The turmoil in Dallas' top kitchens continued this week, with Nilton "Junior" Borges becoming the latest high-profile chef to leave his position.
Borges had been tending the stoves at Up on Knox while preparing to open his own highly anticipated restaurant with Stephan Courseau, who also owns Up on Knox and Le Bilbouquet. On Tuesday, those plans and the partnership with Courseau came to an end.
"Were supposed to have a conversation about how things are progressing on the new place," Borges said. "But Stephan felt it was better to go separate ways. It wasn't a surprise; I had my own reservations about our relationship as well. It was not a good fit."
The new restaurant — which was to be located on Travis Street, next door to Le Bilboquet — was among the most anticipated in Dallas. It would have been Borges' first solo venture after a career that included earning a rare five-star review from Leslie Brenner in 2016 as the opening chef at Uchi Dallas, followed by becoming the executive chef at the Joule hotel downtown and overseeing all of its dining establishments, including Mirador.
Borges left the Joule in March to begin the partnership with Courseau and create his new restaurant. A June press release generated edge-of-the-seat coverage: The menu was to showcase local ingredients and the Brazil-born chef's roots with dishes that focused on meat, and there would also be a retail component.
Up until Tuesday, Borges said he was sourcing ingredients and developing recipes, such as a refined version of moqueca, the Brazilian seafood stew, using coconut milk, shrimp, fish and aromatic herbs. Demolition on the new space had been completed, Borges said, architectural plans were in place and construction was set to begin. "All was in place to start rolling," he said. "But the relationship wasn't there."
Courseau offered few additional details. "At some point we realized we wanted to go on different paths," he said. "We are on good terms. It was an amicable separation."
As for Up on Knox, three weeks ago Courseau handed the reins to Momo Sow, the executive chef of Le Bilboquet. Borges said that during his six months there, he created an almost entirely new, ingredient-focused menu with dishes such as salmon tartare with smoked trout roe and dill crème fraiche, and that Courseau decided to take Up on Knox "in a more Frenchy direction."
Courseau agreed about the timeline, but little else. "The menu at Up on Knox has always been a collaboration of many people, a few things from Junior, a few from the team that started the restaurant [Melody Bishop and Dennis Kelley], a few from the team now," he said. "We've had a good response in the weeks since we started."
A spokeswoman for Courseau said construction on the new restaurant was continuing as planned, and that an annoucement about what it will be and who will be running it wil come within weeks.
On Dallas' volatile dining scene, there seems to be a lot of possibilities. In the past few month, some of Dallas' highest flying chefs have left their kitchens, including Anastacia Quiñones (formerly of Cedars Socíal), Michael Ehlert (formerly the French Room), and as of this week, Graham Dodds (formerly overseeing the restaurants at the Statler Hotel).