by Virginia B. Wood

When chef/co-owner Stewart Scruggs left Zoot to pursue new challenges late last year, co-owner Erica Brown was faced with the challenge of replacing a popular chef and maintaining the justifiably stellar reputation of her West Austin eatery. In a conversation last week, Brown explained her plans for keeping Zoot in the forefront of quality Austin dining. "We've come up with what I think is a pretty unique concept," she said proudly, "we've hired a culinary team of executive chefs. They are very talented and have great energy and enthusiasm to bring to the restaurant." The co-chefs are both former Zoot employees and long-time friends, 28-year-old Culinary Institute of America grad Marty Frannea and 25-year-old Patrick Ehemann, former executive chef at Stonewall's.

Each chef will have a carefully delineated job description -- the areas of sanitation, safety, scheduling, staff training and procurement are to be divided between the two of them. Frannea and Ehemann will meet weekly with Brown, Zoot GM Mark Patton and executive pastry chef Mary Perna to develop menus. Each man will also be given six full weeks off per year for continuing education. This year, Brown expects to arrange placement for Frannea in a top New York restaurant kitchen and Ehemann hopes to put in some training time at the Ajax Diner in Aspen, Colorado. "The next year, we may try to place them in restaurants in France or Italy," Brown reports. Both young men are understandably very enthusiastic about their new positions. "The job is divided up so that we can get the mundane things done and then both have time for planning events and developing menus," explains Marty Frannea, adding that "we have different tastes so we have friendly debates about what goes into a dish." Patrick Ehemann confirms this, stating "there's a funny kind of balance that happens between us, Marty has the classical CIA background that helps pull me back when I have a tendency to go over the top."

Zoot's co-chefs will also be participating in a new shopping program at Central Market. Special Projects Manager Sharon Gerhardt explains that Central Market is not getting into the wholesale food business but rather developing relationships with area restaurants by letting participating chefs know of special foodstuffs that have arrived fresh at the market. "We have started a Personal Shopping Service for Chefs that will act as a kind of forager for local chefs within our store," Gerhardt says. Gerhardt and her assistant Don Waggoner bring many years of restaurant experience to this project. Waggoner will invest some time in the Zoot kitchen, getting to know the chefs and their cuisine, the better to make informed suggestions about what Frannea and Ehemann might be able to use in their creations.

Starting this month, Zoot will be buying all its produce and fish retail from Central Market, with the co-chefs shopping 3-4 times a week, handpicking the freshest the market has to offer for dinner that night. "My dream day has always been one where I go to the market and shop for food, spend some time talking to my staff about what we'll cook that night and then start prepping," says Patrick Ehemann, "and with this new set-up, that's just what I do every day." The service will also create opportunities for cross-promotion. For instance, the restaurant patron who loves Chilean sea bass at Zoot on Friday night can buy it at Central Market to try at home with a recipe created by a Zoot chef. The program is still in the experimental stages and Gerhardt realizes that she will not be able to have the same intimate rapport with every local restaurant but she's determined to make the new service available to chefs who are genuinely interested. Send restaurant news, chef/menu changes, food events, or intriguing rumors to: "food-o-file," The Austin Chronicle, PO Box 49066, Austin, TX 78765.

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