Once again, Avner Samuel has left the building.
Five months after he returned to Dallas to take the unlikely position of executive chef at Neiman Marcus in Plano, Samuel says he was dismissed from the job on Saturday after conflicts over higher payroll and ingredient costs.
"Corporate made the decision to let me go," he says. "So I took my shoes and I left. It's really too bad; I was excited to implement more things throughout the store."
Samuel revamped the menu at Mariposa, the main restaurant inside Neiman Marcus at the Shops at Willow Bend, and it included many of the dishes he has become known for over the course of three decades — and 20 of his own restaurants — on the Dallas dining scene.
At Mariposa, he served the pre-Dean Fearing tortilla soup he created for the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and dabbed the beet-cured salmon he first served at Bistro A with shiny beads of caviar. Samuel left Dallas in 2016 to return to his native Israel, where he cooked at the Orient Hotel, before coming back to work at Neiman Marcus.
The department store's representatives confirmed Samuel's departure but offered no further comment about Samuel or the future of the restaurant.
Samuel says he added luxury ingredients such as fresh truffles, caviar and poulet rouge chicken in an attempt to make a shopper's standby spot into a serious restaurant. He also had plans to turn the dreary downstairs NM Cafe into a Middle Eastern cafe, complete with a shawarma machine, and offer cooking classes in the store.
"For the last two months there was constant nagging over costs," Samuel says. "They were freaking out over a chef coming in and dealing with all these expensive beautiful things and there were arguments over work schedules too."
More complicated preparations, such as cooking sous vide and doing all butchering in-house, required more hours in the kitchen, he says.
Still, Samuel, 62, is undaunted. He calls it a "blessing" to be back in the country and he is already planning to open another restaurant of his own in Dallas. It will be No. 21.
He's envisioning a smaller version of Aurora, his luxury French establishment that ran from 2003 to 2010 and earned a five-star review from the News, with an open kitchen, formal service and a tasting menu. "I want to open a Michelin-level restaurant and bring the first Michelin star to Dallas," Samuel says. "I think it would be nice to finish my career on top."