Russo back to Heartland
The special guest star of this week's installment of Chef Musical Chairs is Lenny Russo, executive chef at the Guthrie theater's restaurants, Cue and Level 5 (818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis). He resigned Monday.
"I felt I completed the goals I set out for myself [at the Guthrie]," said Russo. "It's time for me to go back to Heartland [his St. Paul restaurant], which I've missed since the day I've left.
"The menu we have in place right now at Cue is the best we've done since we opened, so it seemed like a good time to exit," Russo said. He wants to reimmerse himself in several projects he's had to put on hold since joining the Guthrie a year ago. That includes producing a cookbook and creating a nonprofit distribution system for local farms.
Russo founded Heartland (1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul) with his spouse, Mega Hoehn, in 2002, with an emphasis on local ingredients. His long and distinguished résumé includes stints at the helm of W.A. Frost & Co. and the former Loring Cafe and Faegre's.
His Guthrie tenure, which mirrored Heartland's Midwestern mindset but on a much more massive scale, launched the theater's dining and catering operations, all managed by Bon Appetit, the California-based food-and-drink behemoth.
"I'm sincerely grateful to Bon Appetit and to the Guthrie for giving me the platform to pursue issues that mattered to me, including agricultural sustainability and the preservation of the small family farm way-of-life," Russo said. "I could have never done that, to that magnitude, at Heartland."
Business at the Guthrie has been good, Russo noted. "We're far busier than most restaurants," he said. "On Valentine's Day alone we fed 350 people. That's a testament to the skill and dedication of the incredible staff."
Heartland chef du cuisine Robert Moore will remain at the restaurant. Russo's replacement at the Guthrie has not been announced.
"Fortunately," said Russo, "there are plenty of talented, high-profile chefs out there right now who are out of work."
Supatra's Thai Cuisine is saying goodbye to its Lowertown location (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul) on Saturday. Owners Supatra and Randy Johnson are negotiating a relocation to a W. 7th Street address, hoping for an April move.