Adam Sobel loved Las Vegas. The budding young chef loved it so much that he turned a planned yearlong stay into eight and a half years, carving a culinary niche at Sin City's top restaurants.
But he needed a change. “I wanted to move out to a city that was serious about food,” he says.
So he looked toward Washington, D.C., a city he visited a few times and describes as having an “up and coming culinary scene.”
Sobel recently started as the new executive chef of celebrity culinarian Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. He is replacing his culinary school mate and long-time friend David Varley, who is moving to San Francisco to become the head chef of Mina's restaurant empire.
The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema first reported the change of guards at the Georgetown steakhouse early January.
Varley opened the conversation with Sobel about the possible transition last year. Sobel then came to D.C., met prospective colleagues at the hotel and restaurant and liked what he experienced.
“It was a really easy decision because of the quality of the Four Seasons,” he says.
He also likes the way Mina runs his restaurants, “he does a good job at delivering consistency.”
“I want to be Michael Mina one day, and what better way than working for the man himself,” says Sobel.
He doesn’t seem to be far from that goal. Sobel grew up working in restaurants since he was 15 years old. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Sobel worked under several culinary heavyweights. Names like Guenter Seeger in Atlanta, Charlie Trotter in Chicago, Guy Savoy in Paris, and Bradley Ogden and Rick Moonen in Las Vegas fortify his resume. His previous role was executive chef at Moonen’s RM Seafood and RM Upstairs, which he helped open, in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
Sobel arrived in D.C. early January. Despite frigid weather adjustments and challenges of finding an apartment for the first few days, he was ready to work. “I can't wait to get in the kitchen on Tuesday!” he tweeted on Jan. 10. He and Varley are partnering together for a few weeks, especially during the busy Restaurant Week, until the soon-to-be Bay Area chef bids farewell to the nation's capital.
The new leader of Bourbon says the menu format will likely change, but he doesn’t have concrete ideas yet. Describing Mina's D.C. kitchen as "an open palette," he plans to implement around 12 to 13 new dishes in the second week of February and hopes they will become staples on the menu.
But one thing that won’t dramatically change at the restaurant is the style of cooking. “I cook with the seasons, just like Dave,” he says. “We have a lot of similarities because the way we were trained.”
The two chefs, both 30, have a strong work history together, including opening Bradley Ogden, which received the James Beard award under their tenure. Sobel then went to work in Paris, passing his chef de cuisine hat to Varley, who continued to garner more awards for the restaurant.
At Bourbon, the roles have reversed. The departing chef wants his friend to grow into the position. And that means, among many things, achieving that three-star Washington Post rating for the steakhouse, which fell short of a half star last year.
Sobel was Varley’s first choice as his successor. Few people, he says, can take over a place like Bourbon, but “Adam understands people, he understands the business.”