Cooks and Soldiers has been open only four months — an infancy in the restaurant world — but it is shockingly mature for its young age. Restaurants at this stage are usually trying to fine tune, amplify what works, and edit what doesn’t. Four months is all it took for this Basque restaurant on the Westside to hit its stride.
That success is largely due to the leadership of Federico “Fred” Castellucci III, the president of the Castellucci Hospitality Group, which also owns the Iberian Pig, Double Zero, and Sugo. The 29-year-old restaurateur possesses incredible calm and a laser focus. He speaks with sincerity when discussing his passion for hospitality. He talks often about those who work with him, how he likes to develop employees, and how some people have been with him for years.
Chef Landon Thompson is one such employee. The Columbus, Ga. native started with the restaurant group after working as the sous chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar until it closed in early 2011. Thompson took over the kitchen at the Iberian Pig, which gave him his foundation in Spanish food. That “crash course,” as Thompson describes it, served as a good starting point for Cooks and Soldiers, where his performance and leadership earned him a James Beard nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year this past February.
Instead of settling at an Atlanta restaurant after “Top Chef,” Kirshtein pursued consulting gigs in Singapore. Between trips and public appearances, he would pop up at Atlanta food events and mention plans to open a restaurant of his own. Several years passed, however, and no restaurant appeared. People, myself included, eventually began to wonder: “Where’s Eli? What’s he doing?”
In August 2014, Kirshtein and business partner Jeremy Iles opened French-American brasserie the Luminary in Krog Street Market. At first glance, the Luminary’s menu appears classically French — the kind of restaurant Atlanta has been hungry for. The menu features standards such as steak frites and duck confit, as well as oysters from the restaurant’s sparse raw bar. Many of these dishes have some sort of twist. Kirshtein calls this “regionalized” French-American cuisine, which explains Southern touches such as Alabama Duroc ham in the croque monsieur. Basque and Asian flavors have popped up on the Luminary’s menu, too. Instead of feeling fresh, these riffs come off as disingenuous, different just for the sake of being different. Many dishes are poorly executed, a reminder that it’s best to conquer the basics before trying to make a classic your own.