Bowien deals, Wade responds, Esca sold, Lens eats, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, May 10, 2019
Let’s get to it…
Beard Breakdown – Eater editor Hillary Dixler Canavan makes some good points about the JBFA in her post-awards analysis here, including how pizza and sushi chefs are often overlooked, that the regional awards need some redistricting work, and why there’s hope for sustaining the recent push towards diversity at the Beards. But on that last point, she also noted a speech that garnered a fair amount of side-eye emojis from food media on Twitter during the show (eg: Soleil Ho, Mayukh Sen, Alicia Kennedy, Esther Tseng): “Greg Wade flattened the complexity of systemic discrimination that plays out through America’s food system with an ‘all lives matter’ speech. Accepting his award for Outstanding Baker, Wade said: ‘We have one food system — for the 1 percent, for the 99 percent, for Democrats, for Republicans, for Black Lives Matter, for Blue Lives Matter. And we all have to start working together.’”
Some came to Wade’s defense (here’s Michael Gebert and Peter Frost), but because it didn’t seem like anyone had asked Wade for his own reaction to the reaction, I reached out and got this statement through a publicist: “The sentiment behind my statement at the James Beard Awards— only a fraction of which has been quoted from the entirety of my speech which further articulated our cause— is that we live in a divided country right now, but that on a large scale we have only one system to feed all of those different people. It’s an issue that supersedes political parties, race, or economic background, and we all need to work together to better understand its inherent problems. Our current food system is maintained around corporations through practice and food policy, and by coming together to fix the fractures within the system, we can provide long term solutions for making good food accessible to everyone.” Full statement at bottom. Make of it what you will.
The Critics – A warning re cash grabs: At Mission Chinese Food in Brooklyn, Danny Bowien, “is running a monthlong ‘Great Buy’ menu that promotes and uses [Arizona Iced Tea’s] products in two savory dishes, one cocktail and a dessert.” Pete Wells is unimpressed. The NYT critic makes clear he’s focused very specifically on the paid partnership’s impact on the food, but uses that starting point to knock Bowien for everything from the sanctity of the menu (“My restaurants, especially my menus, are completely sacred to me,’ said the chef Bobby Flay”(!)) to local social ills (“Mr. Bowien said he was not aware that the neighborhood had elevated levels of obesity and diabetes.”), and then ends the piece with a bit of a dig at the youth:
“Some of those customers, no doubt, belong to a generation that is as jaded about marketing as any group of Americans has ever been. People for whom the word ‘hustle’ has lost all of its negative connotations may well admire Mr. Bowien for making a deal, not quite realizing that what he has sold is access to their heads.”
NB: The Times did not include their usual “Reserve a Table” button in this piece. That button – often featured at both top and bottom of Wells’ reviews – comes with this disclaimer: “When you make a reservation at an independently reviewed restaurant through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.” #hustle.
P.S. – For an interesting rebuttal to Wells, check out Cathy Erway’s piece “Swallow the Sponsorship; Ads arrive on restaurant menus — and there may be no going back.” in Grubstreet.
The Profile Treatment – In the many pieces written about chef Peter Chang, I don’t recall ever reading that when he and his wife Lisa “first met in 1984, working on a Yangtze River cruise boat, she was his superior.” Now she’s in charge again at their new restaurant Mama Chang, and David Hagedorn has a write-up of her side of their story in the Washington Post. Favorite fact: “Lisa's real name is Hongying. … she chose to go by Lisa ‘because it was easy to write, easy to remember, and there were already too many Helens.’” Too many Helens.
Midwest Moves – Per Ashok Selvam in Eater Chicago, “Free Rein, the ground-floor restaurant inside the St. Jane Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago, has a new chef… Kristine Subido… known for her Filipino chicken restaurant, Pecking Order which closed in 2014 in Uptown.”
The Media – SF Chronicle drinks writer Maggie Hoffman tweeted yesterday: “I have just one more bar review to go—written (mostly) but not yet pubbed… I'll be around on and off this summer, then headed back east to be closer to family. New York, I'm coming for you! (And looking for work!)”
Michelin Season – The 2019 guide for Rio and Sao Paolo is out, with “a grand total of 165 restaurants, including 32 [Bibs] and 18 starred restaurants.” Still nada in the three-star bracket, but Oro (Rio), Tuju (SP) and D.O.M. (SP) all retained two stars, and Cipriani (Rio), Evvai (SP), and Oteque (Rio) made the one-star list for the first time. Ótimo.
The Google – At its big developer conference this week, Google announced a handful of changes to image recognition app Lens, and The Verge’s Jon Porter reports, “The biggest new addition is better support for Lens in restaurants. You can point your phone’s camera at a menu, and Lens will automatically highlight popular dishes at the restaurant, and selecting individual dishes will show you photos and reviews from Google Maps. Then, when it comes time to pay, you can point your camera at the bill and Google Lens will bring up a menu to help you calculate a tip and split the bill.” Sounds super fun and spontaneous!
The Sale – In NYC, “Esca, the theater district restaurant that was the celebrity chef Mario Batali’s first and most elegant seafood-focused venture, has been sold to Dave Pasternack, its longtime executive chef. Mr. Pasternack and his new partners acquired the restaurant from the entity formerly known as Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group on Tuesday, said Joe Bastianich.” Julia Moskin has the details in the NYT, including a revenue drop of 30% since the allegations against Batali in December, 2017. (Still, worth remembering that last time Bastianich proclaimed a total separation from his partner, he quietly filed paperwork a few days later making clear that definitions of “total separation” may vary…)
Wither Charleston – Headline: “As Mainstays Depart, Charleston Asks Where Its Restaurant Scene Is Headed”. Per Kim Severson, “The departures of [Sean Brock] and Hominy Grill have turned up the heat on a discussion that was already brewing in Charleston, a jewel-box city built on hospitality and rice culture but also on a brutal history as the nation’s capital of the slave trade… ‘I don’t know what the city is right now,’ said B.J. Dennis… ‘We lost our culinary identity, and I am not just talking about Gullah Geechee but about the whole Lowcountry cuisine.’” Oh.
And last but not least – Twitter user SNL Snippets posted “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup with Lucy Lawless (1998)” last night, and I can’t stop humming Rhiannon. “In the ‘70s I dedicated myself to witchcraft, Lindsey Buckingham, and cocaine. But now I use that same energy and dedication to bring you an affordable dining experience you’ll never forget.” You’re welcome.
And that’s it for today.
I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.
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P.S. PSA – There’s a weird rash of aerosol oil cans exploding and causing serious injury lately. Most recently in VA, “A man suffered serious burn injuries after a flash fire erupted in the kitchen of a popular Ballston restaurant during Tuesday’s lunchtime rush… Capt. Ben O’Bryant told ARLnow that the fire was caused by an aerosol can of cooking oil that ignited after being placed next to a stove.” That’s on top of at least six similar home cooking incidents that sparked a lawsuit against Conagra. If your kitchen uses spray, maybe time for a safety talk with the team…
And finally, here’s that full statement from Greg Wade, Head Baker, Publican Quality Bread:
As an advocate for the sustainable movement here in the Midwest and an active member of the Spence Farm Foundation (now known as the Farmer-Chef Alliance) and the Artisan Grain Collaborative, a collective which includes local farmers, millers, chefs, bakers, agricultural researchers and nutrition experts, the primary mission has been our fight to mend the broken food system we endure both locally and nationally to create a more diversified and resilient regional food system.
I have voluntarily worked with these groups for many years helping to preserve heritage grain varieties, maintain sustainable and organic practices as well as to help spread education to the public regarding the food we eat.
The sentiment behind my statement at the James Beard Awards— only a fraction of which has been quoted from the entirety of my speech which further articulated our cause— is that we live in a divided country right now, but that on a large scale we have only one system to feed all of those different people. It’s an issue that supersedes political parties, race, or economic background, and we all need to work together to better understand its inherent problems. Our current food system is maintained around corporations through practice and food policy, and by coming together to fix the fractures within the system, we can provide long term solutions for making good food accessible to everyone.