Big changes coming to Bacchanalia; Joe Schafer appointed executive chef

David Carson transitions to executive chef of operations for Star Provisions
David Carson and Joe Schafer
David Carson and Joe Schafer

Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Little Bacch‘s executive chef Joe Schafer is now doing double duty as the head honcho at the upstairs Bacchanalia. Bacchanalia’s former executive chef, David Carson, has transitioned into the executive chef of operations at Star Provisions. We spoke to Schafer about the switch and what changes we can expect in Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s flagship restaurant. 

Why all the chef shuffles? Daniel Chance was executive chef at Star Provisions He was super capable and could run it by himself. With him exiting to take on Dub’s at Ponce City, and the holidays coming up, there was an obvious need for an executive chef [at Star Provisions], so we moved Andy [Carson] over.

How’s it going so far? It’s going really well. Jonathan Kallini is chef de cuisine in Bacchanalia. Brian Wolfe is sous chef in Little Bacch. Jonathan is really talented. A lot of the menu is already his food. I’ll apply my influence where it comes up and is necessary, but I’m running two operations so I need him to take the menu for the most part, and I’ll jump in where I see fit.

What’s the plan? It’s more about bringing the two restaurants together and seeing them work seamlessly. Now I can see where cross-utilization can come in and make it more organized. That’s been the goal so far. Fortunately I can take the time to do that.

What are you doing to make the two restaurants work more seamlessly?  There’s only a handful of Bacchanalia cooks who have worked at Little Bacch. I’m trying to rotate the guys and girls through both so everyone has a good idea what the similarities and differences are. Little Bacch has three people doing upwards of 70 covers. It’s more rustic with simple plating and is more direct in its classic technique. We try to make it easier during service by doing a lot of prep. Bacchanalia is the big multi-course tasting with 100 covers and 500 plates. A lot more modern techniques are implored. It involves a lot of super-dialed-in attention to detail, plating, garnishing, and things like that. I want to get everyone integrated on both sides. For example, we serve beef tartare at both. The guy cutting tar tare upstairs can go downstairs and ask if they need it cut as well.

How will you put your spin on Bacchanalia? Johnny is definitely classically trained to some degree, but he uses a lot of modern techniques. I do not. I’m an old-school cook. Everywhere I’ve worked is very direct, like ‘this meat is cooked this way with this seasoning and served on this plate.’ I’m going to get some more throwback traditional items, more in the Restaurant Daniel sense, not the rustic Little Bacch sense.

This is your first time running two restaurants at once.
Fortunately they’re in the same building, but it’s definitely challenging. We’ve sent some people to help at Dub’s. In doing so, we’ve been a little short-staffed. A lot of times it’s just two people down in Little Bacch, but Brian has been holding it down really well. I try to do some sort of prep on the front end for both restaurants. Bacchanalia is a very demanding restaurant and rightfully so.

Bacchanalia has two pushes of business. Little Bacch has a later push, and it’s just one. Johnny will expedite the second push at Bacchanalia, while I jump on the line at Little Bacch and then go back upstairs and check it. It’s a lot of running around, but it’s fun.

Being so busy, do you still get to cook as much as you like? I cooked a lot more when it was just Little Bacch Now the opportunity for me to be on the line is less, however I’m still very involved. I get my fix in.

Anything else we should know? There was a time when Bacchanalia was referred to as the French Laundry of the South. I think that’s something we all want. I don’t even care if anyone says it out loud, I just want to feel like we’re there. It’s going to be hard, but that’s the goal—get back to that super classic, very elite, fine-dining room with impeccable service and super clean, bright, tasty food that sometimes is a little modern and a lot of the time reminds you of something you’ve had in the past.