Close-Hart Era at Palladio to End

by Charlottesville29


Photo by Jackson Smith.

There is a term in the corporate world – golden handcuffs – that describes conditions of employment considered so desirable that they discourage valued employees from leaving for another job.  Common examples are stock options and bonuses whose values depend upon length of employment.  The idea is to make remaining at the company far more attractive than any other opportunity.

For fourteen years, Melissa Close-Hart, chef of Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards, has enjoyed a chef’s equivalent of golden handcuffs.  Good compensation, a loving team, job security, a breathtaking setting, and a renowned vineyard that has provided a platform for Close-Hart to earn four James Beard semi-finalist nods and host countless nationally acclaimed chefs. Although fourteen years is an unusually long tenure for a chef to remain at one restaurant, it’s easy to understand why Close-Hart never jumped ship.  Where could she go that would be an improvement?

But, ultimately, most chefs dream one day of creating their own place. It’s why many of them are in the business in the first place  – to create their own vision, not execute someone else’s. And, as much as Close-Hart has loved being part of the Barboursville family, she too at times has felt that itch.

Time to scratch it.

Early next year, Close-Hart will leave Palladio to pursue a new opportunity.  “When you are a chef, you crave knowledge and adventure,” said Close-Hart.  “I feel that it is time for that new challenge.”  Of course, deciding to leave her home of fourteen years was not easy.  “I have learned so much from [winemaker] Luca [Paschina] and everyone who has ever worked with me at Palladio,” said Close-Hart. “All that knowledge made me the chef I am, and Palladio the destination it is today.”

Paschina echoed the sentiment. “It has been a great run,” he said. “Together we have established a great culinary destination, setting the standard for this flourishing wine and food region.”

That standard is likely to continue even after Close-Hart’s departure next March, as she will leave Palladio in the hands of her longtime sous chef Spencer Crawford. “I am ecstatic that the new chef will be Spencer,” said Close-Hart.  “Knowing Spencer’s abilities and talents leaves me confident that ‘my baby’ is still going to grow and flourish under someone who I know and respect.”  Crawford, who trained at Johson & Wales University, has already developed a reputation at Palladio, in particular for his charcuterie, which even wins praise from the likes of Roberto Donna, Esquire’s 2012 national chef of the year.

Palladio, then, will still be Palladio.  But, what’s next for Close-Hart?  After all this time in golden handcuffs, what could finally lure her away?  Details here.