Zeb Stevenson, executive chef at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Livingston Restaurant Bar, and Proof and Provision, will be leaving his job at the end of July. After four years at Livingston, he says he’s doesn’t “have anything left to accomplish.” He goes into detail below, divulging some clues into his plans for what’s next.
Why did you decide to leave?
Sometimes you just know that it’s time. I’ve been here for four years and have watched Livingston progress to where it is—as well as design, concept, and build Proof and Provision from the ground up. I feel like I don’t have anything left to accomplish here. I need to pull away and get refocused and increase my level of concentration. In the hotel environment, I’m pulled in a lot of directions. It can be a very challenging position. I need to get back to a single restaurant. I do my best work when I can pour myself into one thing, obsess over it, and give it all my eccentricity and compulsion.
Who will be replacing you?
I don’t know who will be stepping in. The interview process is under way right now. I’m not even sure they’ve gone through the first stack of resumes. The interview process will probably take at least a month.
I’m going to do what I can to make the transition as easy as possible. [My replacement and I] will glue ourselves together for a little while, and I’ll help get him or her get acclimated to the hotel environment.
How will the menu and food be impacted by your departure?
As far as I’m concerned, all of the recipes are Livingston’s intellectual property, so they will keep using them, and I’ll give the new person a good deal of training. I don’t want to see the operation suffer from a lack of consistency. Once the dust has settled, they are free to do whatever they want (as far as menu changes and such).
I take a great deal of pride at what we do in Livingston, and it will always occupy a very special place in my heart. I’m going to do my damn best to ensure quality doesn’t suffer. But whoever comes in will be afforded the same opportunities to insert themselves and their personality in the restaurant as I had. No one will be re-concepting it, but I’m sure they’ll want to put their stamp on it and I’m OK with that.
The Proof and Provision cocktail program won’t change a bit. It’s run by Nate Shuman. Steve Bucalo, formerly of Rathbun’s and Fox Bros., spearheads what happens down there food-wise. I wrote the menu and did the training, and handed it to Steve. I oversee it, but I don’t interfere much because he does a great job with it. I would anticipate, as long as he’s there, for that to remain in his hands and stay on track. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he inserted his own influence.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a few irons in the fire. Nothing concrete. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I am excited about my future. I think I’m cooking the best food I’ve ever cooked and I’m ready for my impact to be greater.
Are you considering opening your restaurant?
Opening my own restaurant is definitely not off the table.
If you did decide to open your own restaurant, what kind of food would it serve?
I prefer to brand my style modern classic because I worked for old-school chefs who insisted I learn the old-school techniques. I believe in purity. Ingredients and flavors need to be honored for what they are and treated with respect. I’m hoping the chefs being the star will go away soon so we can focus on the ingredients being the star. So the restaurant would focus on sophisticated peasant food with a strong reading in technique.
Where might this restaurant be located, should you decide to open one?
I was driving down the Edgewood corridor recently—I’ve been a big believer in that area for some time now—and thinking how there’s a world’s worth of potential there that has gone untapped. I think about Dynamic Dish—it was several years ahead of its time. There’s a real Brooklyn sense to [the area]. Someone could open a restaurant, really keep it simple, lose the preoccupation with design and fancy light fixtures, and put their concentration on what’s on the plate. I think at some point Atlanta will be ready to support that model. It takes somebody with guts enough to do it.
So would you do it?
I’m convinced effective, successful people run toward life and take risks. Some people would say it’s stupid for me to leave the Georgian Terrace. I make a great salary and awesome benefits, but success takes risks.
Do you have specific restaurants in mind where you’d like to work if you don’t open your own?
There are a number of people I’ve been talking with and sitting down with. It wouldn’t be fair to name anyone right now. There are opportunities outside of Atlanta as well.
Would you really leave Atlanta?
Atlanta has been very good to me and I see this as my home. I live in East Point. I’ve been here for 12 years. When I moved here, I was little more than a line cook without much experience, and my time in Atlanta has given me the opportunity to go as far as I have. I wouldn’t leave Atlanta rashly. For me to consider leaving, there would have to be some very, very strong factors encouraging me to do that.