Jennifer Carroll: A chef's next course

Jennifer Carroll of 10 Arts shook up the city’s restaurant scene in mid-August by telling staff at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel that she was stepping down as chef de cuisine. Her final day at 10 Arts, which she opened in mid-2008, will be Oct. 5.

The Somerton-raised Carroll, 36, will leave 10 Arts and chef Eric Ripert's fold. She has worked for the three-Michelin-star chef for eight years, about five of them at his NYC flagship, Le Bernardin. (Carroll works for the Ritz-Carlton but Ripert oversees her work and that of the kitchen.)

Carroll raised her own profile and that of her restaurant with appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars, where her passion, feistiness and tart tongue won her fans. She went out of All-Stars last December with a tirade so colorful and so pointed that Ripert himself apologized for it on Bravo's blog. You don’t mess with the Philly girl.

Her announced departure was followed by statements. “We want to thank Chef Carroll for the wonderful culinary contribution she made to the Ritz-Carlton, and we wish her the very best as she pursues the next step in her career,” wrote general manager Olivia Brown. Carroll’s attorney-manager, Christopher Cabott, wrote that she had decided to leave to "pursue the options available to her at this stage of her career” and was "particularly thankful to her mentor, Chef [Eric] Ripert."

She herself has been quiet. Until now.  

In an interview last week, Carroll elaborated on her departure and her future.

Sort of.

Carroll said that she is leaving to pursue another opportunity -- chef-owner of a 60- to 80-seat restaurant -- but declined to say if she had a location or even a deal in place. She said she'll serve a "middle-of-the-road" menu, like her tasting menus at 10 Arts. "Nothing over $26. Approachable," she said.

She said she has had "multiple offers ... and that is the major reason I'm leaving," adding rhetorically: "Who in their right mind would leave Eric Ripert and the Ritz-Carlton when you have two huge machines pushing you and driving you and having that support system? ... I'm ready to go out on my own." 

"I'm ready to take the risk," she said. "I think before maybe I wasn't ready or too super confident in myself and ready to take the leap." She said she's looking all over the city for a location and won't speak about anything till a lease is signed.

Carroll's early days at 10 Arts were a "complete cultural shock. It was my first corporate job." (Here, before Le Bernardin, she had worked at Arroyo Grill and Avenue B.) She said the hotel "really embraced me and allowed me to do things like Top Chef."

The staff was shocked by her announcement, she said. "A lot of people were surprised I stayed this long. They thought as soon as I got back from Top Chef I would be getting out of here and leaving them behind, but 10 Arts [is] my baby. I put my heart and soul in it and I treated it like it was my own. That was one of the reasons I did stay here for so long."

Supervising a 23-person kitchen staff, with its personnel responsibilities, is daunting, even for the self-described workaholic who puts in 14 hours a day, six days a week at Broad and Chestnut Streets. As a chef-owner, she acknowledges she'll have to work just as long and hard.

Her goal: "Cook, eat, drink, be happy and be successful. That's pretty much it."

Those 14-hour workdays play a strong role in her unattached status. On Tuesday, she will be featured in the Philadelphia Daily News' "Sexy Singles" feature -- hence the glam shot you see a portion of here.


Jennifer Carroll on working (.mp3)

Jennifer Carroll on what's next (.mp3)