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Family Meal - Friday, March 4th, 2022
The Family Meal that went to paid subscribers on Tuesday is copy/pasted below as usual. If you wish you were getting Tuesdays’ too…
A wordy one today. Maybe a bit dramatic.
Let’s get to it…
The Aid of War – Not going to run through all the various ways bars and restaurants are pouring vodka out, raising money, or being held guilty by name association, but do want to highlight something I think is new in this Ukraine mess: Veselka, the Ukranian diner in NYC that has been packed lately, is publicly raising funds for not only civilians, but also combatants. Per Ryan Sutton in Eater NY: “Flyers [with QR codes on the tables] direct patrons to sites where they can support the Ukrainian army, helping supply them with lethal aid… One of the QR codes, for the non-profit Razom, leads to a link that lets folks transfer money to help Ukrainians procure ammunition. Other links are for helping citizens buy military-grade vests, helmets, and tactical medical backpacks.”
Trying to remember this happening in any other recent conflict and coming up blank?
I also saw that World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook tweeted pictures of armed men in Ukrainian uniforms holding bags of food with the caption: “In Kyiv, WCK restaurant partner Mafia has been cooking meals for shelters, hospitals & medical battalion.” I assume WCK as a humanitarian organization is not directly supporting combat troops alongside medical battalions, but they obviously can’t control what the restaurants they are working with are doing either…
Fair enough! I have a tiny lil’ hunch this is not the first time an American restaurant has given money to foreign combatants, and it’s definitely not the first time an aid group has had to work with people who might not adhere to the same humanitarian neutrality standards they do. But… It’s not nothing either. Not to be too dramatic, but… the US restaurant industry has entered the war?
Beard (Edits) Season – “A Chicago chef was left off the list of James Beard Award semifinalists that was released last week due to a clerical error. Jason Vincent of Giant was added to the outstanding chef category on the James Beard Foundation’s website yesterday, six days after the list of nominations was originally released.” Eater Chicago’s Aimee Levitt says, “A spokeswoman for the foundation confirmed the addition in an email, saying, ‘That is all the information we have to share at this juncture.’” (That phrase is a serious contender to replace the JBF’s “transparency” values statement lately.)
NB: Some other names were also taken out of contention due to last minute restaurant closures and role changes, including Peter Prime of Cane in DC, “Luis Young of Penrose Room in Colorado Springs and Ben Welch of Botanica in [St. Louis].” Details on those via Stephanie Carter in Eater DC.
Top Chef Season – The big show returned this week, and so did discussions of last season’s winner, Gabe Erales. Somehow, host Tom Colicchio seemed almost caught off guard by that cloud in a written interview with Daily Beast journalist Matt Wilstein. There is a lot that people will pick on here (variations on “That’s in the past,” “He’s a great chef and he won so whatever,” and “We’re not talking rape here,” will be fan favorites), but my problem is that Tom doesn’t seem to care at all. He doesn’t make a case for or against Erales keeping the title because he — the face of the number one chef show in America — says he hasn’t even bothered to spend the $1 USD I just paid to read the details of his winner’s case on Austin Statesman dot com. It’s all very politician-running-away-from-shouted-questions with “Sorry, I haven’t read the report that everyone is talking about everywhere.”
It goes like this, Tom: According to his own admissions to the Statesman (July, 2021!), Erales had a consensual sexual relationship with a member of his staff. Then he went to film your show (and won). When he came back, he says the physical stuff stopped, but he “continued communicating with her in an unprofessional manner.” He also cut that staff member’s hours due to what he called poor performance. He was fired for this before your show aired. He told the Statesman, “After I returned from ‘Top Chef,’ I made some business decisions as a manager that affected this employee and were found to be discriminatory and I realized that those were bad decisions.”
Maybe that’s not bad enough to strip him of his title or whatever! Fine! But at least have the guts to read the facts and defend your argument. Need to borrow a buck?
The End of an Era – Headline on AL.com: “James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dolester Miles, an Alabama treasure, retires.” Details in an appropriately long bio/goodbye by Bob Carlton: “Dolester Miles was one of the first people Frank Stitt hired when the celebrated Birmingham chef opened Highlands Bar and Grill, his French restaurant with a Southern soul, in 1982…. Now, after nearly 40 years —working alongside Stitt and his wife, Pardis, in their four Birmingham restaurants Highlands, Chez Fonfon, Bottegga and Bottega Café — the self-taught pastry chef… quietly retired at the end of December.”
The Media – On Twitter yesterday, Washington DC’s Laura Hayes wrote, “Today is my last day [at Washington City Paper] after 5.5 years… I'm headed to a new career adventure I hope to announce soon.” The replies to the original tweet and the quote tweets around it speak volumes, heaping praise from food media and DC industry types alike. As someone who reads restaurant news from time to time, I can tell you DC food media, the alt-weekly restaurant beat writ-national, and my weekly reading lists are all lesser today. Ugh.
And Last but not Least – Since I know you’ve been following this story closely, an update on CityBeat from Vince Grzegorek in Cincinnati this week: “Frank Capri, a former mobster turned government witness turned developer who scammed The Banks with a Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill-branded restaurant, was sentenced last week to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion.” Reminder from the Enquirer’s Randy Tucker: “Frank Capri… was a former soldier in New York's Lucchese Crime Family who was released from prison in 1999 after agreeing to testify against fellow mobsters, according to a years-long investigation by The Arizona Republic. His real name was Frank Gioia Jr.”
And that’s it for today! Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy/pasted below as usual. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays from now on…
I’ll see paying subscribers back here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or all the information we have to share at this juncture 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, March 1st:
LAT Food cut, NFT projects galore, Platt's Saga, Bosley's joy, and more...
Annnnnd... That was my best trick to insert devastating, high-viz, current events into an otherwise light and pithy industry roundup.
Let’s get to it…
The Brief, Wondrous Life of LAT Food – According to art director Kay Scanlon’s Instagram stories (also shared by critic Bill Addison), this week’s print edition of the LA Times Food section was “the last stand alone issue. Food and Saturday are merging into a new section called Weekend — debuting next Saturday.” This was… not unexpected. The top of the online Food page has been stuck in early December for the last three months; the hero of the video block starts with Jenn Harris getting excited about us “coming up to the end of the year, which means some people might be preparing for dry January…”; and I have, uh, not noticed resources being deployed to improve things elsewhere.
I reached out to acting editor Alice Short for comment, but haven’t heard back yet, and will reach out to more people this week.
When LAT Food first reintroduced its standalone print section in 2019, the NYT’s Kim Severson called the move: “A rare bright spot in a season of layoffs and consolidation in American journalism.” It was also a bright spot for restaurants and food types that benefit from expanded, (somewhat) serious coverage. But in late 2020, editor Peter Meehan resigned after a series of MeToo / toxic-workplace allegations, staff reshuffled, and within a year critic Patricia Escárcega left while accusing the paper of wage disparity issues (and maybe some of her coworkers of complicity?). Since then it’s felt like a bit of a rudderless — no permanent lead editor since Meehan left! — downhill run, so here’s hoping whatever happens next is some version of better.
The NFTs – Adam Reiner, who once called Tom Colicchio irresponsible for “promoting worthless NFT pizza art,” was tapped by Eater to write about… Tom Colicchio’s NFT pizza art. His piece is a roundup of sorts of NFT projects in the food world, including some I hadn’t noticed yet. For example: Andrew Friedman apparently put out some NFT-marked bottles of his “Industry Spirits” well liquor brand this year. “Ruth McCartney, a digital media entrepreneur, and David Skinner, the chef of the 12-seat restaurant Eculent outside Houston, created Gourmet NFT to take chefs ‘from the butcher block to the blockchain’ by offering them a place to sell individual recipes directly to consumers.” And — “Following the suggestion of two American interns in the restaurant’s marketing department,” per a cited NYT piece — the team at Bros in Italy are doing an NFT of the infamous “lick the chef’s tongue” dish that sent them into viral bad review territory a few months ago.
Good luck, all! My best advice for those of you looking at NFTs: “You’ve got to trust your instincts and let go of regret. You’ve got to bet on yourself now, star. Cause that’s your best bet.” Came up with that myself.
The Critics – Speaking of bad reviews, in Grub Street yesterday, critic Adam Platt knocked James Kent and Jeff Katz’s Saga restaurant down a floor or two mostly by complaining in various ways that the restaurant didn’t offer “much that a jaded tasting-menu veteran hadn’t seen before.” There wasn’t much in that review that a jaded review veteran hadn’t read before either — notes of Ryan Sutton on TAK Room and Tejal Rao on Napa — and I didn’t think much about it until I read writer Kirsty Bosley’s viral piece last week in the UK’s Birmingham Mail: “I'm common as muck and spent £150 in a Michelin star restaurant to see if it was worth it.”
The meringue stuck in my mind:
Platt on Saga: “‘We like to think of our menu as the story of how the chef got to where he is today,’ our server intoned as we took delivery of a palate-brightening creation made with a little dome of a meringuelike substance filled with yuzu foam and served with a collection of carefully tweezed microgreens in a glass bowl.”
Bosley on Adam’s in Birmingham: “A wooden box was brought to the table first with a pretty red beetroot meringue inside and some kind of little rice cracker thing on top. Precisely two mouthfuls of food. Here we go, I thought. Little dishes, big money. God, I loved them. The meringue disappeared on my tongue and gave way to goats cheese and I made a loud 'MMMM' sound in the general direction of the people sitting next to me. Wow.”
I don’t have a larger point here. Platt warns dedicated seekers of the new about the “dutifully reproduced” price-tag tastes of “stolid Wall Street burghers.” Bosley reminds some of us that the old can still be new, and the old can still be fantastic.
And so we beat on, boats against the current, etcetera etcetera.
And that’s it for today.
If you’re reading this at the bottom of Friday’s Family Meal and wish you had gotten this on Tuesday…
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a rare bright spot in a season of layoffs and consolidation in American journalism 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!