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Family Meal - Friday, February 10th, 2023
It’s practically a food media holiday weekend! Super Bowl snack content meets Valentine’s Day such and such — Wine lists? Date restaurant recs? Candy histories? Such and such!
If you’ve marked up prices at your date night spot, or ordered an extra keg or two for your TV-wrapped bar, I hope everyone working makes big money, and all the customers leave glowing reviews.
Good luck, all!
Let’s get to it…
The Diplomats – At a US State Department ceremony this week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the relaunch of the government’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership and its supporting American Culinary Corps via the signing of an MOU with the James Beard Foundation.
You may remember a similar ceremony back in 2012 when the DCP was originally launched (way back when Eater did stories headlined: “All the Quotes, Gossip and Chef Sightings…”).
Said Blinken this time around: “This program is going to bring American chefs into our diplomatic events, from embassy receptions to state dinners. It will give foreign visitors and dignitaries a chance to learn about the history of American cuisine and quite literally get a taste of our culture. And it will promote American food abroad, introducing our products, our restaurants, flavorful innovations to people around the world. At the heart of this initiative is the new American Culinary Corps. We have enlisted more than 80 of our nation’s most talented chefs, reflecting the rich diversity of our nation and our food.”
At least 50 of those 80 chefs were present at the ceremony, but Blinken only name-checked a handful: “Marjorie Meek-Bradley, Tanya Holland, Edward Lee, Gregory Gourdet, Karen Akunowicz, Kwame Onwuachi, Carl Dooley, others that I can’t begin to name because time would not allow it.” José Andrés gave a speech via video as he was in Turkey with World Central Kitchen.
Official notes say it went over well:
The Gas – Headline in the Washington Post: “Will most chefs ever trade gas stoves for induction? It’s complicated.” Tim Carman gets into the national conversation around cooking with gas, teasing out pros and cons via cameos with chefs across the country. (Amanda Cohen is all in on induction; Tom Colicchio and Alice Waters are making the switch; J. Kenji Lopez-Alt sees limitations for woks.) But maybe the most interesting detail for me was this: “Seventy-six percent of restaurants across the country use gas in their kitchens, according to a National Restaurant Association survey last year, and the number climbs to 87 percent when you take into account just full-service restaurants.”
13% of full service restaurants in the US don’t use gas at all? Did sous vide really conquer that much menu ground?!
The Critics – The SF Chronicle’s Soleil Ho followed up her departure essay in that paper (mentioned in Tuesday’s Family Meal below) by giving an exit interview to NY Mag’s Chris Crowley in Grubstreet. Haven’t reached out to Ho yet, but I think everyone reporting on restaurants during the pandemic knows this feeling: “As a critic, there’s a disconnect between your loyalties to the reader and to the worker. Criticism can be compassionate and kind to all stakeholders, but the disconnects felt starker as the pandemic continued. I don’t want to say that people like us — you know, food journalists, writers, and critics — are wrong for continuing doing what we do or for finding meaning in the work.”
It was hard on everyone. Harder on the people it was hardest on, for sure. But hard on everyone too.
And last but not least: The Podcast - Expedite’s Kristen Hawley and I are back with a new edition of our Restaurant Week podcast today. Recorded late last night my time (that’s an excuse for my inarticulateness), we talk Ho’s Chronicle exit; Hawley’s hot take on Resy “winning” the reservations war; my hot take on the newest app selling reservations at specific tables at restaurants (Tablz with a z!); and more… Listen on Expedite here. Or right here:
And that’s it for today, except of course for Tuesday’s paid edition, which is copy / pasted below as usual for non-paying subscribers. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays too, and help keep this fantastic newsletter going…
I’ll see paying subscribers 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 (Applause) 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, February 7th, 2023:
Soleil out, Workers also out, Sluts in, and more...
Did you know the Super Bowl is this Sunday? I had no idea until I opened every food section in the country this morning.
Let’s get to it…
The Critics – San Francisco Chronicle critic Soleil Ho says they are moving on to a “new role in The Chronicle’s opinion section, where I’ll be serving as a columnist and cultural critic. I’ll still find the time to expound upon whatever especially crunchy food stories land at my desk, but I’ll expand my scope from solely food to popular culture, especially how we talk about work, the internet, art, politics and what we owe to each other.”
Ho’s era was a lot of things to a lot of people, none of which I can sum up here without risking downplaying (or overplaying). Even Ho didn’t get into much in their brief goodbye piece, which ended with the usual critic’s lament about the difficulties of (relative) anonymity, and none of the “What does it all mean?” introspection I half expected (and I hope someone else takes on)!
Whatever it all meant, Ho implies their seat won’t be empty long: “If you’re subscribed to the Bite Curious newsletter, stick around! The Chronicle’s food team will continue to keep the newsletter running until the next restaurant critic is hired, so it'll be nice and warm for whoever that might be.”
Ideas on who that might be? Email me! Support for my own application? Email the Chronicle!
Good luck, all!
The Upgraders – Headline in the Washington Post: “Restaurants Can’t Find Workers Because They’ve Found Better Jobs.” Key numbers from Abha Bhattarai and Maggie Penman:
“Nearly three years since the coronavirus pandemic upended the labor market, restaurants, bars, hotels and casinos remain short-staffed, with nearly 2 million unfilled openings. The leisure and hospitality industry, which before the pandemic accounted for much of the country’s job growth, is still short roughly 500,000 employees from 2020 levels, even as many other sectors have recovered.”
“Pressure to attract workers has driven up wages in the industry — by 23 percent in the past three years, more than in any other sector.”
“In January, the hospitality and leisure industry added 128,000 new jobs — the most of any sector. For now, demand continues to outpace supply. Fresh data this week showed that hospitality and leisure openings account for nearly 2 million of the country’s 11 million job openings.”
WaPo photo combo that sums up the narrative (or could just be an asymmetric Rorschach test examining your perspective on the joys of various forms of work…):
Headline in Eater Boston on February 3rd: “News of Chef Michael Scelfo’s New Restaurant Ignites Major Industry Backlash.”
I found most of that “swift and virulent” backlash (per Erika Adams) on Eater Boston’s Instagram page, where responses ranged from specific allegations from (presumably) former staff to:
Not exactly the media rollout of your dreams…
And last but not least: For Design Fans – I think I understand the ideas behind a natural wine bar called Sluts in San Francisco (though from a prude branding perspective, I do wonder if they outweigh the turnoffs), and I can even get down with the concept behind the very specific, uh, splatter in the blacklit bathrooms (photos by Jeremy Chiu in Eater SF). But something about a “Spit or Swallow?” neon sign behind the bar has me wondering if natural wine isn’t a bit too… on the nose sometimes?
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see you all back here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or leisure openings 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!