"Showmanship, George. You gotta leave on a high note," was the famous nugget of wisdom Jerry Seinfeld bestowed upon his balding, bespectacled friend in one episode. The way chef John "Chainsaw" Taus disappeared from Snackbar after receiving unprecedented critical praise from the highest places, you'd think that he was following the same advice.
Not so, says Taus, who caught up with The Feast for a few beers to talk about his exit, his present day life, and future plans.
"I just needed a break, needed to stop making that pot pie," said Taus, referring to the Dutch country comfort dish that made Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan's mouth water. "Everything happened so fast. I needed to figure out my next steps. So I went to the shore."
Taus spent the next five months working at the Jersey shore for a country club, doing the morning shift from 9 A.M. until 3 P.M. and then spending the rest of his time fishing. "Oh, and I worked with Johnny Mac at The Diving Horse in Avalon during the latter part of the week for a couple extra bucks," said Taus, referring to the Pub and Kitchen frontman's seaside eatery that opened to great fanfare this summer.
Rumors swirled about Taus heading to the left coast, leaving fans of his work despondent that Cali was taking away invaluable homegrown talent. "Yeah, that was the plan, but moving just got so expensive, and I wasn't sure Napa was the place for me. I really think I have a chance to do something good here and I shouldn't throw that opportunity away."
"Right now, I'm working the line at Pub and Kitchen. Ed [Hackett] was really good to me this summer, and has given me a chance to work my own schedule while I get my plans rolling. Yeah, there's the big secret: I am opening my own place," said Taus. Not a big shock there, but some of the details were a bit surprising.
"I'm gonna do Eastern European cuisine. It's in my bloodlines and I've had success with those dishes. I am going to go heavy on the charcuterie," says Taus, whose Snackbar house-cured lomo and Farfalle with Cabbage showed major talent. "I've got a partner who is doing this with me, but that information needs to stay under wraps for a while until we are ready to go big. Right now we're scouting locations and looking for a few backers, but it's coming really soon. And there will definitely be a few surprises that I can't discuss yet."
"I've wanted to do this since I was six years old and saw 'Cocktail.' That movie inspired me to want to have my own place. My friend and I used to draw up plans for our own bars when we were little," he said, while finishing his PBR pounder. "But he went in a different direction. He's a cop in Chicago. All diesel, bustin' heads near Wrigley Field. I'm keeping the dream alive."
As for his nickname "Chainsaw," Taus said it's time to move on. "I need to be done with it. I loved that moniker when I was younger, but I really need to just get it now."
We asked what he meant by "get it."
"'Getting it' in the business is about knowing when to stop being a knucklehead and focus your efforts on doing bigger and better things" he said. "Working hard and making the right choices to succeed on a higher level. I needed to grow up. It's time to do this right."
When we mentioned that Philadelphia chefs who get critical praise are often raised to rockstar status, and asked how he plans to deal with that possibility when his new restaurant opens he replied: "Rockstar? Yeah, right. Everyone who works in this business knows it's a 9 to 5 to 9 job. I love cooking, and I am ridiculously grateful that people like what I plate. But, I'm definitely no rockstar. You should see my paycheck." [The Feast]
Collin Flatt is the Philadelphia food editor of TheFeast.com, a new lifestyle franchise being launched by NBC Philadelphia later this year.