Seven months after parting ways with his first-ever executive chef, Todd Gray has found a replacement within the ranks of his long-running restaurant near the White House.  Former sous chef Colin McClimans now leads the day-to-day operations of Equinox as chef de cuisine.

Former sous chef Colin McClimans now leads the day-to-day operations of Equinox as chef de cuisine. (Courtesy Equinox restaurant)

“Todd Gray’s style is back in place,” Gray announced this week.

A bit of background: The veteran restaurateur relinquished his executive chef title to Karen Nicolas last year as he focused on other projects, including a cookbook written with his wife, Ellen Kassoff Gray. While Nicolas was named a 2012 Food & Wine best chef, her work at Equinox received a mixed review from The Washington Post. Gray and Nicolas parted ways over the 2012 Christmas holidays, citing culinary and management differences. At the time, Gray predicted he would tap someone from within his fold.

And so he did. McClimans, 24, is a Washington native with a business degree from Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., but without any formal culinary training. As he puts it, he had “passion enough to study on my own” in good restaurants after he wrapped up college. McClimans was a line cook at the Gallery Restaurant in the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in Charlotte, N.C., when Gray hired him to cook at Equinox, originally as chef de partie, last year.

One of the things McClimans has done during his tenure is gather Gray’s menus  -- dating to Equinox’s launch in 1999 -- and organize them in binders, which he now uses for inspiration. With his boss’s blessing, he’s also updating past successes. Whereas barbecued salmon once came with corn coulis, now the summer staple at Equinox gets a frothier corn sabayon. McClimans also tweaked Gray’s popular soft-shell BLT by marinating the seafood in buttermilk to “plump it up” before frying and adding chipotle heat to the house-cured bacon that goes into the BLT’s salad greens.

Captain of his lacrosse team in college, McClimans sounds like a coach when he talks about his new duties, including pep talks before meal services and motivating his crew so “everybody pushes everybody” to perform better, says the chef de cuisine.

Fittingly, “Todd says I run the kitchen like a locker room.”