After six winters injury-free in Boston, it took Kelly Hartman, the new chef de cuisine at Paulette's, all of about a month to slip on a patch of ice and break his wrist in Memphis.
Hartman moved here in December to join his wife, a fellow at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Broken wrist aside, this new transplant to the Mid-South has wasted no time reworking Paulette's French/continental menu to preserve treasured favorites and introduce new seasonal items. (Don't fret; the hot popovers and strawberry butter aren't going anywhere.) Paulette's will roll out the updated menu in the next few weeks.
"[The traditional Paulette's menu] has been probably the central issue that we've been addressing since I got here, and the way we finally settled on doing it was rather than trying to integrate new dishes throughout, we made it a left-side, right-side sort of thing," Hartman says. "On the right side of the menu, you'll have the more traditional Paulette's, and on the left side, you'll have a more seasonal menu."
This isn't Hartman's first time in the South. He was a sous chef in New Orleans for years, where he helped Donald Link open the acclaimed Cochon in 2006. He brings that influence with him, as well as his experience cooking in Boston and in Palo Alto.
"I like the eclectic side of American food, using local ingredients but bringing in a broad range of influences," Hartman says. "I think most chefs ... you're never completely your own. You're sort of an amalgam of different styles that you've cooked along the way, and as a chef, you have to be able to adapt to whatever situation you're in. You can't just say, well, all I do is fine dining, French food, Italian food. You have to adapt, and any chef worth his salt can do that."
Paulette's, 50 Harbor Town Square (260-3300)
Cortona Contemporary Italian is putting greater emphasis on the contemporary side of its menu, brought on by the addition of new head chef Fortunato "Nate" Oliva and a new manager, Jennifer Dickerson.
Both Oliva and Dickerson were part of the Erling Jensen team but saw an opportunity to mix things up when Cortona's David Cleveland decided to take a step back from the day-to-day restaurant life. The two came on board at Cortona earlier this month.
"There were a lot of good things here to begin with," Oliva says. "I'm just trying to do something a little more contemporary. David was doing more traditional Italian fare. For the neighborhood and the trends of today, I felt like something a little sleeker, a little more modern would make more sense."
What does that sleeker menu look like? It's lighter, for one thing, and features more innovative items like a pork-belly pizza with melon and a Marsala wine gastrique.
While Oliva is adding contemporary touches, he still hopes to highlight the traditionally artisanal, rustic aspects of Italian food and will prepare everything in house, from the cheese and sausages to the breads and pizza crusts.
"There will be a real continental flair rooted in Italian traditions," he says.
Dickerson and Oliva have decided to suspend brunch service indefinitely and focus all their attention on dinner, which begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and ends at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Cortona Contemporary Italian, 948 S. Cooper (729-0101)
Alchemy had already gained a reputation for tasty small plates when new executive chef Nick Seabergh was brought in last November.
"I definitely put my style of cooking into the menu," Seabergh says. "And there are some things we just couldn't take off the menu, like the fish tacos. So I took those items and made them more 'me.'"
Newer items on the menu include a duck confit with locally sourced Muscovy duck legs and a hangar steak with duck-fat potatoes.
Seabergh says his cooking style has been described as "Creolized Italian," with a grab bag of influences, including his German grandmother's kitchen and time he spent in Louisiana. "I grew up cooking with my grandmother," he says. "It's basically comfort food."
Alchemy, 940 S. Cooper (726-4444)