Jones drops, Hunter DROPS, Ciardullo in, Gras out, Galet gone, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, January 3rd, 2020
Dusting off the cobwebs after the long holidays. Please bear with me, and do feel free to send corrections or complaints my way: email@example.com.
Let’s get to it…
The Suits – Christmas Eve headline in the SF Chronicle: “Oakland chef Nigel Jones drops lawsuit against restaurateur Daniel Patterson.” Details of that suit are in the article ICYMI, but Jones told reporter Justin Phillips it had always been about more than the itemized complaints: “I wanted to bring this discussion about my partnership with him and make it to where others could speak about their partnerships with Daniel… Maybe I’ll come back to it but right now, most of my career is ahead of me and I want to focus on that.” (I’m no legal expert, but doubt a future judge is going to be very excited by the urgency of, “Maybe I’ll come back to it.”)
The Suits Too – And speaking of not helping your (legal) case, France 24 reports, “A French court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit brought by star chef Marc Veyrat seeking to force the [Michelin guide] to hand over its reasons for stripping his restaurant of a third star just a year after he won it… [The court] said Veyrat had offered no ‘proof showing the existence of any damage’ caused by the Michelin guide's demotion of his prestigious restaurant, Maison des Bois.” In fact, Veyrat was bragging before the ruling that business was up 7% since the move down to two stars. So… Congrats to Michelin for winning a legal victory based on the guide’s lack of real-world influence?
For the Media: Elevated So-so? – In SF, Brandon Jew, Ben Moore, and Anmao Sun are opening their new Mamahuhu concept this week. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how customers respond to Jew’s dishes, but followers of the debates over (among other things) language choices in food media will also want to keep an eye on conversations around this one. In his piece on the new place, Eater SF’s Luke Tsai uses quotation marks around “elevated” apparently to get around not wanting to use, uh, “elevated,” and then proceeds to “define” what counts as elevated. Fresh, quality ingredients? In-house production? And (as indirectly and improbably compared to Panda Express, a nearly 40 year-old, multibillion-dollar chain famously built on quick, easy guesswork…): “a lot of thought into the technique of how to keep the sweet-and-sour chicken crunchy”?
This is tricky territory, and the blame(?) for all that better-than messaging can’t only be put on media. Here’s a throwback piece from the Michelin blog a couple of years ago: “Commonly misconstrued as an unhealthy cuisine using cheap ingredients, Jew is on a quest to change the conversation about American Chinese food. ‘Everyone’s buying the same fermented black beans, the same oyster sauce, that’s why it all tastes the same,’ he says. ‘And when I look at the ingredients, it’s all full of crap.’”
Pithy take: Comparison to what’s out there is natural, but it needs to be accurate, and we should also ask if it’s necessary, especially in the case of an already famous chef metaphorically (per headlines) writing a “love letter” to the cuisine of his childhood. When people open pricey burger places, we don’t feel compelled to spend words rehashing what happened in Super Size Me. We just say, “Burgers exist. Here’s how this chef makes her burgers.” To be discussed? (But maybe sit this one out, AZ.)
The Departure – Also from Tsai, some news for SF/NYC yesterday: “A year and a half after his arrival in SF, [Laurent Gras] is leaving Saison to move to New York, the chef announced on his Instagram page over the weekend. His last day in the kitchen was New Year’s Eve.” No solid details yet on the futures of either Gras and Saison.
The Departure Too – Meanwhile, in Charleston, the Post and Courier’s Hanna Raskin has a doozy of a resignation letter from Christian Hunter, the now former chef of Sorghum & Salt. In leaving the restaurant, Hunter alleges low pay ($9/hr plus a tip-sharing system), big egos (owner Tres Jackson hogging credit for Hunter’s work), general disrespect (“bodily fluids” left in the restaurant after Jackson closed one night), and a failure to live up to the restaurant’s public farm-to-table ethos (“The beet creameux is something [Jackson] hangs his hat on… But beets aren’t in season year-round.”). Then Hunter wraps all that up with people’s willingness to both push his African American face forward when it serves their purposes (“When Hunter in July was promoted to chef de cuisine, the restaurant touted his African American heritage”), and look right past it when it doesn’t (“Most of the things on the menu were mine and he takes credit… And people are accepting of that because I don’t look like your typical downtown Charleston chef”). Oof.
The Arrivals – Tweet from Union Square Café last week: “We’re excited to welcome Lena Ciardullo as our Executive Chef of USC and Denez Moss from Manhatta as our General Manager!”
The Critics – The Toronto Star’s Amy Pataki ended her column on December 27th with: “The Ultimate Meal: Last month’s review… turned out to be my last review meal for the Star. The restaurant critic job is now done like dinner as the newspaper redeploys its resources to better serve readers.” As food writer Karon Liu put it on Twitter, that means “Toronto started the decade with restaurant critics at The Globe, Toronto Life, The Star, Now Magazine, and IIRC, Eye Weekly. Now we're down to zero.”
P.S. – Haven’t gotten through them all, but for more thoughts on what’s going on in these newsrooms, click around the replies and retweets to/of this Pete Wells’s take yesterday: “Restaurant criticism isn't having a crisis. It's as healthy as it's ever been, at least in the big cities. The crisis in US food writing is at the reporting level.”
The Podcasts – The prodigal podcaster (biblically accurate analogy, don’t @ me) returns to Racist Sandwich this week. Original host Soleil Ho doesn’t break a ton of new ground, but around the 26:45 mark she does reveal that she got the idea for her hard look at Le Colonial from the restaurant’s own press release. (Hadn’t even heard of the place before that email!) And at the end she says her goal for 2020 is to win a Pulitzer. Same (but a newslettzer).
For the Somm: Some Sad News – Can’t find a full obituary, but I’ll take this NYE Wink Lorch tweet for it: “I am very sorry to say this morning to learn that the seemingly indestructible Pierre Galet, the most famous ampelographer (grape scientist) of the 20th century, has died, aged 98.” Galet is described in this 1986(!) NYT piece by Howard Goldberg as “a Frenchman whose internationally recognized contribution to ampelography, or the science of classifying grape vines, rests on identifying leaf design and the appearance of a vine's growing tips. His system is a boon to wine growers, who often do not know what varietals look like, especially when planting them for the first time, and who can be misled when different grapes bear the same name - with dire economic results.” Please send me a real obit if you see one!
And last and least: For Design Fans – I know there’s a very good chance you’ve already seen it, but if somehow an act of war made you miss this, please do check out Dr. Phil’s house. It is… something. Everyone’s talking about the assault rifles covering the dining room wall (you read that right), but my favorite part is the art spread around the fireplace that makes it pretty clear the good Doctor got scammed hard by some shady “street art is an investment” schemer in Miami a few years ago. (Oh, and he obviously has a private chef and if that’s you, please reach out. Lots to discuss.)
And that’s it for today. Thanks so much to everyone sending recs for my NYC / Baltimore / DC trip in a few weeks. Keep them coming, please. Looking forward to seeing some of you there!
I’ll see everyone here Tuesday for next Family Meal.
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