THE FOUR SEASONS has a problem — and for the financial and media titans who make the landmark restaurant a frequent part of their lunch routine, it’s sure to become a hot topic. Seven months after the death of Christian Albin, the Four Seasons’ executive chef who succumbed to cancer, the storied New York restaurant has now parted ways with new head chef Fabio Trabocchi after three months of employment.
Though details of Trabocchi’s departure weren’t available, Four Seasons owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder told SmartMoney the departure was both amicable and mutual. Trabocchi wasn’t immediately available to comment.
“We had philosophical differences that could not be resolved,” says von Bidder. He confirmed that the restaurant, which has become synonymous with the power?lunch and regularly welcomes media moguls and Wall Street titans, was already interviewing replacements. However, in the meantime, “we’re moving forward with our longtime kitchen team as we take care of our guests,” he says.
The shakeup at one of New York’s biggest establishment spots underscores a risk for restaurants — and indeed, for many types of entrepreneurial business — amid the rocky economy. Though some experts say times like these represent a chance to reinvent, for businesses whose customer base may see them as iconic, there can be downsides to charting a new course.
In the case of the Four Seasons, Trabocchi — a chef whose cooking chops have landed him at such fine-dining havens as the restaurant Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner, Va., and New York’s former SoHo darling Fiamma — represented a substantial departure from the path set by longtime chef Albin.
Although he has worked in Spain, London and the U.S., Trabocchi began his culinary career in the Marche region of Italy. Over the years, that Italian influence has shown itself repeatedly in Trabocchi’s cuisine, says John Mariani, food columnist for Esquire magazine and author of “The Four Seasons: A History of America’s Premier Restaurant,” which was co-written by von Bidder. (Mariani was interviewed about Trabocchi while he was still in the kitchen at the Four Seasons.)
While he was at Maestro, for example, Trabocchi was known for elaborate, almost structural dishes. The same goes for Fiamma, says Mariani. “Trabocchi’s food was very exciting,” he says. In true nuova cucina italiana (or, new Italian cooking) style, he offered artfully presented and occasionally outlandish dishes. And although those dishes managed to snag quite a few fans, “that style hasn’t succeeded well — even in Italy,” Mariani says.
Trabocchi isn’t considered to have attempted changing the Four Seasons into an Italian restaurant. And in a recent interview, conducted before his departure, he told SmartMoney he welcomed the opportunity to create more worldly dishes. “I can play with more ingredients,” he said. “And I like that type of freedom in this particular restaurant. It’s not only in the box of being strictly Italian; it can be more than that.”
Still, putting a chef like Trabocchi in any kind of box might not have been the best idea. For example, Trabocchi was under strict orders to be sparing with his changes. “Our clientele have certain particular dishes that we must have on the menu,” said Niccolini in an earlier interview. “The Maryland crab cake cannot change; the famous roasted duck cannot change. And there are some other dishes which we cannot change,” he said.