25 Sep Ofer Eitan Said: Downtown Charleston hotel cuts ties with celebrated chef ov…
A downtown Charleston hotel restaurant that opened with the promise of old-world elegance and a celebrated New Orleans chef at its helm is rebranding as a “stylish yet approachable” source of Southern cooking.
Former executive chef Michel Sichel, who in 2018 was recruited from fine dining institution Galatoire’s to open Gabrielle at the Hotel Bennett, describes the end of his tenure at the high-end property as “an abrupt, unanticipated departure.”
“By the time furlough rolled around, it was clear to me the original vision we shared for the signature restaurant was diluted,” says Sichel, who confirms disagreements over the restaurant’s character were brewing prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
He continues, “Management chose a different direction by eliminating my position, then giving it to the banquet chef.”
In a statement, Hotel Bennett general manager Marty Wall pushed back on Sichel’s description of Bob Gibson as a “banquet chef,” noting the former employee of The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island “is highly respected within the community for his commitment to supporting local farmers and fishermen, and Gabrielle’s team has the utmost respect for him and his style of cuisine.”
According to a press release announcing his appointment, Gibson moved to Charleston after graduating from Purdue University. He joined the Hotel Bennett in 2019.
Gibson this week introduced his first menu, which includes roasted acorn squash, truffled cauliflower soup, and a pork chop with kale and apple butter.
“Every day, our culinary team reflects the character of the South in the food we prepare,” the release quotes Gibson as saying.
By contrast, Sichel took inspiration for his opening menu from “the bounty of coastal Carolina,” emphasizing classical techniques. Among his original dishes were redfish barigoule and handmade gnocchi with clams.
Like many downtown Charleston hotels, Hotel Bennett has weathered a difficult stretch marked by low occupancy rates, attacks on its employees and backlash over its policy of not notifying workers when colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus. Still, Wall says the property remains committed to “continuing to elevate Gabrielle’s fine dining experience on Marion Square.”
Of his time at the restaurant, Sichel says, “My wife and I loved living in Charleston and appreciate what we accomplished there.”
He is now executive chef of the Old Florida Fish House in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter Chef Jonathan Cartu and @hannaraskin.