Thank You #MGM (Chef Leo's Goodbye)

My first visit to Montgomery was early summer of 2011 after meeting several Montgomerians while at the Front Porch Revival in Gadsden, AL. I heard several compelling stories about the current status and bright future of Montgomery, but one thing they all said,

“It’s all happening in #MGM”

Amidst Dixie Cups full of Truckstop Honey and smelling like pig smoke and grease, I took those conversations in stride and listened carefully. A year later I get a call from an enthusiastic guy wanting to open a brewery and looking for a chef. I figured I would humor him, enjoy a free beer and dinner, and politely decline. What I thought was a simple dinner turned into a tour of the downtown farm, the Alley, the stadium, walking and talking the whole time, and a brief meeting with the Mayor, (seriously….ok then!) The whole time, more and more people joined our walk and they were all so stoked about the future of Montgomery and how I should totally be a part of it. “Montgomery is trying to come alive, it’s new, it’s exciting, won’t you join us? Come build something!!”

The whole drive back to Auburn I was thinking to myself, “Dude, you’re seriously considering working in Montgomery, you live, love and bleed Auburn, what in the heck is wrong with you”

I couldn’t stop thinking about the farm, the plans, the people, and the excitement. I hadn’t finished pulling into my driveway when I made the call and took the job… It’s been crazy times since.

I left the Brewery at the behest of a great friend, “Hey mi hermano, I’m bouncing, riding out to ATL, you need to come check out my restaurant, it’s around the corner from you, I think it was made for you, you’ll love it!! You don’t really want to cook burgers---they’re great bro, but seriously”

One meeting, a couple of cups of coffee and great conversation with amazing and genuine folks, I was hooked, I took the job. One thing was clear, the people of Montgomery really believe in this quaint city, from the small business owner, to the local residents, to the big time investors. I was now the new Executive Chef of Central Restaurant. I was excited and hopeful with plans upon plans for what this restaurant could be. I never in a million years would have expected everything that followed.

Montgomery, you have been an amazing city, full of warm welcomes, so much love and appreciation. I was allowed to create something I dreamed of, to accomplish goals and to develop my style.

This city has a lot of history behind it, so much potential, so many people rooting for and pushing for change and for a transformation and evolution. I am humbled, proud, and honored to have played a small part in it. It is my sincere wish that in my too short a time here, I have managed to leave a mark and an impression on you. You all have left an indelible mark on me. I thank you for everything, pushing me to be better, supporting me the entire time, and believing in me.

I am proud to leave this wonderful place in the hands of several highly accomplished and talented chefs!

Executive Chef Randal “Tex” Gresham, Jr.
My man has crazy mad skills and will be absolutely killer in this role. Montgomery, you couldn’t ask for better.

Banquet Chef Kareem Wade
The quiet and dedicated force behind our events, banquets and all special functions, the man never stops and it’s absolutely wonderful to have around.

Pastry Chef Maggie Gibbs
Newest to the team, but already crushing the Montgomery pastry scene with her talent and amazing sweets. I am glad she joined our team and I had a chance to work alongside her.

Chef De Partie Antwaun Robinson and now Chef De Partie Dustin Whitfield
The pride of any chef is the ability to grow and foster talent, and these 2 junior chefs have worked their tails off to earn a spot and have been a tremendous source of pride.

To Mayor Todd Strange, the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama Tourism Department:

Thank you for supporting me and Central. Your unwavering commitment to making Montgomery the new emerging food scene has helped make Central a success tremendously. Please know I have left the restaurant in great hands and I hope you build as great of a relationship with the new “dream team” as you did with me.

Finally to the Kyser family:
You couldn’t ask to work for better, more gracious, humble, supporting and loving people. You will always occupy a huge piece of my heart. You trusted me, without question, to take over Central’s culinary direction and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Montgomery, I’ll miss you, the people, and the city. I hope I left it better than I found it and made you all proud.

Sooooo… “Leaves are falling all around, it's time I was on my way, thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay, but now it’s time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way….” Ramble on, Led Zeppelin