Steve Halliday, managing partner of Ambria, weighs in on firing chef Jeremy Kittelson
Last week, I broke the news that Jeremy Kittelson, the opening chef of Ambria, had been fired during the height of Denver Restaurant week -- one of the busiest weeks of the year and an incredibly risky (some would say incredibly stupid) time to boot your executive chef off the line. When I spoke with Kittelson, he stressed -- emphatically -- that he had been axed, and that his comrade of chefs, many of whom had cooked alongside Kittelson in the past, at Restaurant Avondale, in Vail, had subsequently walked out the door, not because Kittelson coaxed them, but of their own accord. "I was fired, and my staff, all of whom have worked with me in the past, left because they wanted to," he told me.
Lori Midson Jeremy Kittelson, former exec chef of Ambria.
But while Steve Halliday, the managing partner of Ambria, where Kittelson is also a minority owner, agrees that Kittelson was terminated, he insists that the chef knew that his time at Ambria was limited.
"Four weeks ago, we had a conversation with Jeremy about the environment at Ambria, which was extremely toxic, and we told him that things needed to improve and change -- that we'd put a whole lot of press behind Jeremy Kittelson, and that things weren't going the way we'd envisioned," says Halliday. "Let's just say that, among other things, I've never been involved in a restaurant where the back of the house wouldn't talk to the front of the house -- there were too many walls up and too much tension -- and we just couldn't connect. The teamwork wasn't there," Halliday asserts.
A week later, maintains Halliday, he, Kittelson and another managing partner sat down once again to discuss Kittlelson's tenure at Ambria, and, according to Halliday, it was clear to both parties that the honeymoon was over. "Somewhere in that conversation, Jeremy made the decision to leave, and we let him know, flat out, that we were interviewing for another executive chef -- that we'd put an advertisement on Craigslist," says Halliday, adding that he and Kittelson mutually agreed that when he when he exited, his cooks -- those who had previously worked with him -- would be leaving, too. "He said that when he left, he was going to take the cooks who had followed him down the mountain from Vail, and we agreed to that," contends Halliday.