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Oof Felicia, Bye Beards, Hey hey E.J., and more...
Family Meal - Monday, June 19, 2023
Apologies about last week’s missed newsletter'; “overtaken by events” doesn’t quite cover it! So, we’re going for a Monday edition today, and back to regularly scheduled programming on Friday.
In the meantime, hello to all you (relatively) newly minted James Beard Award winners out there!
Look, I’m not trying to take any more credit than I deserve here, but: Did I have dinner at Oyster Oyster and chat briefly with Rob Rubba last time I was in DC? Yes. Did Rubba win the Beard for Outstanding Chef this year? Yes.
And am I coming back to the States and going to be back and forth between DC and New York from this Friday, June 23 - July 19? Also, yes.
Where should I eat?! Who should I meet?!
(Am I a judge for the Beards? No. Masochism is not my kink.)
Let’s get to it…
Beard Season – A bit old news at this point, but the full list of this year’s James Beard Award winners is here via Eater. ICYMI, the day after, WaPo’s Tim Carman put out yet another story of a disqualified chef. This time, it was Anthony Kueper of Dolce in Omaha, and Carman managed to track down enough former staffers (through some dogged hunt club shoe leather!) to put together an investigative exposé wrapped in a Beard investigator analysis. What a world.
Now we wait for the awards committee’s annual retreat to Bohemian Grove and see what rules tweaks they come up with for next year!
P.S. - A quick reminder of our bubble and where the Beard’s are in the broader national consciousness: When Tuesday’s NYT podcast The Daily featured Brett Anderson explaining the awards mess under the title, “A Forced Reckoning in the Restaurant Industry,” host Sabrina Tavernise started the episode out by saying,
“I know the words, ‘James Beard,’ and I know they have something to do with food, but that’s about the extent of it…”
The Felicia – In the Bay Area, “It was hailed as a culturally momentous, radically inclusive restaurant run by a young Black queer woman determined to upend the norms of fine dining… But that dream quickly died… Fourteen former Hi Felicia employees, including managers, servers, cooks, wine directors and a dishwasher, told The Chronicle they experienced a toxic work environment rife with some of the very problems the restaurant had set out to correct.” Details on (sadly) familiar accusations against owner Imana via Elena Kadvany.
Some shades of the Willows Inn: “At one point, the cost to dine at [a pop up they did] was $225 per person… But the supper club regularly served basic grocery store ingredients, including precooked rotisserie chickens, tortilla chips and pre-chopped vegetables,” according to former staff.
But most importantly, this is a case of something I’ve heard more and more about lately for some reason... The owner told Kadvany, “She hired her friends and kissed employees, and they drank and used drugs together. But she denied sexually harassing anyone and believes her employees were ‘collectively’ complicit in an atmosphere that blurred lines between employer and employee from the start.”
It’s some returning version of, “That stuff doesn’t happen here the same way, because we’re all cool, right?”
And later, in arbitration: “Right?”
The Restraint – If you’re following the Horses story, you will be interested to know that the long arm of the law has weighed in on the possible radii of kitchens and determined Will Aghajanian and Elizabeth Johnson should “remain 100 yards from each other, though the judge said that can be lowered to 10 feet when they are working at Horses or their other restaurant Froggy’s, which was supposed to open soon in New York.” Details on the current state of play via Noah Goldberg in the LAT.
The Profile Treatment – I’m sure E.J. Lagasse is a very good chef and a nice guy and as far as I can tell from this Washington Post profile from Timothy Bella, every single one of Emeril’s good friends thinks there is no nepotism going on in his life whatsoever. So that’s great and checks out. No notes.
Lists I like – It’s time for Eater’s “Most Anticipated Restaurants of the Summer” 2023 editions. Always a good place to see lists about what openings are inbound, lists about what openings media is watching, and lists that give you good reason to ask your PR people why you’re not on the list. These always seem to roll out at their own pace, but so far I see: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and the Bay Area.
Some Sad News – “LeAnn Mueller — the legendary chef, pitmaster, and co-owner of Austin smoked meats restaurant La Barbecue — died suddenly this week on Wednesday, June 14, according to a press release. She was 51 years old.” Nadia Chaudhury has an obit in Eater.
The Critics – Heads up CA: “The San Francisco Chronicle has a new lead food critic: MacKenzie Chung Fegan is a Bay Area native who grew up in the family behind Henry’s Hunan, a beloved San Francisco chain of Chinese restaurants that opened in 1974.” Fegan’s CV and a podcast interview are in the official announcement here. She starts the new gig in January. If you need a headshot for the host stand, just google her name or check out past work bios at Bon Appetit and Epicurious.
NB: Fegan has asked that you please do not send any hot tips or news directly to her, but instead address it to firstname.lastname@example.org, after which it will be vetted and forwarded on if appropriate. Thank you.
And last but not least: Actors on Actors (who play chefs and cousins) – Tweet from Variety: “Jennifer Coolidge fell in love with angry chefs while she worked as a waitress. ‘I just like the way they throw the food down. It was so sexy. They’d be like, “Take it. Just take it.” And there’s something about a man who can do something fast.’”
*some things fast, amiright?
Hahahahaha. Wow. Great stuff, Andrew. Kissy face. Bye.
And that’s it for today.
I’ll see everyone back here on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a man who can do something fast to email@example.com. If you’d like to sponsor this newsletter, send me a note! And if you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!