Auckland institution Clooney is set to close, following a stoush between owner Tony Stewart and chef Jacob Kear. Kear, who has worked at high-profile restaurants such as Noma, was dismissed from the restaurant following dinner service last Friday, with Stewart announcing on Tuesday that Clooney will close its doors for good on January. The announcement came 11 years to the day since Clooney opened its doors.
Kear was announced as the new chef at Clooney in March this year to much fanfare. However, after 10 months, the relationship between chef and owner had deteriorated. On Friday this became abruptly public, with witnesses describing an argument in the kitchen at around 5:30. Stewart has refused to go into detail about the exchange, but has said that “it is quite a serious reason for dismissal.”
Stewart accused Kear of being self-serving. "He's after Instagram followers. He's after exposure for himself." Kear denied this, saying that his ultimate goal was to raise the profile of the restaurant. “My number one goal was to put Clooney somewhere on the world 50, top 100 restaurants. I was pushing for that. But I was never using Clooney for myself, never.” Kear suggested that Stewart had oversold the current state of Clooney when offering him the job, claiming that “If I knew that Clooney was slow, I would not have moved my family here.” Kear, along with his wife, three children and dog, was living in a Grey Lynn home rented for him by Stewart, but he has now been told to leave.
Clooney will close on January 28, but Stewart hopes to reopen a new restaurant in the same building by March. The new venture will be more casual, allowing Stewart some time off to spend with his family after heart surgery earlier this year. "It's going to be more casual, it's going to be more relevant to where the economy is, and more relevant to the immediate area the restaurant is located in, and I will get more enjoyment out of it."
With Clooney set to close in January and Merediths in December, the Auckland fine dining scene is somewhat diminished – something which concerns Stewart. “"There is so much experience and sacrifice that goes in to this style of dining,” he said. “These chefs act as mentors and do a huge amount of training and that filters down to the next generation of chefs. If we remove this from the dining scene, we are going to be a generation that lacks technique, drive, ambition, and various things like that.”