WITH THE DeSoto Hotel transitioning from the Hilton to an independent luxury boutique, The DeSoto by Sotherly, it seems fitting that the spaces inside would undergo a transformation of their own.
In early August, Savannah welcomed Edgar’s Proof & Provision, a whiskey-bent Southern hub for sips and grub.
Then, in late September, The DeSoto unveiled Savannah’s most distinctive show kitchen restaurant 1540 Room, helmed by the one and only Chef Kyle Jacovino.
After making his name with heavyweight The Florence, Chef Jacovino is returning to his Italian roots and adding some Latin flair with a southern twist.
1540 Room, named after the year Hernando de Soto explored Georgia, prides itself in being a chef-driven restaurant that operates independently from the hotel.
“A growing movement in hotels is to have the creativity run as wild and ramped as possible. We told Kyle, ‘This is your restaurant.’ You hire an expert so that he can do what he does best. By the end of the day, he makes the choices,” explains Managing Director Jeff Kmiec.
Chef Jacovino did just that. After one look at the blueprints, Jacovino redesigned the space to accommodate a working kitchen, a kitchen that he could call his own. Yet, he did not stop there.
He also took the liberty of hiring his own team and brought the heart of the Florence with him. “The good thing about growing a team is that you trained the staff. It becomes natural. I promote from within and they work up through the ranks,” Jacovino expounds.
After spending over three years working together, Jacovino paid it forward by bringing his Florence team with him to 1540. As a mentor, Jacovino believes that “when you have a team that works hard, you have to help them grow.”
“My job is to teach them and prepare them to be chefs. I don’t want them to be with me forever, but to take the torch and move on.”
Jacovino is no stranger to mentorship, as he as served under Ryan Smith, chef of the great Staplehouse in Atlanta and of course, Hugh Acheson, celebrity chef from Top Chef.
From his culinary apprenticeship in high school to his experiences with Smith and Acheson in Atlanta, Jacovino developed the skills needed to run his own kitchen.
With a desire cook Italian cuisine, Jacovino found fresh culinary inspiration in Italy. While there, he cultivated a passion for pasta making, an art that has carried over into his 1540 menu.
After his stint in Italy, Acheson and Jacovino brainstormed The Florence’s concept, ultimately choosing Savannah as its location given the emerging food scene. While the Florence’s era may have ceased in June, Jacovino’s heart and soul remained in Savannah.
“Savannah wants and deserves good food…Savannah is my home now; I want to put it on the map. I want to preach that we have better food than Charleston. Savannah gets overlooked far too often.”
Now, at 1540 Room, Chef Jacovino stays true to his Italian heritage, while expanding into Mediterranean fare with Southern influences. Jacovino’s menu supersedes fine dining with offerings that are humbly communal with an elevated sophistication. Each dish utilizes familiar locally sourced ingredients that deliver unexpected and well-developed flavor profiles.
When asked how he would describe his style of cooking at 1540, Jacovino confidently states, “It’s my cooking. It is basically heavily Italian influenced and inspired, but also incorporates all the food I love to eat and cook.”
“At the end of the day, if you are not in love with what you are cooking, you are going to fall short. A lot of chefs are cooking food for the wrong reasons…I believe in supporting the community and sourcing any time you can.”
With that, the whole menu incorporates local ingredients from farms like Canewater, Grassroots and Root Baking, permeating southern influences into each dish.
Chef Jacovino’s passion for cooking can be seen from any table at 1540. It is one of the only restaurants in Savannah that offers an open-concept show kitchen, sharing the same space as the dining area.
The kitchen, with its opulent marble countertop and garland of copper pots, was intended to be the focal point, the proverbial star of the show.
Like a well-rehearsed orchestra playing a harmonious symphony, Chef Jacovino and his crew put on an awe-inspiring performance each and every night. With essentially front row seats, diners are invited to watch the ebb and flow of the impeccable kitchen, as their food is prepared effortlessly before their eyes.
Dinner service was so smooth and symphonic in just a few short weeks of opening, a true testament to the leadership skills and training of both Jacovino and general manager Melissa Young.
Chef can be seen meticulously composing a dish, using chopsticks to manipulate each ingredient. While doing so, the sous chef and line cooks lean over the counter, intently watching, learning.
This act creates a special bond between chef and diner that many may not realize is missing. It’s that feeling you get when eating a home cooked meal. It’s made with love. When Chef Jacovino delivers each dish to the table, you will feel like a guest in his home.
Given Chef Jacovino’s adoration with Spanish fare, hand-crafted empanadas are offered on the small plates menu. His inspiration for these hand pies came from a trip to a Venezuelan bakery in Miami.
To incorporate Southern flavors, Jacovino used local corn flour for the dough and filled each with braised short rib, mozzarella and cow peas. As they are labor intensive and made in small batches. At $7 a piece, I’d say get there early and order liberally.
If food could tell a story, the fall Sweet Potato Angnolotti (ah-nyuh-LAHT-tee) dish would sum up Jacovino’s entire career in nutshell. The pasta in the dish represents everything he learned in Atlanta and fell in love with in Italy.
“Acid, sweetness, texture and wow factor. A dish that’s Italian inspired, but in Italy, they would throw it out of the window.”
The agnolotti is stuffed with rich candy-like sweet potato filling. Pickled mustard seeds provide an exhilarating punch of acid and the crème fraiche sauce adds a velvety smoothness. Fresh shaved prosciutto lends a mellow saltiness and crispy fried Brussel sprout leaves provide texture.
“You’re not getting bored with all those different textures and feelings.”
When speaking of wow-factor, the family-style paella served in an oversized cast iron skillet takes the cake. This is another Spanish-inspired dish that Jacovino experienced while traveling.
After some research, he realized that while we have the best rice in our area and the most incredible seafood off the coast, he could find literally no one in Savannah serving paella.
So 1540 broke the mold, offering this traditional dish brimming with baby squid, mussels, clams, shrimp and sausage, served over a bed of smoky Anson Mills rice and a mess of Latin sofrito.
Make sure you save room for after dinner confections made by former Florence pastry chef, Gerson Reyes. Each stunning dessert ranges from $5-$7 and appeals to all senses. Visually, the sweets appear on the plate like an artistic design.
Take the Chocolate Pavola, which is a shattered cocoa meringue encasing a smear of salted dark chocolate cream with a dusting of candied walnuts and house made banana truffle.
The Carolina Gold Rice Beignets, dredged in cinnamon and sugar, were crunchy with a sumptuous center that disintegrated in my mouth. It was paired with a stroke of warm Mexican chocolate spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. To cut through the richness, Reyes imbued blueberry preserves with a whisper of basil.
The end of the Florence’s era marks the beginning of something new for Chef Kyle Jacovino and his crew. With locally sourced ingredients, an ostentatious show kitchen as well as Southern-infused Italian and Latin cuisine, 1540 Room has become a force to be reckoned with.