesses," Chait said, "so he has to be a part of them in some respect going forward." While Chait has no involvement in Mo Chica or Paiche, he says that all three venues share investors, and that much of the dispute, which is now a legal matter, has to do with Zarate's presence (or lack thereof) at the restaurants.
Chait made it clear that tension has been growing for a long time in regards to Zarate's day-to-day involvement in the restaurants. "The reason the model works is that I partner with working chefs," Chait said, referring to his small empire of incredibly successful restaurants that includes Republique and Bestia. "I do this because I have working partners who are very dynamic. They all work incredibly hard. They are there cooking. Ricardo is an incredibly talented chef and I would love for him to be there [at Picca] actually cooking. But he's really been more interested in building his brand."
Chait also expressed dismay at the reports in the media speculating that Picca might close or change concepts, which hurts the people currently working in the restaurant. "All of a sudden you have 75 people wondering if they're out of a job. It's so irresponsible. Picca is not closing, and it's not changing concept. We will continue to cook Ricardo's menu."
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Chait says he hopes that Zarate can come to an agreement with his investors, a likelihood that Chait thinks is still very possible. "This is his issue to resolve. But he has to grow up to achieve all that he wants to achieve. These are his restaurants. There is no replacement for Ricardo."
"These are all very successful restaurants," Chait said. "Ricardo is a very uniquely talented guy. He will just have to fix this and we'll all shake hands and move on."