Bluehour executive chef and co-owner Kenny Giambalvo, a white-jacketed presence in Portland’s sexiest dining room since it opened in September 2000, surprised his staff yesterday with his resignation. Giambalvo, whose approach is Mediterranean with a New York accent, says he will pursue his own project. The plan, according to a letter to colleagues and friends, is to pursue "a completely different dining experience, a pursuit that will require my full attention.”
Giambalvo’s Bluehour partner, prominent Portland restaurateur Bruce Carey, says he’s known for some time that Giambalvo wanted to do more. “It’s been an ongoing conversation. I’m excited for him. It’s very amicable,” says Carey. But even Carey doesn’t know what Giambalvo is thinking: “He’s being very tight-lipped what he has up his sleeve.”
Giambalvo’s last outing, Balvo, a project with Carey on NW 23rd Avenue, was short-lived, drawing criticism for an inconsistent approach and logo madness. But the restaurant didn’t capture what Giambalvo does best: a feel for everyday Italian. Giambalvo’s spaghetti and truffle-scented gnocchi at Bluehour always seemed to trump the loftier experiments. Where he goes next will certainly be watched with interest. His plan is to transition out of Bluehour over the next week or two.
Carey plans to launch a national search for a new kitchen leader, to head up what he calls a very stable kitchen crew. “We’re not in a crisis, not in a rush. We don’t want to upset or throw out what we’ve built here.”
A conservative approach makes sense, given the recent debacle at Saucebox, owned by Carey and partner Joe Rogers. New York chef Jason Neroni was given free rein to reinvent the Asian menu, and his overly wacky approach alienated longtime customers, in large part because it simply didn’t taste delicious. Neroni departed after a very short stint, and menu signatures were restored. “We learned a lot from the Saucebox experience,” says Carey. “We want a new chef to honor what we’ve been doing for 10 years—to have an understanding of our clientele before reinventing the concept completely.”
Carey says he’ll search the country for exciting talent, or maybe he’ll find it right here in Portland’s back yard. He’s confident that a stable restaurant in one of the country’s most dynamic food scenes will draw impressive candidates. “We have our sights set high. We’re going to do it right. It’s nice that we can take our time.”