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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Joe Truex to become new chef at Watershed

Yesterday John Kessler reported that Mihoko Obunai-Truex would be taking over full responsibility for the kitchen at Repast because her husband and co-chef Joe Truex was moving on to another Atlanta-based project. Today, we found out what that project is: Truex is taking over as chef at Watershed.

I spoke to Tuex this morning about his new venture, and what this means for both Watershed and Repast. It’s an interesting move; Truex grew up in Louisiana but has never been known for his Southern cooking at Repast. “As a kid growing up in the South, all I wanted to do was leave,” he said. “I think that I proved I can do that professionally. I think I know what makes Watershed so appealing, that feeling of Southern home. It’ll be interesting to get back to that.”

Truex admits though, that Watershed has some room for change. “We want to air it out, get a little freshness in here.”

“The integrity, sincerity, honesty and freshness will all stay,” he said. “But I think we can be more ingredient driven. And I think we can have creativity without being over-cheffified.”

I asked if we could look forward to more Louisiana influence on the menu. “You’ll see some Louisiana I’m sure,” he said. “But the amazing thing about the South is the cultural diversity, from Louisiana to North Carolina to coastal Southern. Southern food doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed, there’s so much there to work with.”

At Repast, Truex has built one of the city’s best wine lists, and he promises to be as involved with the wine program at Watershed as he was at his own restaurants.  “I think French wine and Southern food go together really well,” he said.

As far as Repast goes, Truex says that changes can be expected there as well. “Mihoko is a talented chef, she wants a stage to perform on as well,” he said. “We have this great reputation there, but we’ve fallen into the destination restaurant trap. We want people to think, ‘we’re going to a show at the Earl, let’s just stop by Repast and grab some small plates and a glass of wine.’ We need to make it a more affordable format, so that’s what she’s trying to do.”

Asked if it would be a strange thing to go from being an owner to a partner, Truex admitted that the change would have its challenges. “At Repast, I’m used to it being my way or the highway. But at the same time it’ll be really nice to have someone else to deal with certain aspects of running a restaurant. It’ll be amazing to just be able to focus on the food.”

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