After eight and a half years at Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street, chef Jeremy Nolen is leaving town.
Nolen and his wife Jessica, who was pastry chef for Brauhaus and its sibling restaurants, are moving with their daughter to Reading, Pa., where Nolen has family. He’ll work at Belly Kitchen & Drinkery, a breakfast-lunch-catering outfit run by a longtime friend.
More time with family and easy access to outdoor activities are the driving forces behind his decision to leave, he said. “I really only planned to be in the city four or five years.”
The shift at the top of the kitchen is a big change for the authentic German beer hall.
When proprietor Doug Hager opened Brauhaus in the summer of 2009, no one was sure if a place offering Bavarian cuisine could have staying power. Eight and a half years later, it’s a mainstay. It’s famous internationally for its brew selection (CNN recently named it one of the top 10 German beer bars in the world), and beloved locally for the Nolens’ food — modern and classic takes on brats, wursts, schnitzel, pretzels — all of which was codified in their 2015 cookbook, New German Cooking.
Their departure comes with some good news: Hager already has a new chef lined up — handpicked by Nolen himself.
Starting Jan. 1, the Brauhaus kitchen will be run by Valentin Bey. Currently chef at Arde in Wayne, the 33-year-old is a native of Germany. He grew up in the Stuttgart region and fell in love with the hospitality industry. After moving to the U.S. eight years ago, he decided to make cooking his life.
As Bay put in time at various spots around the region (Avalon Pasta Bistro, Citron & Rose, A la Maison) and learned to cook for the American palate — “Add more sugar and salt” — he dreamed of putting his stamp on the Philly region by cooking the cuisine of his homeland. Only problem: German restaurants are not common. Then last summer, he met Nolen via a mutual friend. Serendipity.
Hager invited Bay to cook a meal for some restaurant industry folks at his home, and it went swimmingly. “At the last minute I added another person and he was like, ‘No problem,’” Hager said. “And there was no foam on anything,” he joked.
Nolen will stay through the end of the year, but even after he leaves, customers should expect most of the menu to stay the same, Bay said.
Look for some dishes inspired by his heritage to pop up as specials — a bacon-lentil stew called “linzen und spatzle” is one he’s excited about — and for an expansion to the schnitzel (pounded and fried meat) selection.
Extra bonus: Bay is also an expert at giant Bavarian pretzels. “Jessica [Nolen] baked 15,000 pretzels for us over the years,” Hager said, “so finding a replacement was huge.”
As for Hager’s other venues, there will be no immediate changes. Chef Eric Levilee is happily running Whetstone Tavern in Queen Village, the in-house butcher is still producing sausages for Wursthaus Schmitz in Reading Terminal Market, and barman Jesse Cornell remains in stride serving spiked hot chocolate at SkyGarten.