Beards, Accusations, Votes, Borders, Bellwethers, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 25th, 2020

Hello Friday,

Per usual, Tuesday’s email for paying subscribers is copy/pasted below. If you want to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…

Let’s get to it…

Awards Season – Reminder that whatever is left of the 2020 James Beard Awards “will take place [today] Friday, September 25 at 6:30 P.M. CT via Twitter.” The official site says the virtual event will “celebrate previously announced honorees and will shine a spotlight on many of the restaurant and chef nominees and be a night of storytelling surrounding the historic challenges this community faces and how we can work together to rebuild a stronger and more equitable restaurant industry.” Neat and all, but that’s 7:30AM Saturday morning here in Hong Kong, so if someone could send me the highlights, I’d appreciate it…

Meanwhile, in Charleston on Tuesday, the Post and Courier’s Hanna Raskin announced “the first-ever Dr. Leon Banov Banners of Distinction.” A new award given to “nine restaurants that have demonstrated the utmost concern for the health and safety of their employees and customers.” Anyone seen anything like this elsewhere? Raskin bemoans the “regrettable number of restaurants in the Charleston area that still aren’t doing anything beyond what’s legally required to control the spread of COVID-19” and contrasts those with Banov Banner winners 843 Korean BBQ & Sushi House, Edmund’s Oast, LowLife Bar, Babas on Cannon, Nana’s Seafood & Soul, NICO, The Royal Tern, and San Miguel Mexican Grill & Bar. Congrats, all! (And… thoughts?)

The Accusations – Dateline, Chicago: “In August, with no warning or public announcement, Acadia seemingly shuttered… It soon appeared that Acadia might be following a pattern… Restaurant workers, shut out of their jobs, channel their frustrations onto Instagram and Twitter, revealing stories of difficult and in some cases harrowing workplace environments… In response, chefs and owners apologize (or not) and walk away, or shut down their COVID-19-stricken business entirely. Acadia’s story, however, has diverged from that familiar one. On September 14, a Cook County judge granted a former Acadia server an emergency ‘no-contact’ order against chef/owner Ryan McCaskey after the worker accused the chef of a campaign of harassment that includes impersonating the worker’s dead brother using social media and email.”

The original allegations against McCaskey, detailed in this piece and corroborated by staff who spoke with Eater Chicago’s Ashok Selvam will not shock you (sadly), but it definitely takes a weird turn in the retaliatory phase. Server Cody Nason, who admits to posting accusations anonymously on The86’d List Instagram, says someone then created CodyNason.com, which (until it was taken down last week) “described Nason as a pedophile, a child rapist, and a convicted sex offender, and claimed that Nason worked for convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It was also littered with homophobic and racist language, including a link to the KKK, and photos of Nason and his deceased older brother.”

The Accusations Too – A couple of months ago, Danny Bowien went on his ex-wife Youngmi Mayer’s podcast in part to talk about long-standing accusations around the work environment at Mission Chinese. On that show, there was a lot of finger pointing at a particular staff member who was ID’d in all but name. Now that Mission Chinese in Manhattan has closed, there is apparently no more need for anonymity, and Mayer publicly called out (no surprise) Angela Dimayuga in a long Twitter thread late last week. Meanwhile, Joe Rosenthal saved a story to Instagram with a deeper dive into the names and allegations — mostly from anonymous sources, so I’ll tread cautiously there — that also resurfaces a number of breathless profiles and pieces on Dimayuga from years back. A lot of food media has been concerned with correcting the record on awards (should Mario Batali still have all those Beards?), but does a headline like “Angela Dimayuga Is Here From the Future to Save Us All” need an asterisk now?

The Vote – FYI: World Central Kitchen is launching Chefs For the Polls, a non-partisan effort to “to serve warm meals on early voting days and Election Day, November 3. [They’ll] be stationed by polling locations around the country, targeting those with historically long lines, predicted massive turnouts, or limited facilities, sharing meals with anyone – no questions asked.” If you have a restaurant or food truck, want to volunteer or partner, whatever, details and contact info are here.

Some Sad News – In Lyon, “Pierre Troisgros, the legendary French chef and head of the country's greatest gastronomic dynasty, died on Wednesday aged 92, his restaurant told AFP. The chef and his brother Jean helped found the nouvelle cuisine movement, with their signature salmon with sorrel dish copied the world over.” Troisgros son Michel and his family now run the restaurant in France, and “Pierre Troisgros' two other children are also both restaurateurs, his son Claude in Brazil and his daughter Anne-Marie in Bordeaux in southwest France.” Full obituary in France24 via the AFP. Many more in French media if you can read French.

And last but not least: The Border and The Bellwether – I know this is going on all over the US right now, but it is still mind-blowing to read paragraphs like this one from Eve Batey in Eater SF: “While restaurant dining rooms in San Francisco remain dark, folks in SF who want to enjoy a sit-down, indoor meal can still do so: they just need to cross the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, or venture south into San Mateo County. Both regions have reopened for indoor dining in recent days, after their COVID-19 rates moved them from the ‘widespread’ infection risk level into the ‘substantial’ one.”

Asked about the obvious holes in this plan, one local authority brushed off my skepticism and told me, “Now, Lancelot, Galahad and I wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the rabbit, taking the virus by surprise…”

And I definitely don’t want to make light of any closings, but could The Onion have crafted a more perfect headline for our time than this one in Eater LA? “‘No Way For Us to Move Forward,’ Says the Bellwether in Announcing Closure.”

Ugh.

That’s it for today.

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday for next Family Meal. Last Tuesday’s is below.

(Oh yeah, and next Friday is a holiday here in Hong Kong (Mid-Autumn!), but I’ll see what I can do for everyone else.)

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or warm meals on early voting days to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Last Tuesday’s Family Meal starts here. If you want to receive Tuesday’s on Tuesdays from now on…

American lobbyists, UK curfews, Beard secrets, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

Let’s get to it…

The Lobbyists – To my mind, one of the most interesting stories that will come out of this time in the restaurant industry will be what happened with all the lobbyists. There are the big new groups like Independent Restaurant Coalition and… B.I.G. working on larger relief packages (though haven’t heard from the latter on their lawsuit to force business interruption insurance payouts in a while…), and then there are the established, local restaurant associations, which are apparently suddenly influencing life-or-death policy (both in the human health and restaurant business sense) around the country.

Re the former, I’ve been trying to ask IRC reps how much they’ve raised so far and what they’re spending it on, but so far the best I’ve gotten is: “The IRC hesitates to disclose figures solely because it's too easy for people to see a number and take it out of context or lack the reference to compare it. We saw this happen over and over when PPP numbers were released with little else to go on.” Fair enough, but as a 501c4 organization, their numbers (if not their donors) will out eventually (by law), and I’d personally go with transparency now if I were trying to build future trust. Thoughts, Mr. Colicchio?

Re the latter, most recent case in point on local lobby influence: The potential reopening of indoor dining in San Francisco, as reported by Eater’s Eve Batey Friday, “Speaking with Eater SF, Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, says that ‘on September first, when the city wasn’t ready to announce an indoor dining reopening timeline, we leveraged’ relationships with City Hall ‘to arrange additional high level meetings to discuss the critical and immediate need for clear reopening criteria.’ Those negotiations bore fruit this morning, as [Mayor London Breed’s] office released a statement saying that when San Francisco reaches the ‘orange’ stage of reopening, with a ‘moderate’ risk level for infection, restaurants can reopen their dining rooms at the ‘red’ rate.”

A confusing win, but a win nonetheless for the pro-indoor lobby (which I’m sure involves more players than GGRA, but still).

The Curve – Meanwhile a reminder from the UK today that all re-openings remain tenuous: Only a few weeks after the government spent millions on subsidizing guests’ tabs to help get customers back into restaurants, the country is taking a step back again. Per the Guardian’s Rebecca Speare-Cole and Sean Morrison, “Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night from Thursday under tough restrictions set to be announced by Boris Johnson.”

🎢

The System – After last week’s newsletters re all the “Burn It All Down” takes, it was great to read this Devita Davison interview by Brenna Houck in Eater. Recommend her thoughts on current issues in the restaurant world (pandemic and otherwise) both for the rare use of nuance(!), and a focus on the referees and playing field. Sample quote re gentrification: “It’s complicated. Because by the time we see an artisanal coffee shop or farm-to-table restaurant or an Italian mercado, or even Whole Foods, for that matter, enter in some of these neighborhoods in the city of Detroit, we need to understand that there were policies already put in place behind the scenes long before you saw that development in your community… Yes, we see it now. But [what] we see now was in the works 15 [or] 20 years ago… You talk about the role of restaurateurs [but] restaurateurs should not bear this burden alone. It takes active participation and involvement with the community.”

Beard Season – Sigh. Pete Wells is out with another article about the Beard awards confusion, this time explaining that the Foundation sent an email to design award winners to tell them both that they had won and that “the Beard Foundation will not be publicly announcing the awards.’ Nonetheless, the winners were told they could, if they wished, mention the distinction ‘as part of your own office P.R. efforts.’” OK. Sure. Then a week later the foundation wrote back to say that actually the awards would be announced at the ceremony on September 25th, and could everyone please keep quiet until then. And then, “On Monday morning, in response to questions from The New York Times about the design awards, an official at the foundation said in an email that the honorees would be announced later in the day.”

That announcement appears to be a single bullet point on the Awards page saying, “Together with the James Beard Awards Design Committee we've announced the 2020 Outstanding Restaurant Design honorees: Heliotrope Architects for design of RupeeKlein Agency and ORA for the design of Auburn; and Lori Chemla for the design of Carissa's the Bakery.” Congrats, all!

P.S. – Having poked around the team pages for each of these firms and restaurants, I think it’s fair to say these awards were not not not released because they help with overall diversity in the winners circle…

And anyway, the big news here is that in a twist I did not see coming, the James Beard Foundation has finally decided to award Family Meal with their prestigious 2020 Newsletter of the Year Award! CEO Clare Reichenbach tells me that due to the current media climate, she will be forced to deny this award publicly, but I am honored nonetheless.

The Media – In the LA Times yesterday, reporters Meg James and Daniel Hernandez published a long exposé on… the LA Times. Scroll down about halfway for the Food section stuff. Almost didn’t include it here, as it mostly rehashes already public facts of the case surrounding Peter Meehan’s departure, but note that one of the most prominent voices is (again) restaurant critic Patricia Escárcega, who only a week ago tweeted that she was researching lawyers and wanted her employer (presumably the LAT) to know that “the bullshit rancid whiff of discrimination is burning my nose worse than these terrible fires right now.”

And last and least: The Big Tent – Ooo boy. Over the weekend, my Google alert for “Restaurant Lawsuit” pinged this gem of a New Hampshire story from Todd Bookman on NHPR: “‘Transsexual anarchist Satanist,’ who’s also a GOP nominee for sheriff, joins mask lawsuit.A self-described transsexual anarchist Satanist recently nominated by the Republican Party to be on the ballot for Cheshire County Sheriff while running on a ‘F--- the Police’ platform, along with a minister who also serves as a Bitcoin ambassador, and the owner of the Pho Keene Great restaurant in Keene, have joined together to sue Gov. Chris Sununu and the City of Keene over its mask ordinance and other emergency measures related to the ongoing global pandemic.”

To quote Janis Joplin, “La da da / La da da da / La da da da da da da / La da da la da da da da.”

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

If you’re signed up for Friday’s only and want to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a a minister who also serves as a bitcoin ambassador to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

NYC 10%, Bars indefinite, Conran gone, what Lang knew, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 18th, 2020

Hello Friday,

Per the new normal, at bottom is a copy/paste of last Tuesday’s Family Meal for paying subscribers. If you too want to get Tuesday’s on Tuesdays…

This one was a mini-rant, and I wanted to edit it after the subscriber feedback (one person told me the writing was not up to my usual standard – fair!), but did not have time. So… It’s still rough, and you can still give feedback.

To be honest, I’m just getting frustrated with all the burn-it-down stuff I’ve been reading lately, which comes in many “The System Is Broken” guises. Some of it makes sense, but it often feels like goals are getting confused for (or heavily favored over) plans, consequences are not always fully considered, and babies are getting thrown out with bathwater. Capitalism, amirite?

Let’s get to it…

What Guests Are Watching – On MSNBC last night with Chris Hayes, a Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked whether he agreed with the scientists who say we should keep restaurants and bars shut down. Fauci’s response: “I totally agree… When you have restaurants, indoors, in a situation where you have a high degree of infection in the community, [and] you’re not wearing masks, that’s a problem.” He goes on to re-emphasize that the risk is based on how much virus is in the community, but also singles out bars again, and it doesn’t sound good for them anytime soon.

Case in point: Texas announced yesterday that restaurants could go up to 75% capacity indoors on Monday. Bars? Still closed. Details on that from Amy McCarthy in Eater Dallas. Quote from Governor Greg Abbott: “Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID spreading locations, they are still not able to open at this time. However, it is important for them to know that we are focused on ways to get them open.”

The Coping Mechanism – “On Wednesday, the [New York] City Council voted, 46 to 2, to let restaurants impose a temporary ‘Covid-19 recovery charge’ to help them through their fiscal straits. The bill… will allow restaurants the option of adding a surcharge of 10 percent or less to each bill (though not for takeout or delivery), as long as it is clearly noted on menus.” Rachel Wharton has the mixed reaction in the NYT. Some worry more fees will scare off customers. Saru Jayaraman and One Fair Wage are against it because they think customers will misinterpret it as gratuity and tip less. And “Kalergis Dellaportas, the general manager of his family’s Bel Aire Diner, in Astoria, Queens… has already planned for the extra costs of running a restaurant, including restarting indoor service at the end of the month… Unless new, unforeseen costs arise, he said, ‘[the surcharge] kind of feels like price gouging.’” (Congrats to Kalergis on getting his numbers right, but I’d shy away from public use of ricep-ay ougingg-ay phrasing at a time like this…)

Meanwhile, a quick trip into the comments section shows several people think this is just an indirect cash transfer to landlords under the guise of helping restaurants. Whether that’s a part of the city’s calculation or not, a restaurateur in Hong Kong did tell me last week that any change in government rules even hinting at increased revenue meant a call from the landlord. “Newspaper says you have cash?”

The Anticipation – Did not expect to see this anytime soon, but Eater started trickling out some “Most Anticipated Restaurants – Fall 2020” lists this week… Normalcy ho?! No. But hopeful lists are live in New York, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

The Suits – In SF, Hanson Li, founder of the investment group behind Dominique Crenn’s restaurants and others, is trying to rally support for a lawsuit to force the city to allow indoor dining (or at least provide a concrete plan for it). Eater SF’s Eve Batey says that’s similar to the $2B class action filed by restaurants against NYC earlier this month. It looks like Li is trying to raise at least $200k through sliding scale contributions from fellow restaurateurs in the Bay Area. “It will cost the plaintiffs in the mid six-figures just to seek ‘a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction,’ Li says.” OK, cool, but I’m happy to write a very strongly worded letter-to-the-editor for low five-figures if you guys want to save some $$$…

The Funds – “Announcing the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, a new grant initiative to provide financial resources for food or beverage businesses that are majority-owned by Black or Indigenous individuals.” According to an official release, “The Fund aims to disburse grants of $15,000 each equally across Black and Indigenous populations throughout the United States. Using the most recent census data, six regions of the country have been delineated, each containing 16 to 17 percent of the total Black and Indigenous population in the U.S.”

The Ends of Eras Carolinas classics edition: In Charleston, “After nearly four decades, the doors of Martha Lou’s Kitchen have closed for good. Although she served out of a humble pink building, her Lowcountry cooking was known around the country… At 90 years old, Martha Gadsden said she had to close over the weekend after the land she rented was sold to a developer.” Details via Lillian Donahue on Live5News. And up north in Charlotte, Kathleen Purvis has a farewell for Bill Spoon’s Barbecue, closed for good this past Wednesday after 57 years, in the Agenda.

Some Sad News – In the UK, “Sir Terence Conran, whose London restaurant legacy includes Bibendum, Quaglinos, and the now-closed original Blueprint Cafe at the Design Museum, has died at 88. Marked by a deep, earnest sincerity about the values of — Anglo European — simplicity, quality, and taste, his overarching restaurant legacy now reverberates louder in the kitchens of his alumni than those that bore his direct name.” James Hansen has that obituary here, and his embedded link above goes to Stephen Bayley’s version in The Guardian.

And last but not least: The Tea –  A new podcast has one of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, tracking down the dead billionaire’s former staff, including Adam Perry Lang of APL in LA. Per the Daily Beast’s Kate Briquelet, Giuffre thought of the chef as a friend, and “Lang was someone Giuffre wouldn’t forget. ‘He used to talk to me like I was a person,’ Giuffre told [host TaraPalmeri]. ‘Even if I was standing naked in front of him, he wouldn’t be there ogling me… he would be looking directly at my face. And we had wonderful moments together.’” Lang and his lawyers insist they’re cooperating fully with all investigations, but Giuffre is still hoping he’ll help her corroborate specific facts for her suit against Alan Dershowitz. “Giuffre hoped that with Epstein dead and gone, Lang might finally share with the world—or at least her lawyers—what he knew. She said that when girls in Epstein’s orbit lounged nude indoors or by the pool, Lang served them iced tea and jugs of water or fruit. ‘He saw us all naked, all the time,’ Giuffre told Palmeri.” Haven’t listened yet, but the audio you’re looking for is in Season Two of Broken: Seeking Justice

And that’s it for today!

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal. Promise I won’t make a habit of slipshod rants like the one below. Well, mostly promise.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a temporary COVID-19 recovery charge to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Tuesday’s Family Meal starts here. If you want to receive Tuesday’s on Tuesdays from now on…

Long Live the Celebrity Chef

Hello Tuesday,

And hello to paying subscribers only!

Not a traditional Family Meal this morning, I apologize. What follows was supposed to be my usual pithy opener, but I’m getting more and more frustrated by the discourse around restaurants lately and couldn’t stop myself on this one point. There’s a lot more to say – feels like I have contrarian takes on almost every think piece lately – but bear with me while I use the newsletter format to put out a brief rough draft and solicit feedback from… you, my new editors.

Might polish this up for the Friday crowd once I’ve heard back, so please do let me know what you think. If it’s, “You read too much food media,” you’re right.

Here goes…

I was searching around for reviews of Dave Chang’s new memoir, when I found this opening line in Rien Fertel’s WSJ take: “The celebrity chef is dead.”

You guys. First, the celebrity chef is not dead. The celebrity chef is not dying. “The chef” as a creative / leadership concept is not going away anytime soon.

And second, I think that’s a good thing!

Re that first point, the celebrity chef is obviously not dead because the obituary of the celebrity chef is being written in a review of a memoir of a still very much active and alive celebrity chef who just started a media company and has a podcast literally called The Dave Chang Show. The chef as a creative leader or “auteur” or whatever is obviously not going away because the two most cited articles written along those lines recently (“The Death of the Chef” from Alicia Kennedy and “The End of Chefs” from Tejal Rao) end by…. asking the chef for their opinion on all this. Kennedy’s piece goes full-swing from suggesting restaurants be treated as prosaically as hardware stores and criticizing the idea that chefs have “all responsibility as the representatives of their restaurants” to (some poetic license here), “And now, let’s ask some chefs what’s going on with their restaurants.” Rao’s essay makes the case for spreading the credit for a restaurant’s success around to the rest of the team, but when it comes time to cite an example of doing it right (a staff list on the menu at Somni), her kicker goes to – where else? – the chef for comment.

If you need more evidence, look no further than David Kinch closing out his congrats-and-disdain Beard Awards rollercoaster by welcoming the debut of a feature-length documentary of (checks notes) a team trip to France — announced in the NYT, of course. In fact, a quick scan of the NYT Food home page right now shows seven write-ups on male chefs / somms / writers before the digital jump, with a picture of Clare Reichenbach for balance and nary a dishwasher’s name in site. (Someone please tell Daniel Boulud he’s dead and should stop posing for pictures for an article about the naming of his next restaurant.)

And on the second point, that all this is just fine and we don’t need the chef to die, I obviously don’t mean there’s no problem there, I just mean: The problem isn’t the spotlight. The spotlight is a fantastic tool! The problem is both where it’s shining and the results-may-vary nature of what happens once you’ve been shined on. And while discussions of the former are everywhere, not least around the James Beard Awards and their lack of black winners this year (hence the inclusion of at least one woman’s photo on the NYT Food home page today), the latter — what different people get out of their fifteen minutes — deserves some focus too. This thread from Dr. Cynthia Greenlee explains how she was both barely buoyed by a James Beard Award, and at the same time seriously undermined by some people thinking “they affirmative actioned” the awards. (Side note: Would love to read a piece on applying lessons from affirmative action fights / results to what is going on in some corners of food media and awards if you’ve seen one.)

But even with those problems in mind, let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good just yet. Yes to all the talk about new gatekeepers. But I also want those new gatekeepers in part to make some new people famous! Put new people on TV and call them the chef if that’s what they are! Give them an award and put a “winner” sticker on their books! Throw them softball interviews about frivolous non-events! I want to hear what these new celebs have to say about the choices they made in making their restaurants. If I like their taste, I’ll follow it from restaurant to restaurant, article to article! And if the dishwasher or captain or whoever chose a design element or has an interesting story to tell, I’ll read that too!

And then let’s definitely keep up the reporting on disparities on who gets investment and opportunities, famous or not. (And possible solutions to that mess.)

Long live the celebrity chef, different though some may look (and, yes, operate) from celebrity chefs past! Rock stars! Magazine covers! They’ve waited for it and fought for it and I hope they get a chance to enjoy it!

Babies, bathwater, etc. etc. Let me know how far off I am. All caps replies welcome. Use of vulgarities directed at me fine, though I’m partial to a simple, “moron.”

And P.S. – A note on a fellow newsletterer: I disagree with Kennedy’s takes on some things, including (maybe obviously) her latest on awards, but if you’re not already reading it, her newsletter usually hits on restaurant / food media themes and is definitely worth getting.

And that’s it for today. Apologies again if you were hoping for something different this morning!

I’ll see you here Friday for a more traditional Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or “moron” to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Loading more posts…