Secret Lives of Chefs

Culinary mercenaries wear many toques.

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Not all of Cleveland's culinary talent is found in restaurants. For better or worse, the local scene is teeming with accomplished chefs whose skills are off-limits to public consumption. In large part, these men and women are survivors of restaurant closures, reorganizations, or general dissatisfactions that have led them out of high-profile kitchens and into less public venues -- country clubs, catering services, culinary education programs, and/or personal-chef businesses, where they serve a more exclusive clientele in relative anonymity. Among this group, we'd count Jonathan Kish (formerly of the critically lauded but defunct Harry Corvairs), Michelle Gaw (linchpin of the former Watermark), Steve Parris (former hotshot chef at the Fulton), Donna Chriszt (whose previous ventures included Jeso, J Café, and OZ), and Brian Doyle (most recently of Jack's Steakhouse at the Cleveland Airport Marriott).

Besides personal choice, the harsh realities of the Cleveland food scene are what's keeping at least some of these talents out of public kitchens: not enough moneyed backers looking to invest in new venues and not enough diners to support them. If Doyle is any example, though, these chefs rarely have the time or inclination to stew over their fate. At 32, the self-anointed "food nerd" insists he's found life after Jack's to be sweet, with enough time to enjoy creative challenges and the pleasures of his young family.

Not that Doyle's become a slacker. Instead, he divvies up his time between teaching (at Sur La Table, Solari, and Loretta Paganini's School of Cooking), writing (for local holistic mag Balanced Living), consulting, and running his personal-chef biz, World's Fare Culinary ( ), out of his home base in Wickliffe.

Of all his gigs, Doyle says he enjoys his "interactive dinner parties," offered through World's Fare, the most. Hosted in the homes of private clients, the affairs give the chef and guests plenty of face time, as Doyle demonstrates and serves dishes from his global recipe box, ranging from vegetarian quesadillas and crispy chicken mu-shu to flax-and-hempseed-seared tuna and grilled flat-iron steak with Argentinean-style chimichurri. "It's like cooking for a group of my friends," he enthuses. "How much fun is that?"

Still, like many of his peers, Doyle allows that he wouldn't mind returning to the restaurant world if the opportunity arises. "I've still got the desire," he admits. "I may be a glutton for punishment, but that's the nature of a lot of us chefs."

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