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A Tale of Two Chefs

David Newman and Ray Kumm, former and current executive chefs at The Brewer's Art
David Newman and Ray Kumm, former and current executive chefs at The Brewer's Art - Steve Ruark
Chef shuffles and personnel shake-ups are a normal, everyday part of the frenetic restaurant world. But it’s a phenomenon worth noting when the executive chef of a well-respected, popular local establishment leaves his post and his replacement decides to take things in a totally new culinary direction.
And that’s exactly what has happened at the nationally recognized Brewer’s Art in Mount Vernon, named by Esquire magazine as one of the best bars in America. Chef David Newman took the restaurant from a 21 to a 25 Zagat food rating (out of a possible 30) in his four years there with his American Southern food and Asian fusion. He left in late August (under amicable terms) in search of a space to call his own.
He was replaced by Ray Kumm, former executive chef of Federal Hill’s BlueGrass Tavern. And Kumm is determined to put his own, very different, culinary stamp on the venerable institution.
It’s a bit of a calculated risk for both chefs: Newman leaves the security of a sure thing to strike out on his own, while Kumm tinkers with a popular menu. But both are confident that they’re doing the right thing.
“I think I plateaued at Brewer’s Art,” Newman says. “[But] in the time I was there, I think we took the food to a new level.”
For his new endeavor, he plans to focus on New American foods “heavily influenced by the foods of Italy.” Think things like Neapolitan pizzas and whole roasted racks of lamb. To that end, he’s going to bring something brand new to Baltimore: a handmade Neapolitan oven from Stefano Ferrarra Forno. He’s even visited the word renowned oven maker’s Naples headquarters as part of his research.
But such a specialized oven —which weighs in at a whopping 6,000 pounds —comes with very particular space considerations. Potential restaurant spaces, Newman says, must be vetted by an engineer to make sure that the oven can be vented properly.
Newman is currently looking at possibilities in the Hampden, Remington and Locust Point neighborhoods. Ideally, he says he’d like to be able to seat about 60 people, with a $20 per person price point. “I had planned on a six month timeline [before opening],” he says. “But it’ll probably take longer than that. This whole process is very new to me.”
Juliet Bodinetz-Rich, executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions, says Newman’s venture is one that embraces a number of food trends. For one, people are going back to “authentic” food, made with simple ingredients. “Most Americans like Italian food, and are becoming more sophisticated as consumers to appreciate authentic Neapolitan style food,” she says.
His reputation should also help him get off the ground, says local Zagat Editor Marty Katz. “Four points is significant. It’s not something to overlook,” Katz says of Newman’s rating’s jump. “A four-point increase in a food score is significant. It means something good was going on.”
If the successes of past Brewer’s Art alum —  Hamilton Tavern and Annabel Lee — are any indication, then Newman will have no trouble finding a receptive audience for his Neapolitan cuisine.
Brewer’s new Executive Chef Ray Kumm is designing a menu that couldn’t be more different than his predecessor.
He says he has nothing but respect for his predecessor, but ultimately, Kumm felt that it didn’t entirely fit the ambience of the space or the pub’s predominantly Belgian-style beers. And so he’s changed focus to the cuisines of eastern and central Europe, particularly those of Germany, Austria, and Belgium. “I think of it as [potentially] encompassing the area from Western France to Russia,” he says. “Maybe Northern Italy, but I am avoiding Mediterranean flavors.”
For his first and current menu, which he will likely keep through January, this translates to hearty fare like German sauerbraten or a veal roulade cordon bleu, with Black Forest ham and Emmenthaler cheese. He’s also got some lesser-known foods on the menu, including homemade kasekrainer, essentially a hot dog stuffed with Gruyere (cheddar is traditionally used), and liptauer, a delightfully piquant Austrian cheese spread.
“I feel as if these aren’t foods that are really explored or available in this area,” Kumm correctly observes. “I want to do classics, but turn them on their head a little bit.”
This type of cuisine has a long tradition in Baltimore, like the legendary Haussner’s in Highlandtown, Katz says. And currently, the Brewer’s Art doesn’t face much competition for this sort of cuisine in Baltimore. “It’s definitely not California spa cuisine,” Katz says.
The type of food fits with the bar’s Belgian-style beers, Bodinetz-Rich says. “As a European, I see these foods going hand-in-hand with the beer. Sometimes change is good as well to keep a locale current and still the new avant-garde place to go.”

Tracey "Trix" Middlekauff is a freelance writer, editor and food photographer. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest International, Urbanite, and Epicurious.com. She writes the food and travel blog TastyTrix.com and is the recipe columnist for Style magazine.
All photographs by STEVE RUARK
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