Last night I attended a first: the changing of the guard at Max’s Harvest. I don’t recall ever going to a party at a restaurant celebrating the exit of one chef and the welcome of his successor—these things are usually done very, very quietly and who knows what ill feelings are harbored.
But last night was different because Dennis Max and his crew elected to make this change with warm wishes and thanks all around in a gathering that felt more like family than business. But don’t kid yourself: it’s good business to take the high road these days and Dennis Max knows that. Oh sure, he admits to a 1960s Berkeley-based summer of love background that still informs his value system, but I think it’s also pretty savvy for him to acknowledge the departure of rock star Chef Eric Baker (left), who’s starting his own restaurant, and welcome incoming Miami chef rock star Blair Wilson (right) at the same moment.
Wilson will assume the mantle of executive chef starting in June. He is joining Max’s Harvest from The Social Club on Miami Beach, where he served as executive chef. By all accounts—and based on the dishes we tasted last night, this self-professed “southern boy at heart” means business, like a seven-hour-in-the-making lamb rib, a pork shoulder with peach frou frou that took me back to my mom’s cooking, a delicate steak tartare, a feathery light fried oyster, seared tuna with watermelon—a whole battery of small treats that promise brilliant things to come.
Wilson’s background begins in Alexandria, VA where he was born, and started his career at Rustico Restaurant and Jackson 20, both in Old Town, followed by stints at the Charleston Place Hotel in South Carolina, Colorado’s Broadmoor Hotel and at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans.
Baker is off to start his own place in the hot Dixie Highway corridor around Southern Boulevard, and plans to open in the December-January time frame.
And Dennis Max? He saluted both of them.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve worked with such great people who have learned from us and then been able to graduate to another level and follow their dreams.”
That’s how it’s done, folks.