Gaggan freed, Walla Walla Phylloxera, Media ethics, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, September 6th, 2019

Hello Friday,

Let’s get to it…

Gaggan Freed – Update: My story on the final days leading up to the sudden closure of Gaggan in Bangkok is out from behind the paywall. Excerpt: “While negotiations went back and forth, [chef Gaggan Anand] went public with his resignation in Singapore’s Straights Times, citing ‘major differences’ with his investors, but adding, ‘I'm planning to buy over the other shares and if I succeed, I'll still run the restaurant. Otherwise, I may open a new restaurant.’ … Gaggan went on vacation. The partners tried a new approach. They installed security cameras throughout the restaurant, called an all-staff (minus one) meeting, and told the team they intended to keep Gaggan open without its namesake chef until at least June 2020, if not longer. Every employee who stayed would be offered four months salary as bonus, to be vested in two chunks over the next year. According to Gaggan, some key staff were offered six to eight month bonuses. The team had until 5PM on July 16th, to decide.” (Spoiler: Didn’t work.)

The Delivery Lobby – “Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig-work companies may go directly to California voters to combat AB5, a proposed law that could turn their drivers into employees — and they already have a $90 million war chest. The companies are gearing up to sponsor a ballot initiative in November 2020 that would allow them to provide drivers with some benefits and earning guarantees while keeping them as independent contractors. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million into a fund for the initiative Thursday. California labor leaders, who back AB5, said they would go all out to defeat ‘this cynical measure,’ decrying it as ‘the biggest anti-worker campaign in decades.’” Details via Carolyn Said in the SF Chronicle, where her colleague Dustin Gardiner reports the governor has thrown his weight behind AB5, and if it “passes final votes in the state Senate and Assembly, it could be on [Governor] Newsom’s desk before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 13.”

Hard to say exactly what happens with these platforms (and their fees) if this bill goes into effect, but if it survives legal challenges… your state next?

The Last Call – In other CA legislative news, per Eater SF’s Caleb Pershan: “In his ongoing quest to let bars in CA cities stay open past 2 a.m., State Senator Scott Wiener has compromised on a new possible bedtime: 3 a.m., rather than a previously proposed 4 a.m…. With a new governor in charge — nightlife industry veteran Gavin Newsom, who once co-owned Marina institution the Balboa Cafe — the odds could be in Wiener’s favor.”

For the Somm – The view from Walla Walla, Washington, via Oregon Live’s Michael Alberty: “The conventional wisdom among many winemakers in Walla Walla was that their winters were too cold and the soils too sandy for phylloxera to gain a significant foothold. Billo Naravane, the co-owner of Rasa Vineyards in Walla Walla, punctured that sense of invulnerability with a social media post on Aug. 26: ‘Phylloxera has hit several vineyards in Walla Walla, and I am quite certain that other (American Viticultural Areas) will be affected soon if they aren't already. I understand people's reluctance to talk about the issue, but it was bound to happen at some point. Burying one's head in the sand is not going to help.’”

For Design Fans – Haven’t had time to reach out to confirm, but what looks like fabric covering the rafters and shading some lighting in this Alex Staniloff photospread of Llama San in Eater NY appears to be a brilliant way to blend some sound baffling into an otherwise relatively hard and smooth design? (Oh, and the way those stools line up on the foot rest in the headline photo… A very small thing, but be still my flush-and-level loving heart.)

And last but not least: The Ethics – Something I’ve been thinking about: Even as some food journalism has gotten “more serious” lately (you know what I mean), editors and outlets are literally getting into business with the restaurants they write about, and it seems weird not to talk about that. The New York Times is promoting an inaugural NYT Food Festival in October, with a lineup “All handpicked by Times editors” and the Food desk of the Times. Eater is hosting paid events with its “Young Gun” chefs throughout the year. For a while during the re-launch of the LA Times food section, (as far as I recall) almost all the ads were for LA Times Taste.

This is not new, but deserves a discussion of ethics that I haven’t seen yet. How are these outlets maintaining impartiality when the wall between revenue and journalism has apparently disappeared? What consideration is given to the power dynamics between restaurants and the media when contracts are signed and percentages are negotiated?

Maybe this is all on par with the usual live interviews and panel discussions, but feels like it requires a little deeper thought when a journalist picks a business, people go to that business, and the journalist’s employer makes money. And re: influence on coverage, in the case of the NYT festival, a release on the PR page says: “The Festival will also be supported by robust New York Times editorial content in the weeks leading up to the October celebration.” (Selena Meyer voice: “Robust!”)

Talk amongst yourselves? Send me your thoughts!

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.

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