During my magnetic, multi-sensory dinner on Saturday at Minibar (where the curried popcorn in liquid nitrogen allows you to snort like a bull in a Bugs Bunny cartoon), one of the food runners for the evening was not exactly what he seemed. Only when the man with the closely cropped beard had left the room did I learn his true identity:
Johnny Spero, the chef behind the short-lived Suna on Capitol Hill.
Not long after the modernist Suna had faded to black — and to memories of meals of dramatically different quality — Spero told me that he was still "trying to figure out my next move." Since I was writing about Erik Bruner-Yang at the time of our mid-March interview, I asked Spero if he had plans to collaborate with his friend from Toki Underground.
"We always thought we wanted to do something together," Spero said. "It’s been discussed, but there are no plans."
By April 30, Spero's future had become clearer: That's when ThinkFoodGroup hired him as executive sous at Minibar, where he'll be working hand-in-glove with Ruben Garcia and Joe Raffa, the restaurant group's research and development director and executive chef respectively. It's a logical choice for both sides. Spero's mind clearly leans toward the modern, as he repeatedly demonstrated at Suna (and by staging at Noma, the forward-thinking fantasia of Nordic cooking in Copenhagen).
All ThinkFoodGroup chefs go through 90 days of training, a PR spokeswoman said, and Spero is in the thick of his. New hires, she adds, do not speak to the press. Meanwhile, Jose Andres, Spero's new boss, was in China and unavailable for comment.
Before Spero got the message that he couldn't speak to me, I did manage to squeeze one comment from him, about his reluctance to introduce himself while I was dining at Minibar. His response was pitch-perfect for someone working in this refined outpost of modernist cooking:
"I didn't want to be rude," he told me. "I didn't want to interrupt."