Parting is never easy -– especially when it’s done publicly with stinging words and bitter emotions.
Such was the case when Chef Bruno Chemel departed Mountain View’s venerable Chez TJ in December. In a battle played out in the press, Chez TJ Proprietor George Aviet expressed his displeasure that Chemel had not brought Michelin two-star fame to his establishment like his predecessor Chef Christopher Kostow, now at the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, had. During his less than two years at Chez TJ, Chemel had garnered one Michelin star.
When they couldn’t see eye to eye on that chase for the star (s), Chemel left to open his own restaurant, Baume in Palo Alto, in January. Meantime, Aviet hired Scott Nishiyama, who worked at Daniel Boulud in New York and at the French Laundry in Yountville.
Named after 18th –century French chemist, Antoine Baume, Chemel’s new restaurant is a Zen-like oasis for his brand of elegant molecular gastronomy cooking. The intimate 22-seat restaurant is done up in warm dark chocolate and burnt orange hues, and accented with artsy glass panes covered in Japanese dried seaweed. It serves only tasting menus -– five courses ($78), 10 courses ($108), and 15 courses for ($148) at dinner; and a three-course lunch for $48 offered on Monday, Thursday and Friday.
Last week when I visited, the 41-year-old Chemel proudly showed off his new freeze-drying machine that had just been delivered. It can freeze anything -– from a sauce to any vegetable -– in a flash. Inside his kitchen, you’ll find such molecular gastronomy staples as a dehydrator and canisters of liquid nitrogen, as well as more personal touches such as a framed cotton dish towel from his days working with the legendary Joel Robuchon.
I sat down to chat with Chemel about the Chez TJ incident, and the hopes he has for his new restaurant.
Q: Of course, I have to ask about Chez TJ. Are you satisfied with the way things ended?
A: I did my job for two years. I did my best. All the dirty laundry — I let him (Aviet) do. It’s out of my memory now.
Q: Your pastry chef at Chez TJ, Ryan Shelton, followed you here. Did all of the Chez TJ staff leave with you?
A: When I gave notice, the staff gave notice. I told them that they shouldn’t, but they wanted to come with me. So, most of the staff did leave with me.
Q: Is your cooking different here than at Chez TJ?