Finn's Southern Kitchen chef David Scales with wife, Katie.

The July departure of Finn’s Southern Kitchen executive chef Brian Curry to Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse left a significant vacancy at the young Schnitzelburg restaurant, which opened in May. Yet when owner Steve Clements went casting for a replacement, he landed a real talent in David Scales.

For the past year-and-a-half, Scales has been the executive chef at 701 Fish House in Elizabethtown, leading that kitchen to sturdy first-year sales of $3 million. Prior to that he was the chef de cuisine at Lilly’s for four years. The Maryland native’s resume goes far deeper than that, but we’ll stick with the better parts of current news, chiefly that he’s thrilled to be cooking again in Louisville.

“Oh yeah I am,” Scales said, who somehow could leave his home in the Douglass Loop and make it to Exit 92 off I-65 every day in 35 minutes. He took over Finn’s kitchen Aug. 22. “I spent so much time there that I’d almost forgotten how much I missed cooking in Louisville. And Germantown is such a cool place to be right now, especially since the neighborhood supports the restaurant.”

Scales was candid about the challenges he’s facing in his new post, saying Finn’s kitchen staff needs significant training to meet his and Clements’ standards. He’s in the process of rewriting and standardizing some of the restaurant’s recipes and re-staffing to meet the demands of consistently good crowds.

Seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked cream. | Photo by David Scales
Seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked cream. | Photo by David Scales

His first meeting over coffee with Clements a few weeks ago lasted two hours as both “rambled on about cooking and restaurants and how to run them. I thought, ‘I think he’s a pretty good guy,” and Clements asked what Scales needed to get him aboard. The next day, Clements accepted the terms and offered him the job.

That sent Scales on a research mission to eat at the restaurant and gauge its performance. He said the service was great, but that the food wasn’t up to par.

“This is a good restaurant with a ton of potential, but we need to do some fixing in the kitchen,” he said. Addressing concerns such as long ticket times, he said, “We really took some massive strides this past week, which was great. We did 300-plus covers on Saturday night and did really pretty well.”

Scales said he likes the current menu, but that nearly every item could be better. The restaurant’s noted fried chicken was first on his list to get consistent, “and it’s bangin’ now! I’m not even a fried chicken fan and I ate four pieces the other night. It’s that good now.”

Scales is bringing his prodigious talent for seafood cooking to the table with nightly fish specials, the first of which was seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked tomato cream. He said to expect more of the same, “but nothing like people saw when I was at Lilly’s. No 17 elements on the plate or anything. Just great, well executed seafood.”

* Scales said that just weeks after he left 701 Fish House, the owners closed it abruptly. If you never made it there, I’m sorry you missed it. It was an incredible restaurant that Scales said, “travelers really supported and understood. The people in E-town, not so much. They didn’t really get it.”