And just like that, he’s gone again.
The man behind the 2018 Dish of the Year (and the 2014 one), Chef Jose de Brito is again bidding adieu to Charlottesville, this time to return to his home in Washington, Virginia. Since leaving The Inn at Little Washington for Fleurie last year, de Brito has split time between Charlottesville and Washington. Now, he has made the quality-of-life decision to end the long commute and return home. De Brito says he looks forward to slowing down and spending more time with his beloved wife and dogs. Like his time at Ciboulette and The Alley Light, it was another great run. He will be missed.
“Of course I was disappointed when Chef Jose told me he was leaving Fleurie,” says owner Brian Helleberg, “but I’m happy that he’ll be able to spend more time at his idyllic farmhouse in Little Washington.” When Helleberg visited de Brito and his wife in Washington last summer, he says, he didn’t want to leave. “The porch and the town were so quiet and peaceful that I was even a little surprised that Jose accepted my offer to return!” Helleberg says. “Jose hasn’t let the commute or anything else get in the way of making Fleurie better, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
What’s next for a restaurant faced with the task of replacing a former James Beard semifinalist? “I’ve always said that when the restaurant stops getting better that I’d like to go coach baseball,” says Helleberg. “It’ll certainly be tough to keep the arrow pointing up after losing a chef of Jose’s caliber, but that’s the plan. Jose is leaving the kitchen in great hands.”
Taking over as Chef de Cuisine is Joe Walker, who followed de Brito from The Inn at Little Washington last year to become sous chef at Fleurie. The 28-year-old Culinary Institute of America graduate spent a year-and-a-half at Washington’s Blue Duck Tavern and four-and-a-half years at The Inn at Little Washington, eventually becoming Chef de Partie. He came to Charlottesville specifically to continue working with de Brito. “I already knew he had a wealth of knowledge of French food,” says Walker, “and after spending a day staging with him at Fleurie, I knew the position was what I had been looking for.”
Helleberg says he cannot imagine a better chef to take over than Walker, who he calls smart, focused, and tough as nails. “He’s the first person I’ve seen in 18 years not to even break a sweat working the Fleurie hot line,” says Helleberg. De Brito, who admits to being not easily impressed, echoes Helleberg’s praise. “Joe has the background, work ethic, discipline and intelligence to step in and be a successful Chef,” says de Brito. “Fleurie is in good hands.”
De Brito’s last day at Fleurie is Monday, December 31, 2018.