By Deveron Timberlake
Old Salt, Shaken
Q:What's the difference between God and Jimmy Sneed?
A: God doesn't think he's Jimmy.
Jimmy Sneed, the chef, tells this joke and howls. He's unapologetically alpha — always preferring to be the authority instead of working for one. Now that Sneed has largely left Richmond for the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., he's raining whoop-ass lectures on young kitchen wannabes ("and you wouldn't believe how cocky they are!") looking to work for him out there. Sneed-fearing they'd better be. (To get a taste, see his column titled Dumb Clucks at www.coffeetalk.com.)
The gig is a new 95-seat restaurant called Sugar Toad, inside the luxury Hotel Arista — 144 rooms, a spa, boutiques and other diversions, opening in early September. Sneed says Sugar Toad will be a restaurant that just happens to have a hotel attached — one that managed to pay him a boatload of money to detach, even briefly, from his beloved granddaughter, Ella, and Carena's Jamaican Grille in South Richmond, which his daughter Jenna now runs.
Sneed pulled a few favorite image-makers into the Naperville project — Adam Steely to design an all-American wine list; Helen Reed to refine the plush-meets-glass interior; Happy the Artist to paint a mural at the back of the room; and a new Chicago neon guy to punch it up with ruby strips of vintage glass. The menu also hits familiar notes — Edwards smoked bacon, Surry sausage, Virginia Serrano ham, soft-shells.
Fresh flavors, same old mantra: "It's so simple. Take a great product, season it right and cook it right," he says. "I'm not gonna drizzle it or foam it. I always tell other chefs it's about product, passion and salt." And they're listening: His consulting projects have probably touched more palates than his work with Julia Child did a decade ago.
This kind of cooking combined with his heat-seeking insistence made him famous, or infamous — and he's taken a few hits. "But I feel real good about what I've learned about this industry," he says, particularly after turning around business at Tristan in Charleston, and an explosive stint at Wynn Las Vegas that ended with an eleventh-hour slap down.
Not to worry: The restaurant consultant on that megabucks project, Richard Cotter, didn't see the fiasco as a negative — he recruited hard to get Sneed to play for a less flamboyant and mostly hands-off new owner, John Calamos, on the Naperville project. www.hotelarista.com, www.sugartoad.com
The Grapevine, once very busy in the Village Shopping Center, has closed somewhat abruptly. No details yet.
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar: Selected wines by the bottle and glass, Aug. 20, 5-10 p.m.; proceeds benefit Richmond Court Appointed Special Advocates (RCASA). Sip at the bar or make dinner reservations, 272-7755. Select bottles for take-home sales also benefit RCASA. Cash and check only for this event. 9200 Stony Point Parkway in Stony Point Fashion Park.
The Celebrity Room reopened July 25 without the involvement of co-owner Alan Serafim. Majority owner Jim Face writes to Style:
"I am the managing member of the Celebrity Room Restaurant and represent the majority ownership. I closed the restaurant on July 8, not because of disputes among the members, but because the restaurant was not being managed properly.
"I reopened on July 25, removing Alan Serafim as the manager where he will not have any involvement in any capacity whatsoever, as long as the current managing members have majority ownership. The managing members and the current staff will manage the restaurant. The ingredients and recipes are the same as they were 40 years ago.
"The Celebrity Room will survive if we have the support of our loyal customers. We maintain very high food quality standards, and we deliver the best service possible to each and every customer. I have hired a very capable staff that is dedicated to delivering the best food and service. Finally, I own the name, the recipes, and the franchise rights and nobody can expand or open a Celebrity Room Restaurant without my approval."
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