Thompson Savannah's new restaurant Fleeting is anything but passing – Savannah Morning News

Fleeting moments last for only a brief period, but the chef and beverage director of the recently opened Thompson Savannah hotel’s new restaurant, which launched Thursday, have plans to stay.  Critically acclaimed executive chef Robert Newton and beverage director Chelsea DeMark are already using their unique experiences to cater to the Hostess City.
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Prior to Fleeting, Newton helmed the kitchen at  Nashville’s swank comfort food eatery, Gray & Dudley. The Arkansas native sharpened his knives with more than a decade in New York’s restaurant scene, including a stint with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, then as the owner-chef of Seersucker, Nightingale Nine and Black Walnut, all in Brooklyn before heading to Nashville.
“I think it’s a combination of all these challenges and opportunities that has sort of helped me arrive at this point,” Newton said.  “I think owning my own places makes me a little bit unique in terms of seeing a bigger picture and helping put all the pieces of a big puzzle together. So my goal — and I’m working to achieve that — is just to harness all that and bring it into one thing to help make the Thompson the best that it can be and a notable hotel in Savannah.”
While in New York and Nashville, Newton became familiar with the Thompson brand. The history with the brand made the decision to come to Savannah pretty easy for Newton, a decision DeMark found simple as well.
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She studied math and philosophy in college, and after she graduated, DeMark used her love of precise measurements and logic to find a space for herself in the hospitality industry as a bartender. She fell in love with the job and soon began mixing it up at critically acclaimed Washington, D.C. hot spots, Hank’s Oyster Bar and The Jefferson. 
But DeMark isn’t new to Savannah. She’s been the tequilier for the JW Marriot at Plant Riverside District since September 2020. 
“I was really intrigued by the concept of the hotel itself, and just general commitment to fresh ingredients and doing things the right way. I don’t have to ever fight for creating something really beautiful. No one’s ever standing in my way for doing something I feel really strongly about, and that’s kind of an anomaly in the corporate hotel industry,” DeMark said. “As soon as I realized that everyone’s ethos was on the same page as mine, it was a really easy decision to come over to Thompson.”
“One of the things I love about the name Fleeting which makes so much sense to me is the fleeting seasonality of so many things that come and go through a farmer’s market,” Newton said. “We’re going to try to represent that through preserving and pickling and bringing those things back out in other seasons.”
Newton is sourcing from places such as Forsyth Farmers Market,  where Newton plans to build long-lasting relationships with the farmers and purveyors. Another of Newton’s desires is to diversify the expectations of Southern food, a goal that Newton focused on in his cookbook “Seeking the South” (Avery 2019). 
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“My food and the approach in my cookbook is a really simple sort of approach and clean strong flavors that aren’t too complicated, and we’ll do an extension of that here,” Newton said. “The word global comes up a lot, and I don’t want to sound like we’re doing fusion foods, as we’re not, but I see the South in more of a macro sense. While we all love fried chicken and boiled peanuts and things like that, I see the South as a bigger sort of organism of people from many different cultures all coming together and I hope to represent some of that.”
One expression of Newton’s expansive palate: the biscuit bun, a traditional Southern biscuit stuffed with a savory duck confit that evokes a pan-fried Chinese bun. 
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There’s no set cycle for when the menu will change.Instead Newton called the evolution of the menu a “planned random” change. One to two things may change on the menu a week, but the plan is to keep items like their chicken dish and change what it’s paired with.
“That’s kind of an example of how we’ll handle seasonality, how we will embrace it and how we’ll use it to our advantage and hopefully the guests will appreciate that and enjoy it,” Newton said.
DeMark describes herself as a “liquor enthusiast seeking balance.” Although she loves to use weird ingredients that may be unknown to guests, her goal as beverage director is to make the drink menu “super approachable.” 
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“I don’t want anyone to be intimidated by a bunch of words that they don’t understand. I want someone to look at it and be able to be like, ‘I know exactly what I want looking at this because the way that it’s described speaks to me,’” DeMark said. “I want every cocktail to be well-balanced.”
Her Radio Wave cocktail displays her ingenuity. Based on an Old Fashioned, the Radio Wave is concocted with Richland Rum, a Georgia-grown single estate rum, mixed with a muddy and dry rainwater madeira wine and mango prosecco syrup. It’s a summery take on a often winter season cocktail. 
Pairing drinks with food is very much a team effort, and DeMark and Newton understand the collaboration that must happen between the kitchen and the bar to make sure dishes complement one another.
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“If there’s waste product on one side of things, either on the bar or on the kitchen side, we’ll communicate with each other in order to utilize those things to create something else that will lead to sustainability,” DeMark said. “For example, you’re making something with peaches, and you have to skim the peaches and discard them. Instead of discarding them, I might take those skins and turn them into an ingredient for a cocktail so that those things aren’t going to waste.”
 As guests enter Fleeting, they will encounter a spacious lobby where they can  sip and snack before dinner. The open-kitchen concept restaurant offers outdoor seating with a wood-fire grill, ideal for soon-to-arrive crisp fall evenings and chilly winter nights . 
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And, although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed staffing, Newton said the Fleeting team has been able to navigate challenges through team-building and bonding. “The restaurant turned out really beautiful. The entire hotel was really beautiful. And I’ll try to make some delicious food to go along with it.”
Laura Nwogu is the quality of life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected] Twitter: @lauranwogu_