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First person 50 Best, a Top 100 changes, Regan closes, Muser rocks(?), and more...
Family Meal - Friday, June 28th, 2019
Back from Singapore. Let’s get to it…
Awards Season – Headline in the Washington Post: “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards has made changes, but has anything really changed?” Article by yours truly. A different style for a different medium, but come for a balanced discussion of positives and negatives, stay for Gaggan Anand repeatedly shouting “FUCK MICHELIN!” at his party guests.
Of note: It seems like the rules that kept Noma on the list when every other former number 1 was retired to a “Best of the Best” category are still very case by case. When I asked 50 Best’s William Drew about it, he told me, “‘We looked at whether it had a new name; Noma doesn’t. Whether it had a new chef; this one doesn’t. Whether it had a new concept, and whether it had been closed for a significant period between the two.’ He said simply moving a restaurant wouldn’t work, but, ‘with Noma, it was such a fundamental reinvention. The whole idea is completely different.’” Is it?
A few takeaways that didn’t make the cut are last but not least below, but please let me know what you think of the article, and please share widely so people let me write more. Feel free to copy/paste: “Wow. What a smart take! https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2019/06/25/the-worlds-50-best-restaurants-awards-has-made-changes-but-has-anything-really-changed/”
The Lists – The SF Chronicle is out with its first Top 100 Restaurants of the Soleil Ho era, and the headline makes clear it’s a departure: “Different? Definitely.” It was a team effort this year, and as explained in an accompanying FAQ, the two biggest course corrections from Bauer’s time are probably: 1) To make way for a broader mix of price points, they “sequestered all the restaurants that sold tasting menus with a $200-plus price tag into their own bracket and judged them according to a rubric specific to them…. At these prices, we want more.” And 2) “Factors beyond the dining experience did matter in the formation of this list, so sexual harassment and assault allegations factored in as we sorted through the long list."
On that second point, important to remember this is not only about excluding bad actors. “Restaurants with thoughtful leadership, above-and-beyond worker benefits and wage parity were specifically sought out.” Italics mine. Tell your investors!
The Group Chat – Don’t have a link for this one, but ever since Son of a Butcher closed somewhat suddenly in Chicago a few weeks ago, the Chicago Service Industry Facebook group has been lighting up with some serious criticism of the owner, according to screenshots from a reliable source there. I’m uncomfortable quoting them directly here because I don’t have access to the group page, but if anyone in Illinois wants to do some digging, there’s dirt in them thar hills…
The Close – Still Chicago, less rumor: “About a month since its resurrection, star chef Iliana Regan has closed Bunny the Microbakery and Workshop and she also plans to close the Japanese restaurant that housed the bakery, Kitsune. Bunny has already ceased operations…. Kitsune is set to close on July 13.” Details from Ashok Selvam on Eater.
The Ever – Still Chicago… Real quick: It’s insane that people are writing about Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser opening a new restaurant and not asking who their investors are or how they structured their ownership stake differently this time. Please, do it for me. Do it for Grace. (P.S. Shout out to Muser for the big lead-guitar-energy in telling the Chicago Tribune “This is all about Curtis; this is his Ever,” and then having someone post this picture of himself on Instagram.)
The Media – Press release: “Thrillist, the James Beard award winning resource for food, travel, and entertainment, has named author, podcast host and food storyteller Nicole Taylor as Executive Food Editor.” That’s a big get for Thrillist, and one that Eater Young Guns editor Osayi Endolyn called “truly historic.” Been banging my head against old mastheads trying to define the “first” here, but guess the thing is, first or not, some kinds of hires will continue to be truly historic until they’re truly common. Taylor goes by @foodculturist on Twitter, FYI.
Congrats to Ashley Christensen and AC Restaurants exec director Kaitlyn Goalen on their wedding this weekend! Eater Charleston’s Erin Perkins has the instagram roundup, and reports, “Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge officiated the ceremony, while all-star chefs like Vivian Howard, Sean Brock, Sam Jones, and Steven Satterfield looked on.”
The Suits – Eater NY’s Stefanie Tuder reports, “Chef Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant group Noho Hospitality is paying out a whopping $5.5 million to settle a wage suit brought against its high-profile restaurants around town like Lafayette, Bar Primi, and Locanda Verde. The class action suit covers anyone who worked in a front-of-house, tipped position at Noho Hospitality restaurants… between September 2012 and January 2019. Four employees initiated the suit, claiming that the company didn’t pay the proper minimum wage and overtime pay, as well as misappropriated tips from private events.”
The Suits Too – Per Janelle Bitker in the SF Chronicle, “Jurors cleared the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group of wrongdoing in its pregnancy discrimination trial on Wednesday.” But but but, “The plaintiff’s attorneys told The Chronicle they… plan to appeal the decision.”
The Suits Three – In DC, “Three former employees of Sushi Ogawa are suing the restaurant and its proprietors for $1.3 million.” Washington City Paper’s Laura Hayes notes the lawsuit is complicated for various reasons, not least of which is that one of the plaintiffs “says he was once engaged to [owner Minoru Ogawa’s] daughter, Nina. ‘Right now we’re figuring things out,’ Can Yurdagul says of his relationship. ‘We’re having philosophical and real questions about how hard relationships can be given the situation.’” Bet those conversations are going to make great songs in the musical (which I hope ends well for all).
And last but not least – some takeaways that didn’t make my WaPo 50 Best piece-that-you-should-click-on-and-read-and-share:
1) An off moment: At the opening 50BestTalks event, Ana Roš (46 years old) was talking about age discrimination and the problem of making life in the kitchen work for people over 50, when Daniela Soto-Innes (28) interrupted her to say, “I don’t think age matters” because Cosme’s kitchen has a healthy range of ages (though as far as I can tell the upper-end is concentrated on one team – tortillas – that has a special rotating schedule in place to accommodate them?).
Age at work (and in life) is a subject it seems like younger people really struggle to take seriously, and for me, cringing at this exchange, I saw an underrepresented person trying to explain their perspective, but getting cut off by an establishment type saying, “Nonsense! We’ve got plenty of your kind in our kitchen.” You can watch for yourself at around the 46 minute mark here.
P.S. I asked for a joint interview with the two chefs the next day, but was told by a 50 Best intermediary that their PR teams would not accept without questions in advance. I declined, but would still love to hear your thoughts, chefs!
2) Met a bunch of “50 Best Taste Hunters” – food blogger / instagrammer types who are basically unpaid influencers for the 50 Best brand. Some were relatively normal people with day jobs who just really like fine dining and were understandably happy to be invited into its “inner circle.” Others had a hard time answering the “How do you make money?” question. After I got done talking to one group, a media person pulled me aside and told me they’d seen those guys get comped (a minimum of) hundreds of dollars worth of dinner at a famous CA restaurant. Obviously not surprising, but nice work if you can gram it!
3) I had a fun conversation about a famous male attendee that ended like this: “No, I mean, yeah, he’s totally gross and definitely touched me, but I don’t need to me-too him or anything.” Bet that sentence is more common than you (read: I) thought.
And 4) If you’re wearing a beret or wide-brimmed hat indoors at a major food event, I’m going to assume you are Francis Mallmann. This, to be very clear, is your fault.
And that’s it for today!
Quick shout out to WaPo Food editor Joe Yonan for all the polish / details he slathered onto that article before it went out. There was a working indoor Ferris wheel at the afterparty, but no functioning WiFi.
I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.
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