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John Tesar Stepping In at Oak as Brian Zenner Exits Stage Left (UPDATED)

Say what?


See bottom of post for update.

Unexpected chef shuffles at swanky Design District restaurant Oak: Executive chef Brian Zenner has left the building and none other than John Tesar is stepping in. SideDish first reported the news late Wednesday night after confirming news of Zenner's departure; it was soon followed by a late-night report from critic Leslie Brenner that quotes a PR rep for Oak as saying Tesar would take the reins as executive chef.

Fret not, Knife fans; Tesar will still be running his much-lauded modern steakhouse, apparently splitting his time between the two as he did when Spoon was still open. As for the food at Oak, Brenner quotes Oak co-owner Richard Ellman in describing it as "Spoon meets the Mansion, with a hefty dose of approachability."

Given the history between the two, it should come as no surprise that Tesar doesn't exactly agree with Brenner's version of events. Reached for comment this morning, the chef disputes the notion that he's joining Oak as "executive chef," saying that it's more like he's stepping in at Oak as a favor to Ellman. (According to Tesar, Ellman is a partner in Fork, Tesar's upcoming Italian concept, which would certainly shed some light on what otherwise seems like a rather surprising move.) He says he'll eventually hire a new chef de cuisine to take the reins at Oak, and takes issue with Brenner calling him "peripatetic" — a 12th-grade word for someone who moves around a lot — arguing that he's not a job-hopping line cook but a restaurant owner.

According to Brenner, Zenner (along with his former Belly & Trumpet sous chef, Rudy Mendoza) is signing on with the team behind upcoming Chesterfield replacement The Mitchell and On Premise, the "lounge-slash-restaurant" going into the old Lemongrass space in Deep Ellum.

Last summer D's Nancy Nichols posed the question "Why can't Apheleia Restaurant Group keep an executive chef?," noting that Zenner was the third executive chef for Oak (following the hasty departures of Jason Maddy and Richard Gras), which has only been open since December 2011.

Stay tuned for the press releases inevitably to come from both sides.

POST UPDATE: Tesar's PR representation issued a press release Friday afternoon to clarify the situation. Tesar is not joining Oak as an "executive chef" as previously reported by Leslie Brenner, but rather, a chef partner who will "[oversee] the kitchen while leading and training the culinary team." The release quotes Oak co-owner Richard Ellman as saying, "We are confident that this partnership will bring to Oak the experience we have always wanted to offer." (Is that a thinly veiled jab at previous Oak chefs?) The release concludes with Tesar saying, "There is really no more detail to share right now, so we're just going to put our heads down and get back to the work at hand. This is business, not a soap opera." Could've fooled us.


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