This is the second dust-up at Hook this month. It follows the bitter—and very public—breakup of Tackle Box and chef Richard Bechtold a couple of weeks ago.
Hook’s controlling owner, Jonathan Umbel, attributes the departure of the tousle-haired, tattooed Seaver—who has recently palled it up with Oprah on the beach—to a difference in philosophies. Seaver, he says, has ambitions to become a public advocate and speaker, touting the necessity of “sustainability.”
The chef has three years and 11 months remaining on his five-year contract, and Umbel—“hoping to come to a good conclusion for everyone”—plans to retain him as a consultant. “Green is the message of the decade, and sustainability is a part of that,” Umbel says. “And that’s still the message of Hook. . . . We just sold our 77th different species of fish. That’s who we are.”
Seaver declined to discuss his future other than to say: “I’m committed to seeing Hook and Tackle Box succeed.”
Josh Whigham, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, will assume control of the kitchen. “The restaurant was being run by Josh anyway,” says Umbel.
As of late this morning, there was no word of the news on Seaver’s Web site, Bartonseaver.org—which describes the 29-year-old as a “Washington, D.C.-based chef, writer, speaker and environmentalist” and invites readers to “learn more about [my] upcoming projects, affiliations and accomplishments.”
Umbel, while acknowledging Seaver’s emergence as a “rock star” and calling him “my fifth son,” hints at tensions between the two: “He might have forgot that you have to pay your dues first. Bobby Flay and Emeril became celebrities because they made their restaurants successful first.”
He adds: “Hook and Tackle Box are both my concepts. The sustainability message was adapted when we signed Barton up. We weren’t really talking about Pure Hospitality, the company that started this, when things took off. We were talking about Barton. . . . Now it’s a good chance for me to reel that back in.”