For the locals who have more than a passing interest in Savannah’s food scene, it was big news last Spring. One of their favorite chefs was back in a kitchen and they were more than ready to run out and Eat It and Like It. How do we know? We fielded more than a few emails at the time. They all expressed something different, but the all essentially asked the same thing.
When? When? When?
The chef behind that buzz is Lauren Teague. Jersey girl turned Low Country staple. She enjoyed a coming out party at the Andaz Hotel. Later she led the kitchen at incredibly popular Atlantic Neighborhood Eatery. Most recently she enjoyed a cup of coffee at Pacci Italian Kitchen at The Brice Hotel.
Post Covid, Lauren is back. Right smack dab in the middle (literally if not figuratively) of Savannah’s food scene. But it isn’t what you think.
Chef Lauren is now in charge of food and beverage operations at The DeSoto Savannah Hotel. Liberty Street at Bull. You know the one. Right in the middle of downtown. She’s been there since April.
“When I walked in here, we had four people,” She told me recently. “Now we have 40. And my goal is to have about 80.”
That’s a long way to come in such a short time, of course. She tells me she needed every minute of the last six months to execute the plan.
“This is the biggest hotel I’ve worked in.” “The Brice was a few rooms bigger than Andaz and then now this.”
A large hotel means a lot of meetings and banquets. Throw in your fair share of weddings here in red-hot downtown Savannah and you’ve got more than a full time job. Simultaneously, she took on the task of building a staff and re-concepting The DeSoto’s signature restaurant, The 1540 Room. This is where the path diverts a little bit from what you were expecting here.
The vision all along wasn’t to have Chef Lauren running the show at The 1540 Room. The plan was to put the talent in place to execute something they believe to be different and fun on the food scene. She “talked to many” but ultimately settled on 2-3 to come in and actually audition. Yes, cook.
“We were on the same page from day one.” she says.
The young man she put in charge at 1540 is Collin Clemons. On paper, he holds the title of Chef de Cuisine. In reality, it’s his show at 1540. With a seal of approval from Chef Lauren, of course.
“When we sat down to discuss a vision for the new 1540, I shared what I had in mind, then he shared his thoughts. We were on the same page.” Lauren says.
Of course, the biggest question was the direction of the concept. A concept she says was driven not only the name of the hotel (DeSoto) but the name of the restaurant.
“We gave a lot of thought to the year 1540. The world was in the middle of The Spice Trade.” she says.
“So we really thought it was an opportunity to offer flavors from anywhere. Right now it’s kind of North African, Mediterranean.”
Indeed it is. Their new menu includes favorites like Baba Ghanoush and Lamb Pastilla. A couple of dishes I had the opportunity to try were the Duck Confit Cornbread and the Mushrooms. The latter of which was so delicious it made me wonder what life would be like as a vegetarian if I could eat stuff like that on the regulr.
Of course, that was but a passing thought. Let’s not get silly.
There are oysters, a Georgia shrimp dish and the obligatory meat and potatoes option for the carnivores among us. Coulotte Steak with Broccolini and Duck Fat Potatoes. The one I cannot wait to try is the Merguez: Morrocan Couscous, Turnips, Ras de Hanout Jus, Fried Chick Peas and Cilantro.
Chef Collin has taken the vision and run with it. “There’s a whole line up of places in this city where you can get Shrimp and Grits.” He says. “We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to offer something different. Something no one is really doing in Savannah.”
He makes a point. The closest ‘neighborhood’ these dishes live in is the still very new Common Thread in Savannah. The very popular LOKI Food truck is perhaps another, but outside of those, these flavors and sets are different for Savannah and what I enjoyed was fantastic.
“We ate all over town.” Collin says of his ‘discovery phase’ with Chef Lauren. “We knew where we wanted to be. The same circle as a Husk or a Common Thread.”
“I challenged him to be as locally sourced as possible” Lauren says.
Which is something they could do easily in a hotel because they have another outlet for lunch or dinner up front. The new 1540 is designed to be a destination. For tourists as well as locals. And they are counting on the neighborhood coming out to enjoy their new spin.
What Lauren’s fans won’t get is her electric smile and/or Mama Bear hugs when you walk in to the restaurant. That is, unless you happen to catch her there. In this instance, she’s moved up the ladder a little bit and has an entire building full of people to feed. This is Collin’s show now and she has every confidence in his execution of something she approves of.
I’m looking forward to a full dinner there in a couple of weeks. They open for good December 1st. If the couple of bites I enjoyed are any indication, 1540 will immediately go on a locals circuit. Especially when you consider there is free valet parking at the hotel. Downtown Savannah? Yup. Sign me up for that one.We’ll see you there.