Updated: July 4
By Brianna Kelly – Reporter, Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal
The St. Paul Grill’s new executive chef is Gheorghe Vatafu.
The St. Paul Grill has a new leader in its kitchen.
Longtime sous chef Gheorghe Vatafu was promoted and officially took on the role of executive chef on March 7. He joined the downtown restaurant inside the St. Paul Hotel as sous chef in 2011 and became executive sous chef in late 2016.
His predecessor, Rick Frazer, held the executive chef position for about five years. He left around mid-February to open and run his own restaurant, Black Rooster Bistro in Hudson, Wis.
Vatafu was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. He launched his culinary career at age 14 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bucharest while attending culinary school. He trained with master chefs and worked in restaurants throughout Europe and the Middle East before moving to the U.S. in 2006.
The St. Paul Grill is different than any steakhouse that Vatafu has worked in before, he said, and he feels lucky to have worked closely with and learned from Bill Morrissey, late founder of Morrissey Hospitality, during the first several years of his tenure.
“I was part of a very, very impressive team, from the executive chefs, sous chefs – or my colleagues – my cooks, my dishwashers, everybody inside the hotel is very, very professional, and you want to be part of the of that family,” Vatafu said, reflecting on what’s kept him at The St. Paul Grill for nearly a dozen years. “The company invests in the people they have [and promotes them …] and I feel like it’s a good school for chefs and cooks who want to grow and follow their dreams.”
Vatafu is optimistic and looks forward to continuing to build his culinary team as the restaurant gradually gets back to its pre-pandemic operations.
“I’m excited to work hard to reach my goals,” he said. “I want this restaurant be the same or even better than it was [before the pandemic], and I think we can do that. I have a lot of support and a lot of people in this company really want me to succeed, and I think I think we can do it.”
One of Vatafu’s first orders as executive chef was adding a fifth weekly dinner service on Tuesdays. He hopes to revisit lunch service soon, but it’s dependent on the return of the downtown workforce.
The St. Paul Grill was closed for nearly 19 months as a result of the pandemic, from mid-March 2020 until it reopened in early October 2021. It’s now open for dinner service Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with the adjoining bar open an hour earlier and later than the restaurant.
Last week, Morrissey Hospitality quietly opened a new restaurant, Momento, in part of the former Pazzaluna space in downtown St. Paul.