Spring brings new chefs at Salt, B&O Brasserie and B, a Bolton Hill Bistro

After seven years running his own kitchen at Salt, his Upper Fells Point restaurant that put duck-fat fries, Wagyu sliders and changing menus on Baltimore's food map, Jason Ambrose is stepping aside.

Ambrose is turning over Salt's day-to-day kitchen operations to Brian Lavin, who joined the Salt team in 2010 and has been the restaurant's sous-chef for about a year and a half, according to Ambrose.

"I made a decision I was going to take a step out," said Ambrose. "Brian came to me as a line cook with a tremendous interest in food. He leans toward clean Italian type of food, but he's embraced the Salt attitude. It's a nice balance."

Ambrose said the 25-year-old Lavin, a native of Elkridge, is handling the job well. "He's been doing it for a few months," Ambrose said. "We discuss, collaborate. But with the exception of the Salt staples, the [new] menu is his."

For the time being, Ambrose has been working a night or two on the line, but Salt customers have recently started seeing him out front, hosting and manning the phones.

And what's next for Ambrose?

"I'm going to take the rest of the year and do a handful of stages outside of Maryland," he said. "Take some time to figure out what I'm going to do next."

"Stages," which Ambrose pronounced "stazh-is," is a culinary-world term. Basically, "staging" is working for free in another chef's kitchen.

"Also," he said. "I'm going to spend a little bit more time with my wife."

Salt is at 2127 E Pratt St. For information call 410-276-5480 or go to salttavern.com.

A new engineer Bradley Willits is the new executive chef at B&O American Brasserie (2 N. Charles St., 443-692-6172, bandorestaurant.com) in the Hotel Monaco. Willits is the third executive chef at the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants property, which opened in 2009.

A Kimpton chef tends to stay a Kimpton chef.

Willits was chef de cuisine at Kimpton's Cobalt Restaurant and Lounge in Vero Beach, Fla., before coming to B&O to work as chef de cuisine under Thomas Dunklin, who is now with Kimpton in Portland, Ore.

But Willits also has a connection to B&O's first executive chef, E. Michael Reidt, now executive chef at Kimpton's Epic Hotel in Miami. Willits and Reidt got to know each other through visits to each other's South Florida properties. Willits said he considers Reidt a mentor.

"It was Reidt who inspired me to come to Baltimore," said Willits. A chef devoted to local cuisine, Willits needed some convincing about the bounty of Baltimore's region. Reidt convinced him.

"I think the world of him. He's a really, really talented guy," said Reidt, who credits Willits, in turn, with introducing him to purveyors and suppliers in South Florida when he moved there from Baltimore.

Only 31, Willits has more than 20 years of kitchen experience and education, having started his restaurant career at his father's cafe in Sarasota, Fla. His formative kitchen work was at Tango, a Vero Beach, Fla., restaurant, where he trained under Ben Tench.

Then, like many young chefs do, Willits hit the road, working in the kitchens of James Beard Award-winning chefs Jason Wilson (Crush, Seattle), Mike Lata (Fig, Charleston, S.C.) and Sean Brock (McCrady's, Charleston, S.C.)

Willits has now produced his first set of menus for B&O. "I'm trying to grab what Baltimore is all about," Willits said, "and combine it with how I cook, which is Southern. But I learned to cook from my grandfather, who is Italian. I want to incorporate all of that."

New at B George Allen is the new chef at B, a Bolton Hill Bistro (1501 Bolton St., 410-383-8600, b-bistro.com) A 2001 graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Allen worked as sous chef at Crush in Belvedere Square and Sabor in Timonium. B will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month.


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