Platt headed out, Humm on outs, Wonder wonder, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, June 17th, 2022
Welp. I said I got wordy on Tuesday, but think today might be the real wordy winner. If you have time to reply after all this reading, please do. I want thoughts — and thoughts on my thoughts — on the Beards, EMP, critics, Wonder, NFTs, festivals, and whatever else! When I get this verbose, it’s obvious I need more outside opinions.
And speaking of Tuesday, it went out to paid subscribers only, as usual, and is copy / pasted below, as usual too. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Let’s get to it…
The Lists – Some food media content calendars were a bit overshadowed by the Beards this week, so you may have missed Food & Wine releasing a big “Game Changers” package, and Robb Report putting out its 10 Best New Restaurants roundup. Both lists have helpful profiles of the listed, at the links:
Sample “Game Changers”: Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar of Dhamaka (NYC); World Central Kitchen (World); Jenny Dorsey of Studio ATAO and more; Stephen Satterfield (your Netflix, mailbox, closet, ears, etc.); Ghetto Gastro (Everywhere and Tokyo); BentoBox (www); Momofuku (Target); Dwyane Wade (NBA cellar); Alexis Nicole Nelson (TikTok forests and meadows); and Yannick Benjamin of Contento (NYC).
Robb’s “Best New Restaurants” (ordered 1-10): San Ho Won (SF); March (Houston); Kasama (Chicago); Les Trois Cheveaux (NYC); Meridian (Dallas); Horses (LA); Audrey (Nashville); Tomo (Seattle); Mena (NYC); and Callie in San Diego.
Oh, and the Michelin Guide: California did that thing this week where they tease us with new additions to the next guide without saying whether those additions will be stars or bibs. 17 new names here.
The Critics – Heads up in Pittsburgh: Familiar face (Twitter, Instagram, some interview on Youtube) Hal B. Klein posted a disappearing Instagram story this week saying he is moving to the Post-Gazette to become senior food writer and dining critic on June 20.
And in NYC: After 22 years in the job, Adam Platt is stepping down from his restaurant critic role at New York Magazine. His farewell essay, “I’m Full,” is a meditation on the job itself, ending with some parting notes for future critics (“You’ll quickly grow weary of uni and caviar”; “You’ll never be a regular”), and a quick list of superlatives and fun facts. One review he might reconsider: Masa. “I think my initial review was filled with endless adjectives of praise, but it turned out this style of restaurant opened the door to all sorts of regrettable trends, like sushi-bro culture and the denuding of the oceans, to name a few. I’ve since gone back to Masa as a private citizen with well-to-do friends, and you just feel like you’re being mercilessly ripped off.”
As for Platt and his old desk, he says: “I’ll be staying on at Grub Street and New York as a writer and resident crank, and I will wait along with everyone else to see who is next chosen to challenge orthodoxies and complain bitterly about the quality of the gumbo soup, or the xiao long bao, or the overly pricey vegan tasting menu in their own particular way.”
The Critics Too – After Platt announced his departure, The Washingtonian’s Jessica Sidman got ahold of Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema and wound up with this headline: “Veteran Restaurant Critics Are Stepping Down. Not Tom Sietsema.” Says the critic: “I realize, every day, I’m a white male waking up, and there are a lot of people who think they might do a better job with the position, or why has he been in there so long?” Then he slaps himself in the face three times, looks in the mirror, and says, “YOU GOT THIS, BIG TOM!” (That part is not in the article, but clearly implied.)
The Overly Pricey Vegan Tasting Menu – Having some conflicted feelings about this week’s Business Insider exposé of Daniel Humm and Eleven Madison Park. Nobody in the industry will be surprised (sadly) by most of the staff issues of burnout and low pay (“While the vegan tasting menu cost $335, [one employee] was paid $15 an hour as a commis”), and the allegations of food waste aren’t great (“Three former Eleven Madison Park employees said bins of food were trashed daily instead of being donated to [Humm’s charity Rethink Foods] or composted.”). But I bristled at Baldor being used as a bogeyman (“In reality, most vegetables were sourced from delivery services like Baldor...”), even if Humm implied he was buying straight from farms. Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of sourcing vegetables with wholesalers (who work with… farms), or even running around Whole Foods last minute looking for peppers, doesn’t quite conjure the same betrayal of Costco chickens pretending to be Lummi Island natives at the Willows Inn?
And yeah, sure sounds like the guy should get back in the kitchen and win back the respect of his staff (ASAP!), but I’m not sure I understand pinging him for personally coddling VIPs or speaking at the UN on climate change?
Bah. I don’t have any connection to Humm or personal feeling toward EMP, and I am not vegan, but... Maybe what’s bothering me is there seems to be a little anti-vegan clickbait at work here? Business Insider’s headline is: “Eleven Madison Park Went Vegan, Then Things Fell Apart.” But in an article based on employee interviews, we learn at least a couple of times that: “Former employees don't blame the vegan menu for Eleven Madison Park's struggles.”
The article makes good points! Humm deserves his lumps! Staff deserve fair working conditions! But… Does “switched to a vegan menu” deserve all this conflation with Daniel Humm’s ego? (More to say on this from the other side too, where Humm seems to have failed some vegan purity tests? Some other time….)
The Wonder – I still find it impossible to imagine that a business model built on “finishing” pre-prepped meals in sprinter vans parked in people’s driveways is somehow either sustainable or attractive, but per the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Nassauer, “New York-based Wonder closed a $350 million funding round last month, according to company officials, bringing the total amount raised in debt and equity to $900 million. The latest funding values the company at roughly $3.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Previously it was valued at $1.4 billion, the people said.”
They’ve got an impressive list of restaurants from around the country — this year’s winner of the Beard for Most Outstanding Restaurant, Asheville’s Chani Pani, is on Wonder — “delivering” to only a handful of New Jersey suburbs (for now), so maybe best to think of it a bit like ready-to-eat GoldBelly?
The Argument – Really enjoyed being a fly on the wall for this Pan Con Podcast conversation between Lee Schrager (best known for running the South Beach Wine and Food Festival) and Miami chef / restaurateur Michael Beltran this week. There are some fun stopping points along the way (Schrager says the number “going around” for Sexy Fish’s restaurant buildout in Miami is $35M?!), but the going gets good around the 56 minute mark, when Beltran starts pushing Schrager on what SOBEWFF — and by extension most food festivals — actually do for their communities.
Schrager at 1:00:20: “We have changed a lot of things… I mean, we started compensating. It’s bullshit: $500 or $750. I get it. It’s almost insulting. But if you paid every chef who participated or every restaurant $2500, yes it would mean that the festival would make less money… Uh, it’s probably the right thing to do. I’m not disagreeing. But you also open doors that can never get shut.”
And even if they did pay more, Schrager says only about 40% of chefs and restaurants who could invoice SOBEWFF for their time actually do?
After that they disagree over who owes whom what around COVID grants and gratitude, they bicker about what creative control means when it goes against a sponsor’s wishes, and on and on and… All this is to say, I haven’t heard a food podcast where the host actually disagrees with a guest for a long time and I would like more of them, please!
Schrager: “Do you think there are more people that hate us than like us?”
Beltran: “In the community? For sure.”
Open those doors that can never get shut, podcasters!
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s paid edition of Family Meal which is copy / pasted below as usual.
Here in beautiful Hong Kong, I’m headed off to meet a friend at a bar. In order to get into that bar, I have to take an RAT test, write my name and today’s date on it, take a picture of it, and present that at the door along with proof of vaccination and proof that I’m using the government’s contact tracing app. If I fail to do any part of that, and they catch me, I will be fined maybe a couple hundred USD. If the bar fails to check any part of that and they get caught, they will be mandated closed for two weeks.
And how does the government check, you ask? By sending roving squads of uniformed health inspectors into bars and restaurants, turning on all the lights, stopping the music, and checking every single person in the place.
Same like where you are, right? Right.
I’ll see paying subscribers back here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal. If you would like to join us on Tuesdays too, please do…
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or bullshit: $500 or $750 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, June 14th, 2022:
Beard weekend, NFTs weakened, Momofuku TV, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only!
I got a bit… wordy today. Not relative to James Beard Award ceremonies! Not even close. But still.
Let’s get to it…
Beard Season – The broken, controversial, rebuilding, and rebuilt James Beard Awards came back this weekend, and… everyone’s happy? I asked a few people who were there what the weekend feeling was, and got back: “Jubilant” “Emotional” and “Festive.” One person said parties after the media awards were kind of “sad and muted,” but someone else said the only time they were better (or even existed, really) was back when Lucky Peach was around. Another told me attendees’ clothes this year were much improved.
Quick sample of the national stuff on the restaurant side:
Outstanding Chef: Mashama Bailey, The Grey (Savannah); Outstanding Restaurant: Chai Pani (Asheville); Outstanding Restaurateur: Chris Bianco (Phoenix); and Best New Restaurant: Owamni (Minneapolis).
Based on recent Beards history, there has been / will be some dissecting of diversity this year. Example: In a (paywalled) Chicago Tribune piece from Josh Noel on Friday, he says the team behind Outstanding Bar Program nominee Nobody’s Darling recognizes that their addition to the Beard short list after less than a year in business (and a relatively lower key setting / menu than other nominees) may have had more to do with their role in the community than might have been usual in the past. (WaPo’s Richard Morgan called Nobody’s Darling, “iconoclastic, not just for being Black-owned or queer-owned or women-owned — let alone all three — but for being women-centered, as well” back in December.)
“But [co-owner Angela Barnes] is also perfectly fine with the idea that who Nobody’s Darling [serves] has become as relevant as the cocktails Nobody’s Darling serves…. Barnes said she wouldn’t want to be a finalist solely for the community the bar has fostered… but if the bar’s social and cultural role appealed to Beard judges, so be it.”
So be it! (And the award went to Julep in Houston anyway, so Barnes and crew have time to build on that appeal.)
Meanwhile, if you’ve been living in my content bubble and were wondering if we’d done away with — or added more public nuance to — the “food will bring us together” trope, it sure didn’t sound that way from everything almost everyone was saying on stage at the restaurant awards last night!
Over at the media awards, host Lisa Ling bookended the night with her version of a “lunchbox moment” story (deconstructed a bit last year by Jaya Saxena, among others), unfortunately ending the night’s live feed with: “The cultural split ends with me. In fact, my daughters, they love Asian food so much and want to take it to school everyday. I mean, they would take kimchi to school if I let them. But I’m like, no no no no no. That smell is not quite right.” Oof.
Probably a slip of tone / phrasing Ling meant to play a different way? But if you’re presenting at media awards, maybe don’t just read the room, read what the room writes…
Oh, and PS: The weather chipped in for a bit of chaos! Tornado warnings sent reporters at the restaurant and chef awards running up and down stairs to escape press room windows and find wifi, and the associated storm knocked out power at Best Chef: Great Lakes winner Erick Williams’s after party at Virtue.
The Drop – If you’ve been following along with the f&b NFT scene and seeing dollar signs swirling round your screen, NB: NFT sellers are watching crypto swirl the drain. Feels like all things finance are down right now, and inflation isn’t exactly helping cash holdings either, but at time of writing, Ethereum (ETH, the dominant currency of NFTs) has lost nearly 70% of its value since NYC’s Flyfish Club first minted (launched) their membership collection in mid-December. The VCR Group restaurateurs raised the equivalent of $14M in those initial, heady days, and have made a ton more on commissions since. They shouldn’t be broke by any means, but if they never cashed in any of that first haul of ETH, it’s worth less than $5M now. HODL?
The Tips – In Eater NY, critic Ryan Sutton reports, “The beleaguered no tipping movement continues to sputter as more and more New York restaurants drop the policy. Momofuku Ko in the East Village, David Chang’s expensive chef’s counter spot, will nix its four-year-old effort at service-included pricing on July 1.” Ko is keeping topline prices the same, “a move that will effectively hike up the cost of dinner by 20 percent.” VP of operations at Momofuku tells Sutton that “Ko’s front-of-the-house hiring has been the ‘most challenging’ of any Momofuku restaurant, and that service staff turned over completely when no tipping went into effect in 2018.”
And on the change-tipping-via-laws track in DC: “Opponents of a ballot initiative that would slowly phase out the subminimum wage that is paid to workers who collect tips have filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court seeking to reverse a recent ruling by the D.C. Board of Elections that put the measure on the November ballot.” Details via Martin Austermuhle in DCist.
The Full Circle – Seven years after it appeared an argument over Trump’s ideas on immigration caused José Andrés to back out of running a restaurant in what was then Trump’s Old Post Office hotel in downtown DC, Trump is out of both the District and that building, and Emily Heil reports in WaPo: “A location of the Bazaar, Andrés’ globe-spanning concept, will open later this year under the hotel’s new management, a Miami investment fund called CGI Merchant Group that will operate it as a Waldorf Astoria. Andrés is no mere tenant in the deal; he also owns an undisclosed share of the fund.”
I would be careful about calling this a “last laugh” scenario though. When CGI bought the hotel from Trump, the AP said, “Sources close to the deal demanding anonymity… have said that the price was $375 million, handing the Trump family business perhaps as much as $100 million in profit.” So, more of a, “Chuckle, chuckle, sigh,” maybe.
And last but not least: TV Season(s) – Remember when the Family Meal reader survey came out last year, and one option for the “David Chang is…” prompt was “David Chang is… going to start putting out some ridiculous video content soon and there's nothing any of us can do about it.” Welp, the 5% of you who chose that answer were correct. Per Lynette Rice in Dealbook late last week: “Hulu Originals announced four food series from Vox Media Studios and David Chang’s Majordomo Media, including one from Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka.”
Dave asks you to email him directly if you’d like to be a part of:
Drag Me To Dinner, in which “two new pairs of visionary Queens go wig-to-wig in a competition to throw the coolest themed dinner party on a dime.”
Secret Chef, a cooking competition where “ten chefs anonymously rank each other’s food through a series of blind tastings. With their true identities concealed, everything will be hidden except the one thing that matters most… the food.”
Burning Men, a “bracket-style competition series [where they] pit pepper growers against one another in a fight to prove whose creation is hottest.”
Or Chefs vs. Wild: “In each episode of the show, two different world class chefs will be dropped into the wilderness where they’ll embark on a grueling and unprecedented mission – survive and forage enough wild ingredients to create a restaurant worthy, five-star meal.”
Guess “Dave Chang’s Microwaves of Madness” didn’t make the cut?
Good luck, all!
And that’s it for today! Please send me all your thoughts on the Beards — winners, losers, speeches, vibes, whatever! — and I’ll try to figure out what it all means ASAP.
I’ll see everyone back here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or enough wild ingredients to create a restaurant worthy, five-star meal 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!