Last week, Caffe Boa owner Jay Wisniewski said local celebu-chef Payton Curry, Caffe Boa's executive chef for a year and a half, was "getting expensive" after business started to decline at the Tempe location -- and that there was a "backlash" among diners who, in addition to not liking or understanding Curry's fare, thought they were paying more for it because Curry's name was attached.
Curry told me Friday afternoon that his name and food weren't the problem.
"The front of the house staff weren't getting paid so turnover was high," Curry says. "It's tough to try and educate guests about the farm to table concept when the servers aren't around long enough to be educated on it."
Curry says that he took the job at Caffe Boa because he wanted to provide great-tasting food for Tempe's ASU students and that, for the first six-and-a-half-months, he never had a day off, sometimes working until one in the morning.
So what did Caffe Boa guests think about Curry's cuisine?
"In my time there, I heard once guest complain about my food," Curry says. "It was from a guest who ordered the mussels. The server came back to the kitchen and told me the guest sent them back because they had 'too much flavor.' I turned the radio down and told her to say that loud enough for the kitchen to hear."
Frustrated by the high turnover in the front of the house and the unexpected responsibility of the new Mesa location (which Curry told me he never signed-up to run), the final straw came, he says, when he returned to work this winter from a stint at Tent City. Curry had pleaded guilty to a charge of extreme DUI incurred September 2010 in Yavapai County. (The timing matches up, since Curry reported on his blog last month that he's been sober for 10 months.)
Curry came back to Caffe Boa and discovered something alarming, he says.
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"Jay [Wisniewski] had put farm-raised salmon on the menu -- that's something I would never do," Curry says. "I'm a 'scratch cook,' fresh-caught seafood, free-range lamb, I believe in 'truth in menu' and would never do that shit."
Curry quit shortly after the Salmon Incident. What was the first thing Wisniewski said after his star gave notice?
Curry says, "He asked me when he could get me off the payroll."