Ansel's rug pull, Andrés's ivy, WSC's AVA, and more...
Family Meal, Friday, May 27th, 2022
I did not want to send today’s newsletter out, but with the long weekend approaching and therefore no Family Meal this coming Tuesday, it had to be done.
It’s not only all the sad news events of the last few weeks, but also what feels like a big, long lull in food (restaurant) media creativity? I know I’ve already complained about that lull this spring — and I could be wrong! — but when I saw yet another “There’s More to Guy Fieri Than the Frosted Tips” profile this week, my eyelids drooped so low I almost tripped over the dead, vegan-Eleven-Madison-Park horse I forgot we were still beating.
Bah. I am not exempt from the sentiment in that take and everyone is trying their best! Below is my best for a slow, strange week. Plus, Tuesday’s paid Family Meal, which is copy/pasted below, as usual.
Let’s get to it…
The Non-Fungible Rug Pull – Are there any good restaurant NFT projects right now? Writing in Expedite, Nom Wah’s Barb Leung says she bought restaurant world non-fungible tokens from three sources: “Shirley Chung’s Dumpling Mafia; Tom Colicchio and Spike Mendelsohn’s CHFTY Pizzas; and Dominique Ansel’s Cronut Anniversary LTD Edition NFTs.” While it’s still hard for me to appreciate the artwork behind any of these projects, Leung says two out of three ain’t bad! Dumpling Mafia mostly lived up to its promise of trying to raise money / awareness for worthy causes, and CHFTY Pizzas has been active / responsive in trying to keep buyers involved longer term (even as the dollar value of their NFTs has gone down). Ansel’s Cronuts, on the other hand, are mostly defined by onerous legal restrictions (you don’t actually own any rights to the NFT or artwork?) and a total lack of follow-up.
“Us holders have seemingly been cast aside post-mint,” Leung says. Oof.
The Graduate – I’m sure the awards you’ve earned are very nice, but high school dropout José Andrés — whose new Ron Howard documentary comes out today — just got an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard? (Watch till the end if you love food-pun dad-joke cringe!)
The Big Show – Doesn’t look like there’s much to report from the 2022 National Restaurant Show in Chicago this week. Only thing that really stood out to me in this NRN slideshow from Lisa Jennings was the “Solo Cargo EV, a delivery-ready, three-wheeled electric vehicle that drives like a car but produces zero emissions. The solo has a range of about 100 miles and can go up to 80 miles an hour.[It] has a 12-cubic-foot cargo hold that can be modified with a warming element.” A $24,500 vehicle for our times! The problem is that in urban settings, while “classified as a motorcycle,” it sure looks like it parks like a car... (Also, imagine Urkel drove for DoorDash. He’d drive this.)
For the Somm: The Coastal Elite – There’s a new AVA in town. Per Esther Mobley in the SF Chronicle, “Wineries in the far-coastal stretches of Sonoma County just got a big win: They can soon print ‘West Sonoma Coast’ on their labels, the culmination of a decade-long battle to gain recognition for their region. The West Sonoma Coast [became] California’s newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) on Monday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has announced, and the 19th AVA within Sonoma County.” The West Sonoma Coast joins the San Luis Obispo Coast as the two regions to get their own AVAs so far this year.
“Try America’s newest recognized wine region!” sounds like a solid tableside sales pitch to me, and I assume the markup’s not bad either…. (I see wine rater James Suckling sells WSC’s Littorai 2017 Pinot Noir for about $40USD a glass here in Hong Kong.)
P.S. - Learned a lot of fun facts going down the AVA rabbit hole this morning, but my favorite by far is that the first recognized AVA in America, created 8 months before Napa in 1980, was none other than… Augusta, Missouri.
And last but not least: For Design Fans – “Bask in French Decadence at Lincoln Carson’s New Hollywood Restaurant,” with a photospread by Wonho Frank Lee in Eater LA. I can’t quite put my finger on why those bistro chairs feel like a missed opportunity — Maybe something with a bit more back would help an early hours, half-empty room look less empty? Is rattan too trendy? — but want to hone in on one detail I think I love (from this distance): That little poof of fabric upholstery on top of the leather booths. There’s probably a name for it? Banquette bouffant?
And that’s it for today. Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy/pasted below as usual. If you aren’t a paying subscriber and wish you were getting Tuesday Family Meals on Tuesday…
That said: A reminder that there will be no Family Meal this Tuesday on account of the long weekend, so…
I’ll see everyone back here on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a 12-cubic-foot cargo hold that can be modified with a warming element to email@example.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!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, May 24th, 2022:
Saudi foodwashing, Manhattan price-raising, Alton Brown humanizing, and more...
Two years ago this week, Tunde Wey’s provocative “Let It Die” proposal for the restaurant industry made it all the way to the New Yorker via an interview with Helen Rosner. The argument felt a bit toned down by the time it got there — Wey admitted his original essay was somewhat “euphemistic” — but rereading it still brings me back. Not necessarily anywhere I want to go. But back.
Anyway, lots of TV stuff to get to for some reason this week, so…
Let’s get to it…
The High Ground – This newsletter is too pithy to fully wrestle with the question of what it means to open a restaurant in an area run by an oppressive government, but I do think this Lexis-Olivier Ray LA Taco piece about restaurants doing pop-ups (and maybe more) in Saudi is worth a read. “Jon & Vinny’s, Petit Trois, Chi Spacca, Joans on Third, Avra, and The Palm have all done popups in Saudi Arabia’s capital recently or are planning to. But you will find little to no mention of that on their social media accounts or official websites.” That could be for various reasons, but it is definitely difficult to avoid negative associations in some places. During one recent pop-up, “While serving hundreds of meals by night, members of Jon & Vinny’s staff and one of the owners stayed at the five-starred Ritz Carlton for at least part of the time. ‘Last day of service,’ [one employee] posted a selfie of himself in the blue marble pool at the Ritz, where rooms start at several hundred dollars per night and where four years prior, wealthy Saudi royals accused of corruption were infamously detained.
“The hotel is commonly used to house guests of Saudi leaders.”
The Hikes – In the top 1% of the American restaurant scene, critic / price-tracker Ryan Sutton says the road to high prices is paved in relatively small, constant increments. Sample numbers from a longer rundown in Eater NY: “In late 2019, Le Bernardin asked $168 for its four-course menu, $198 for a seven-course tasting, and $228 for an eight-course menu, with a three-course lunch running $93. Now, following a series of small increases over the past two years — sometimes as little as $5 at a time — the shortest menu is $195, while the tasting is $295. Lunch is $120…. Gramercy Tavern charged $148 for its tasting menu last summer, before jumping up to $158 and now, to $165. Daniel Boulud’s Le Pavillon, in turn, has pushed up its three-course menu by $10 to $135, and its tasting by the same amount to $205.”
For TV Fans – Somehow, lost in the swirl of tens of millions of dollars they were spending to hold on to Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, I missed the fact that the Food Network has let Alton Brown go (though not in the firing sense, as far as I know). His move to Netflix’s new Iron Chef reboot means he’s no longer with his old network of 20 years, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Gerrad Hall. Maybe that means all the zero sum budgeting is zeroed out on the two big F’s, or maybe there’s suddenly room for someone… new / different? Call your agents, folks!
Meanwhile, on that Iron Chef front, competitors were announced last week. Per People’s Antonia DeBianchi: “Among the five returning Iron Chefs are Michelin-starred TV chef Curtis Stone, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, cookbook author Gabriela Camara, Emmy Award-winning chef Ming Tsai and multi-Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn. And their competition is fierce. From restaurateurs to award-winning chefs and former Top Chef contestants, the Challenger Chefs include Mason Hereford, Curtis Duffy, Claudette Zepeda, Esther Choi, Gregory Gourdet, Mei Lin and Yia Vang.”
P.S. – Sign of the times: Brown spends a bunch of that Entertainment Weekly interview talking about how a big part of this new Iron Chef show is going to be co-host Kristen Kish honing in on the personal stories of participants. Sometimes I forget a lot of that is still new. Here’s Brown: “I think that what the audience is going to get from this is that any anyone who's ever been an Iron Chef fan is going to realize, Oh my gosh, there are real human beings doing this, there are real human beings making this food, and this is a very human enterprise that's going on here.”
Oh my gosh!
And last and least: For TV Fans Too – Back on the Food Network front… drama. Headline in Variety: “‘90 Day Fiancé’ Team Sets Food Network, Discovery+ Show Following Restaurateur Couples Trying to Avoid Divorce.” Jennifer Maas reports, “Per its official description, ‘Me or the Menu’ shines a spotlight on some of the reasons that approximately 60% of restaurants fail and nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce… Balancing a stressful restaurant start-up and the needs of a significant other may prove to be the ultimate test.”
Participants include: Kathleen Murray and Nate Albert (Lombard, IL); Randi Lee and Jeanette Zinno (Brooklyn); James Martin and Jessica Neal (Chicago); and Nicole Baldwin and Alan Yuhanna (Houston).
You will be shocked to learn that financial strains are a top issue in descriptions of each relationship. Sounds like… fun TV?
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see you all back here Friday for next Family Meal.
Oh, and please note that this Monday is Memorial Day, so there will be no Family Meal on Tuesday following the long weekend. (Food media will be busy grilling.)
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or me or the menu to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!