Last stand

It seems like the departure rumors have been around longer than she has. But after more than four accolade-studded years as executive chef and general manager at Laurels atop the Westin Park Central, Daniel Custer is pulling out of Dallas. She had always planned on leaving here, she says, because although she was professionally happy, she wasn't personally tickled with Big D. Plus, she has a new slot lined up in Seattle, the city from whence she came when she was sous-chef at Fullers. She says she's returning to Seattle to run the kitchen at a forthcoming, as-yet-unnamed 80-seat restaurant attached to a new hotel called the Elliott. "I'm removing my wine and GM toque," Custer says. In this new project, she says she is strictly a chef in the restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cuisine will be similar to the layered fare she concocts at Laurels. Yet she adds that it may not be as daring, bold, or rebellious. Her thinking is more refined, she says. "There may not always be 21 flavors in every dish," Custer explains. "Pushing the envelope for flavor profile is not necessarily where I'm at. When the dish is done, it's done." Quite a statement from a chef whose food sometimes seemed so busy it was hard to discern if you should use a fork or a fly swatter. What's going to happen with Laurels? Custer says little will change. Sous-chef Mark Crowder, who came to Dallas with Custer from Seattle, will run the kitchen until a replacement is named. "I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, and that was to actualize my vision," Custer says of her Laurels stint. "And not only did I do it, I was successful at it...I am now confident and excited to be a part of something bigger than me." Custer's last stand under a Laurels toque is October 31, and Dallas will be the lesser for it.

Custer is not the only person making dramatic résumé shifts. Michael Cox of Star Concepts is also fiddling with his profession. A cofounder with Stephan Pyles in Star Canyon, AquaKnox, and Taqueria Cañonita, Cox has severed his ties to Carlson Restaurants Worldwide and the restaurants he and Pyles sold to them a couple of years ago under the Star Concepts umbrella. "Initially, we thought it would be a five-year plan after we sold the company," Cox says. "They were comfortable with running the concepts, and I asked if we could end it early, and they said yeah. So they let me go off and do my own thing." What is that thing? Initially, Cox says it will be a lot of car pools and volleyball games, and perhaps some restaurant consulting if his phone rings. But in the long run, Cox is itching to open his own restaurant somewhere in Dallas after he completes the arduous process of securing investors and finding space. "I've got a lot of ideas in my head, but nothing I really want to talk about yet," he says. "But it'll be close to what I've done before. Probably something that'll be a little bit more unplugged from celebrity restaurants."...Cox isn't the only Star Concepts shift. Alena Pyles, executive chef of the Taqueria Cañonita that opened in Plano at the end of August, has departed the restaurant after just a few weeks. Carlson did not return calls for comment. Alena Pyles, who is the sister of Star Canyon-AquaKnox-Taqueria Cañonita founder Stephan Pyles, opened the Taqueria Cañonita in Las Vegas...Former PoPoLos chef Abraham Castillo has slipped into the executive chef position at Avanti Euro Bistro in Addison Circle. Castillo replaces French chef Gil Ferme, who sources say held the position for just a few weeks.

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