higher hopes

Turning Jeffrey's around, procuring lost Texas Monthly star

Turning Jeffrey's around, procuring lost Texas Monthly star

By now you've heard the news that popular Austin chef Deegan McClung is packing up and leaving the Capital City for the next chapter of his culinary career in the Big Apple. And while we certainly will miss him (and wish him well!), this leaves an opportunity for his former restaurant home Jeffrey's, the famed fine dining Clarksville establishment that rose to national greatness under such dynamic chefs as David Garrido and Alma Alcocer-Thomas.

McClung's tenure at Jeffrey's was highly anticipated when he started in early 2009. After all he'd worked in such great kitchens as Uchi, Wink, Cissi's Market and a few choice restaurants in New Orleans. And now he has his sites set on New York.

But before any aspiring chefs dust off their resumes and knife collection and clamor to the doors of Jeffrey's, you should know the competition will be fierce. And the bench is already being warmed by the youthful 24-year-old hands of McClung's sous chef, Bridget Bishop.

This rather young, tenacious, chef protege is already stretching her culinary creativity and implementing small tweaks and full-scale changes to the Jeffrey's menu in an effort to nab that Executive Chef spot. While Jeffrey's owner Ron Weiss is opening the search to chefs outside of Texas, he thinks Bishop is showing a lot of promise.

 Texas Monthly removed the star from Jeffreys—we have a three-star system—in April 2009, in an abundance of caution when Deegan McClung became chef. He was new and relatively untested. We had no idea whether he could handle the kitchen of a major restaurant. We never gave the star back.

"We're really excited about what Bridget has been able to do within the time we've had her here," says Weiss. "She's extremely capable and steady. The staff has really gotten behind her to support her and she's helping us take the menu in a new lighter, brighter and simpler menu."

Probably a good idea, considering the brunt of dissatisfaction with Jeffrey's in the past two years regarding the menu has included such adjectives as: heavy, complex, overwhelming, unfocused, poorly timed and inconsistent. In fact, the once super star of the Austin dining scene lost it coveted star classification from Texas Monthly when McClung first took the helm.

"Texas Monthly removed the star from Jeffrey's—we have a three-star system—in April 2009, in an abundance of caution when Deegan McClung became chef," says Texas Monthly Executive Editor Pat Sharpe.

"He was new and relatively untested. We had no idea whether he could handle the kitchen of a major restaurant. We never gave the star back. Yes, there were flashes of excellence and creativity, but the quality was inconsistent. In January 2011, we took Jeffrey's out of our dining guide. That was the first time it had not been in since March 1976, shortly after it opened."

Which is why the empty executive chef spot at Jeffrey's is really a great opportunity for the restaurant to regain its once untouchable reputation. (And why the stakes are high for the next executive chef who takes over the kitchen.)

"Deegan is really talented and I know he's got a bright future ahead and we certainly with him the best,"says Weiss. "But anytime there's a new opportunity to move ahead in a different direction, you have to really analyze where you want things to go and how your customers are going to receive it and then implement it well."

Bishop's shape up of the menu includes the makeover of a mild white fish with crispy potato crust and beurre blanc into a light and refreshing pan-seared redfish in a tomato water with lemon grass, baby bok choy and pea shoots showcasing bright color and wonderful seasonality.

"It's been fantastically received by our customers in the past couple of weeks," says Weiss.

As Weiss takes the next couple of months to fine tune the kitchen, food cost and purchasing as well as vet out the best candidate for executive chef (which may just be Bishop), we're hoping this new chapter in the Jeffrey's story will be fantastically received as well.