Laurent Gras taking time off from L2O
312 Dining Diva broke the news of his absence earlier today.
"Laurent came to me about two and a half months ago," says LEYE chairman Rich Melman. "He said: 'I think I have to leave.' I said: 'Why?' He said: 'personal stuff.'"
Melman convinced Gras not to leave but to instead take some time off. Gras initially had some concerns about how the restaurant would fare without him (he is notoriously hands-on at his restaurant, putting in long hours and being legendarily concerned with detail), but Melman reminded Gras that the restaurant ran fine when Gras was out for a month and a half with an injury. That seemed to calm him somewhat. He took his leave earlier this week, and he did it quietly—even some L2O staff members didn't hear from him.
"To be honest, I don't know if he's going to take a month off...or if he's never going to come back. I don't know," says Melman. But he stresses that his relationship with Gras is solid, and that Gras's reasons for leaving were purely personal. "My relationship with him is terrific," he asserts.
While Gras is away, his kitchen duties will be covered by a number of chefs. One of them is Francis Brennan, who has been Gras's chef de cuisine at L2O for some time. Another is Doug Psaltis, the chef formerly at New York's Country, who has been working in the Lettuce Lab on Paris Club. A third chef, Jeff Mahin, will also help cover for Gras. Mahin, who is a mere 27 years old, "is going to be a superstar," Melman says. He has a "wonderful way with sushi."
L2o opened in the summer of 2008 to rapturous reviews. It wasn't a runaway hit with diners right away, but Melman says that, lately, its numbers had been getting better.
"I hope it works out," Melman says of Gras's return. But "if it doesn't, I'm convinced we're going to take this restaurant and make it bigger and better."