Chef Justin Kingsley Hall prioritizes self-care
As reported Friday, Chef Justin Kingsley Hall is exiting Main St. Provisions after nearly two years as executive chef. His last service is Sunday, September 4.
Regular diners and those close to Hall have seen him sporting an accessory not often found in the kitchen: An ice pack tucked into the top left of his apron.
Hall has been living with costochondritis, or Tietze syndrome, for years, long before he knew it had a name. It is a rare, chronic degenerative pain disorder affecting the cartilage connecting his ribs to his sternum, sometimes radiating into the arms and shoulders and causing additional muscle damage. Flare-ups make the process of cooking painful and potentially dangerous.
“I always say that I have a phoenix mentality in my life,” says Hall. “Every so often, I burn it to the ground, whether intentional or unintentional.”
Hall continues, “My first dream was the Army Airborne Infantry. And it [was going] really well with fast-tracking and promotions. [I was] getting ready to leave for Ranger School, but the next morning [after an intense marching exercise], I woke up and couldn’t put weight on my foot.”
A cartilage issue—unrelated to his current condition—took away the choice: it was a desk job or discharge.
He is not the guy who’s happy behind a desk. He chases the heat, literally and figuratively. He is well known for his love of over-the-fire cooking, campfires, and backyard fire pits.
He is a founder of Whiskey in the Wilderness, an outdoor event curated to showcase wood-fire cooking with an awe-inspiring group of chefs and Las Vegas’s best purveyors of local food and beverage products. Wood-fire cooking played heavily at MSP, with the Fogarty oven taking a shining place of honor in the busy kitchen.
Yet, it is sometimes necessary to avoid the heat so as not to burn it all to the ground.
Hall has taken time away from kitchens before. He was an instructor at the Art Institute of Las Vegas after cooking at Comme Ça in both Las Vegas at The Cosmopolitan and West Hollywood. Hall taught students management and career development courses while guiding them through the school’s full-service restaurant operation.
But that wasn’t enough.
He started SLO-Boy Food (SLO are the initials of his hometown, San Luis Obispo, CA), a pop-up kiosk outside Dino’s in downtown Las Vegas. SLO-Boy highlighted “New American cuisine focusing on the regions where [Hall] has lived, and the people he has worked with.”
The California native was also the chef de cuisine for chef-owner Brian Howard at Sparrow + Wolf (also his chef at Comme Ça) before taking the executive chef position at The Kitchen at Atomic next to Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street.
Hall and Owens began working together to open Main St. Provisions in March 2019 and, largely due to delays caused by COVID-19 shutdowns, opened the restaurant in December 2020. In the summer of 2021, they also opened Peyote (in partnership with Corner Bar Management) in the Fergusons space downtown, on the corner of Fremont Street and 11th. Unfortunately, after their New Year’s Eve festivities, and due to pain and damage from his condition, Hall stepped away.
(Continued) Success means self-care
It’s about quality of life. Chef Hall is known to work harder than almost anyone you’ve ever met. Active with food festivals, special events, private parties, tasting collaborations–the man doesn’t seem to sit still.
Often, that meant working through the pain after complex treatments. One night, one of his chefs called Hall “awesome” for working in the kitchen when plagued by so much pain. “I said ‘No!” exclaims Hall, animated. “I said, ‘I am not awesome. I am an idiot. You shouldn’t be like this. [It] should never get to this point… If you guys don’t feel good mentally or physically, like, you know, say something; take care of yourself.’”
As active as he is for work, he is a full participant in a life that includes fatherhood. Hall has two young children with his wife, Amanda Wolfe Hall, a Las Vegas realtor. His social media is full of love for the life they have built, and it is easy to empathize with any decision that gives someone more time to participate in it.
In addition, Hall is a vocal proponent of self-care, including physical and mental health care.
“I always tell people you can push a car to redline and keep it going. And you can miss all the pitstops and push yourself. But chances are, you know, you blow [the engine] instead of pulling over [and] taking care of yourself.”
While he is pulling his car over, he is not out of the race. Chef Hall is curating The Cookout at this year’s Life is Beautiful festival September 16-18, offering new menus each day from a rotating slate of local chefs.
After that? “I don’t know. I have time to figure it out. I am going to take some time for myself, travel, see people I love. Build a fire.”
While Hall is talking, Owens is smiling, the kind of smile that lets you know they have created a meaningful bond. It is hard not to feel emotional here. “Main St. Provisions will live on, of course,” says Owens. “And I will always be so thankful for what Justin has done and where we are today. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yeah. I have a friend and a colleague for life.”
Words from his colleagues
Fellow chef, former colleague, and friend Brian Howard (Sparrow + Wolf, Half Bird Chicken and Beer) says, “It’s been great to see Justin flourish into a man of the community, a chef’s chef, and all-around stud in the kitchen. [Seeing] him start as a cook for me at Comme Ça, then grow into the roles he’s held… It has been rewarding to watch him soar. I’m excited about his next steps and know his impact will [continue] on those around him. His legacy is special, and I know [his presence] will be missed at Main St. Provisions but never go away.”
Chef James Trees (of neighbor Esther’s Kitchen, Al Solito Posto, and Ada’s Wine Bar) says he thinks chef Hall brought a lot of love for his craft to MSP. “I hope he takes a chance to get some rest because he worked so hard to create such a cool dining experience. But, really, we want him to take the time to heal because we love him and want to have him around for many years to come.”
Jolene Mannina, the proprietor of Vegas Test Kitchen and SecretBurger.com, and managing partner of Peyote, is Hall’s best friend. “Justin and his family have been a part of my life since 2015. I’ve lost count on how many times he’s cooked at events I’ve hosted or put his name into a hat to battle at the Back of House Brawl after a long night of work. He is a talented chef with a heart of gold. It’s unfortunate that his passion for cooking couldn’t block his chronic pain. As a friend–family–I’m proud of him for putting his health first after so many years of struggling. I’m confident that Justin will continue to make his mark on Las Vegas and look forward to sitting at his table when he’s ready.”