Beard season, Review dons, Some sad news, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, January 27th, 2023
Christmas is over. New Years is over. Lunar New Year is over. It is officially the Year of the Rabbit.
Let’s hop to it…
Beard Season – The long, long, long list of 2023 James Beard Award Semifinalists is out. Official list here. Too many to include multiple categories here, but here’re the Best New Restaurant possibilities for a taste:
Al Coro, New York, NY; The Backporch, Roundup, MT; Bar Spero, Washington, D.C.; Birch & Rye, San Francisco, CA; Causa, Washington, D.C.; Dept of Culture, New York, NY; Don Artemio, Fort Worth, TX; Et Al., Tulsa, OK; The Friar's Fork, Alamosa, CO; Heavy Metal Sausage Co., Philadelphia, PA; Heff's Burger Club, Winston-Salem, NC; Kann, Portland, OR; Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining, Chicago, IL; KRU, Brooklyn, NY; La Royal, Cambridge, MA; Lupi & Iris, Milwaukee, WI; Nami Kaze, Honolulu, HI; Neng Jr.'s, Asheville, NC; Nolia, Cincinnati, OH; Obélix, Chicago, IL; ōkta, McMinnville, OR; Pijja Palace, Los Angeles, CA; Pizza Grace, Birmingham, AL; Restaurant Beatrice, Dallas, TX; Sambou's African Kitchen, Jackson, MS; Stissing House, Pine Plains, NY; Tatemó, Houston, TX; Tatsu, Dallas, TX; Yangban Society, Los Angeles, CA; and wolfpeach, Camden, ME.
Hard to do any meaningful analysis on such a big, preliminary list, but the one obvious problem is they’re still listing Brooklyn, NY as somehow distinct from New York, NY. You cannot conjure geographic diversity via personal feelings about what it means to cross a bridge, New Yorkers!
“Nominees will be announced on Wednesday, March 29, and winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on Monday, June 5, 2023, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.”
Good luck, all!
The “critics” – A heads up to anyone thinking about faking some positive reviews to spur business in these tough times: “In October, representatives from Yelp, Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, Google and several other review sites met for a one-day closed-door conference in San Francisco to discuss how they could work together to tackle fake online reviews. It was the first time such a meeting had been held, said Becky Foley, the senior director of trust and safety at Tripadvisor, which organized the summit. The Federal Trade Commission, which is looking into strengthening penalties against companies that solicit and sell fake reviews, also sent a representative, Ms. Foley said.” Per the reporting by Maria Cramer in the NYT, “The F.T.C., which declined to confirm sending a representative to the October summit, announced that same month that it was looking into creating a rule that would ‘prevent unfair or deceptive marketing utilizing reviews and endorsements.’”
I love it when a shadow government plan comes together.
I’m told Google opened the meeting with a heartfelt plea to come together: “How did things ever get so far? It’s so unfortunate. So unnecessary… And why? I believe this fake review business is going to destroy us in years to come. It’s not like standard search, or maps, or even augmented reality eyeglasses, which is something people want.”
Some Sad News – “Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, a pioneer in teaching Americans to cook traditional Chinese food, died on Nov. 13 at her home in Montclair, N.J. She was 85.” Priya Krishna has an obituary in the NYT. Beyond cookbooks and teaching, Lo and her husband Fred Feretti did a bit of restaurant reviewing for the NYT, and “Ms. Lo befriended acclaimed chefs like Charlie Palmer and David Burke and taught them to cook Chinese food in their establishments. Mr. Burke hired her in the mid-1990s to help create a dim sum brunch menu at his restaurant Park Avenue Cafe.”
And last but not least: The Podcast – Expedite’s Kristen Hawley and I are back with a long overdue return to (working title) Restaurant Week, the podcast where we chat through all the news we’re paying attention to in our beats this week. The plan is to do one a week, coming out on Fridays throughout 2023. If you like to listen to friends shoot the shit about this industry and the media and tech swirling around it, this is your huckleberry. (And if you want to sponsor it or help us professionalize it, get in touch!) Listen over at Expedite here, or stick right here:
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid edition, which is copy / pasted below for non-paying subscribers as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays too…
I’ll see paying subscribers back here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or deceptive marketing utilizing reviews and endorsements 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!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, January 24th:
Eater down, Denmark D'Or, Dubai debuts, and more...
And hello from the back of a van, barreling down a highway somewhere between San Juan La Union and Manila.
By the time you’re reading this, I will have either scored a last minute reservation at Toyo Eatery, or be eating in some mall near the Manila airport.
Wherever I may be now, I spent most of last night and this morning trying to get a sense of what’s going on at Eater after a hard week there, so mostly a food media focus today.
Let’s get to it…
The Media – Vox Media cut 7% of its staff this week, and parts of Eater were trimmed back in turn. Publicly, producer Pelin Keskin, editor Meghan McCarron, and NY critic Ryan Sutton each announced they had been let go. According to multiple people, Matt Buchanan is also out, and Eater has jettisoned both the London and Montreal sites, meaning it’s all USA for now (except travel). No word yet on what that means for staff in those cities.
I’m told that at a tough all hands meeting on Monday, publisher Amanda Kludt and editor in chief Stephanie Wu were peppered with questions from union members, but leadership kept answers brief and explained the need for cuts by announcing that the Eater division was not profitable last year. Kludt told the team that ad sales dropped sharply in 2022. Razor-thin margins.
There may be a few scorned restaurant people dancing on Sutton’s empty desk, but Twitter types mostly expressed support and sadness for everyone losing jobs — here’s Danny Meyer with some kind words for Sutton — and many were definitely upset by McCarron’s firing. On Friday, she tweeted, “I’ve spent the last 9 1/2 years at Eater doing work I’m immensely proud of. Today is my last day, since I’ve been affected by the layoffs at Vox. I’m also 37 weeks pregnant.”
Sounds like staff at some of the smaller city sites are spooked by the cuts, but nothing further is planned (publicly) right now. One staffer felt somewhat reassured that at least the ship was generally solid, but then added, “It feels like the glory days are long gone. The days of lavish dinners and big company gatherings…. I can’t imagine Eater will feel the same way, at least internally, for a while. The site is approaching 20 years, which is crazy. But Eater as we know it became huge because of the Vox merger. I wonder if from here it’s a fairly steady ride or one that slows down over time.”
Good luck, all!
The D’Or – If you were paying attention to the Bocuse D’Or competition in Lyon this week — and who wasn’t? — winning teams went 1-2-3 Denmark, Norway, Hungary. Announcement and podium pics on Instagram here.
Will Ralph Fiennes host next year? This pundit says: [Big CLAP] Yes, chef!
The Op-Ed – In the NYT, North Carolina’s Vivian Howard uses Noma’s “closure” as a jumping off for an opinion piece spelling out all the difficulties of the restaurant industry — ditching razors for “paper-thin margins” — and ends with the innovation she thinks will save her group’s PnLs: “Our kitchen will make money seven days a week, because we’ll be cooking for people whose butts are not in our dining room. Chefs who have graduated from nights on the line to quiet days in the kitchen will cook meals to stock the restaurant’s small collection of free-standing, strategically located smart fridges. Covid gave us many horrible things, but it also birthed a new and relatively inexpensive way to enjoy food tapped by a chef’s magic wand at home. Next-level take-and-bakes, chef-prepared assemble-and-eats and pasta deliveries, when coupled with an already operating kitchen, will help make us whole.”
Next-level take-and-bakes sounds an awful lot like Blue Apron et al.? I’m not entirely sold. But I’m not not rooting for it!
And last but not least… The Emirates – Permanently camped on the moral high ground, Keith McNally took (Instagram) shots at Beyoncé for playing a private show promoting a big new property launch in Dubai last week. He reasoned that UAE’s ban on homosexuality made doing business in the country ethically compromised, and implied he turned down $1M to open a Balthazar in Dubai because of it.
Does McNally — and the industry — feel the same way about the chefs opening places in the same property? Per CN Traveler’s Mercedes Bleth, that’s José Andrés, Nobu Matsuhisa, Costas Spiliadis, Ariana Bundy, Mitch Turner, and Gaston Acurio, but there are obviously a ton of others with spots in the city. Should international chefs not open in repressive places? What countries should be on that list? Do McNally’s restaurants’ supply chains run through some of them?
I don’t know. Maybe he’ll post about it?
And that’s it for today! A glib ending while I’m still stuck in traffic. But I did manage to get a seat at Toyo tonight. So the night is looking up!
I hope your day gets good too. I’ll see you back here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or the days of lavish dinners and big company gatherings 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!