Executive Chef Air Kolender is leaving his positions at Leon's and St. Alban's in mid-September to travel to Europe for two-three months. He plans on relocating to Los Angeles, his hometown, when he returns. Kolender will be replaced by Ben McLean, his sous chef, who recently held the position of chef de cuisine at Leon's while Kolender took over St. Albans' now-defunct dinner service.
Kolender says that he and his girlfriend, a certified sommelier, have been planning this trip for a while. "It's an exploratory trip," says Kolender, who has never traveled outside of the country. The two plan to start in Copenhagen and move South as the winter comes. He says the trip is for life experiences, sure, but it's also a journey to gain more knowledge of foreign cuisines.
Brooks Reitz and Ari Kolender (right).
Which begs the question: Does Kolender have big plans up his sleeves? "I will not be starting my own project," he says, adding that he intends to open his own restaurant one day. With a 2015 James Beard Award semifinalist nod for Rising Star of the Year, we've got our money on whatever Kolender's future holds.
St. Alban's owner Brooks Reitz says that he's sad to see Kolender go but that he's excited to see what his future holds. "Travel and experience are so important for continued inspiration and development," he says. Reitz calls Kolender "one of the most talented folks [he's] worked with in many years."
McLean, who Kolender says is "crushing it" as chef de cuisine will take liberties with the specials section of the menu, but Kolender surmises that the core Leon's menu will stay the same.