Pulse: Chatter: Restaurants: Seasons of Change

The winter of discontent at Philly’s fanciest restaurant?

It was November when Martin Hamann of the Four Seasons — only the second executive chef in the four-star hotel’s 25-year history — left for an exec chef job at the Union League. By December, word around town had the Seasons bringing in an outsider to fill the open position — breaking from a quarter-century-long in-house promotion legacy.

“Yes,” confirmed Farra D’Orazio, PR director for the Seasons, “the hotel will be bringing in a new chef.” But he’s not an outsider: Rafael Gonzalez, who has worked for New York’s Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges, comes to Philly from his post as executive chef of the Four Seasons Vancouver.

While general manager Harry Gorstayn says he’s excited by how a new food culture will enliven our aging hotel, foodies around the city are abuzz about what seems like a slap in the face for the Seasons’ notoriously loyal kitchen staff — notably, the favored Hamann replacement candidates: banquet chef Joe Drago (recently honored alongside Hamann for their service at the hotel since its opening day) and chef de restaurant of the hotel’s acclaimed Fountain Restaurant David Jansen (an 18-year employee). Has the mood in the acclaimed kitchen soured? Jansen remains mum, but Gorstayn dismisses the idea: “Everybody’s disappointed when they don’t get something they want. … Gonzalez is the best person for the job in this city, in this hotel.” At least one former Four Seasons cook (who spoke on condition of anonymity) agrees: “The injection of new ideas is the best way to keep the hotel moving forward,” he says, but adds that in a kitchen so steeped in tradition, Gonzalez’s success will depend entirely on how well the new chef mixes with the current staff. Meaning it looks like the Four Seasons will get its food revolution one way or another this winter.