Ryan Smith officially ended his tenure as executive chef at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South this past weekend, leaving Joshua Hopkins at the helm. Hopkins, who previously served as executive chef at White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails, as well as STG Trattoria and Abattoir, says Empire State South customers shouldn’t expect to see too much of a change in the food as Smith turns his focus to Staplehouse.
“At first, it will be fairly subtle. Ryan and I have a pretty similar philosophy in food,” he says. “As I get comfortable in the restaurant, little things will start to change. I will get to know restaurant better and the restaurant will get to know me.”
However, Hopkins says he’s already made a few menu changes, including the addition of sweetbreads, and is planning a vegetarian version of the restaurant’s popular “superfood” lunch offering.
“Ryan and I were talking about making some of the lunches a little lighter because there are people in the building who eat here two to three times a week and maybe they don’t want to eat so heavy all of the time,” he says.
He adds that before Smith left, the pair tossed around some ideas for fall, including chocolate vinegar for venison, based off of Smith’s work with fermentation. Beyond that, Hopkins is waiting to see how the fall crops fare, given the rainy summer.
So is this the end of the Hopkins-Smith collaboration? Hopkins says no.
“Ryan and I really enjoy working together. Ryan’s going to have a good bit of time off, and he’ll have lots of offers and dinners, but he’ll come back to Empire and play around when he’s bored. He’s got an open-door policy and can come back any time he wants to. I know for a fact we’ll do some stuff together.”