In short order, the French Room's new chef and GM are out

The cherubs are gone, and now so are the new chef and general manager.

Just 10 months after the French Room debuted a major renovation, a new menu, and a less starchy approach to service, executive chef Michael Ehlert and general manager Anthony Cournia have left the grand restaurant in Dallas' Adolphus hotel. Another executive chef has been hired and yet another new menu will be unveiled in October, an Adolphus spokeswoman said, hinting that other changes may be on the way too.

Ehlert and Cournia were key figures in the recreation of the Dallas landmark, which was closed for more than a year while it was revamped — a long buildup to what would be the city's biggest restaurant opening in 2017. The top-to-bottom changes ranged from plastering over the cherub murals on the ceiling to developing a menu of updated French classics to selecting new china, silver and furnishings. There was more than a little trepidation from Dallasites when the new version of the restaurant was revealed in October.

"Everyone in Dallas understands the gravity of reopening that restaurant," Ehlert said of the historic room. "And some of the things we were doing probably didn't strike the perfect chord with every guest we welcomed in."

Ehlert departed on July 1, after reaching "an impasse" with hotel management, but over what, exactly, he would not say. "When certain changes were suggested, we did many, many, many tastings," Ehlert said. "And those just did not yield the results that were sought. I felt like I had reached an impasse with the notion of what the next phase of the French Room should be."

Cournia left on August 6, after three years as the hotel's general manager for food and beverage operations. "It was time to move on," Cournia said. A separation agreement signed with the Adolphus prohibited him from commenting much further.

The Adolphus was nearly as guarded. Apart from naming the new chef — Anthony Dispensa — the management offered few details about the trouble, the transition or the plans for the future. Requests for interviews with Dispensa and the restaurant's general manager, Victor Rojas, were refused. In an email interview, Christine Magrann, the COO of Makeready, the company that manages the hotel, said that the new chef is currently "observing the culinary execution, building his team in the French Room's kitchen, while connecting with great farmers and ranchers to source just the right, freshest ingredients."

Ehlert's menu — a $135, seven-course tasting or an $85, three-course prix-fixe — will continue to be served until Dispensa's menu debuts in October.

Anthony Dispensa, the new executive chef of the French Room

Before the French Room, Dispensa was a chef de partie, or line cook, at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a Michelin two-star restaurant in London. "He worked as chef de partie in hot larder, cold larder, fish, garnish and meat," said Annelise Pass, the assistant to Dinner's executive chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts. "When he left he was working in the prep kitchen."

According to Dispensa's website and his resume posted on LinkedIn, he studied at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, and worked at Pignoli restaurant, the Four Seasons Hotel, and the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. He then moved to California, where he cooked at Root 246 in Solvang, was director of West Coast operations at Slapfish, a national chain of casual seafood franchises, and helped open Gordon Ramsey's restaurant in Los Angeles. He is credited on IMDB as a host of a 2015 reality television show called "Say It to My Face!"

Asked how the hotel discovered Dispensa and how he would develop the French Room's future, Magrann replied: "Our industry is all about relationships and we have found keeping in close contact with like-minded leaders is important. Our introduction to Anthony is a good example of that. It was clear to us that Chef Anthony's obsessive commitment to the highest quality execution of the best products available, was just what the French Room needed."

What will all that commitment and execution mean for us in the dining room? We'll have to wait and see. For now, Magrann would only say, "We imagine it will be a lot more exciting to dine in the French Room."

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