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Exclusive: New Nashville restaurant partnership plans top-secret project

Restaurateur Austin Ray (currently of M.L.Rose, The Sutler, Melrose Billiard Parlor) and chef Jason Brumm (formerly of Watercolors, 30A, Radius 10, Strategic Hospitality) are up to something huge. Not "small hands" huge, but really huge. It's a back-and-forth story with as many bounces as a Ping-Pong match.

What may at first glance seem to be a simple business pairing is actually a food-borne relationship that goes back more than ten years to the nascent days of what we now simply call The Gulch.

That's when Ray operated Bar Twenty3 and City Hall with Ben Goldberg and Brumm was serving up excellent and inventive cuisine at Radius 10, a Gulch pioneer where Kayne Prime now resides.

After closing Radius 10 much to the dismay of Nashville's culinary community, Brumm's wanderlust took him to Denver at a JW Marriott property, to a television win on Food Network's "Chef Wanted," and to Louisville where he helped manage a series of projects.

Locally, Brumm teamed up with Ray's former partner Ben Goldberg, who now operates Strategic Hospitality with brother Max Goldberg, to help put the Merchants on good footing. He also consulted with Ray for the "craft burger" program at M.L. Rose.

If that food triangle weren't enough, Brumm returned to the Goldbergs' Strategic Hospitality empire (Catbird Seat, Pinewood Social, Patterson House, Paradise Park, Merchants, Pinewood Social, Le Sel) as director of culinary operations in 2011.

Brumm quietly left that post at Strategic in September and pinged back to his old pal Austin Ray as chef and partner at A. Ray Hospitality. In a statement, Ray said, "For 15 years, Jason and I have enjoyed eating together and talking about food in Nashville and around the country. You can’t post an ad and find the kind of longstanding connection that we have. His deep culinary knowledge and range of style paired with where we are in our careers makes this project even more exciting for me.”

When I met with the two and asked Brumm about leaving what looked like a plum gig with Strategic Hospitality, he said it was an exciting time but the next step was part of his personal evolution. "I've reached a point where I'm unhireable," he laughs, adding that it was time to slide over to the entrepreneurial side.

"This is something where there is real passion on both sides," says Ray.

What "this" is remains a top-secret project, for now the only thing they will offer is that it's the result of their shared love for a common cookbook. That grew into a conversation, a big idea and now, a dream to finally be realized next year.

You'll have to wait until later in the month for the details, but all I can say for now is that I've been selfishly waiting thirty years for a place like this to open in Nashville. I am giddy with hope and excitement. Stay tuned.

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