Since Tuesday’s Family Meal things have… not gotten better.
Let’s get to it.
Besotted Pigs (had to) – This NYT piece on Ken Friedman came out just a few hours after I hit send with the Mario Batali news on Tuesday. Julia Moskin and Kim Severson detail not only allegations of sexual harassment and assault that are just as bad as those against Batali (who saw new, on-the-record accusations detailed in the Washington Post Tuesday as well), but also a sense of The Spotted Pig as a place where sexual aggression(?) was an integral part of the business strategy – hence, the third floor space employees apparently called “the rape room.”
Former server Trish Nelson told reporters that those who asked April Bloomfield for help with Friedman always got the same reply: “That’s who he is. Get used to it. Or go work for someone else.”
Except staff couldn’t always just go work for someone else. According to former GM Jamie Seet: “When she finally resigned, Mr. Friedman wrote her a long, profanity-filled email threatening to blackball her in the industry. Soon afterward, she moved back to New York to take a job as general manager of Santina, a restaurant near the High Line that was being opened by the high-profile Major Food Group. But two days before she was to start, the group abruptly rescinded the offer; Ms. Seet said a senior manager told her that Mr. Friedman had ordered them not to hire her. (Her account was corroborated by the manager and a former assistant to Mr. Friedman.)”
Bloomfield posted an apology (in which she denies the above quote) on Instagram and Twitter. But judging by the comments on both sites, she hasn’t convinced a lot of people of her innocence and / or remorse. The short sentence here that everyone is wondering about: “It is over.” The business partnership? The behavior? What is “it”?
Friedman’s apology is here. Pretty standard stuff: “Some incidents were not as described, but…”
But beyond the brutal, well-corroborated details in the NYT story, the part that stuck with me – especially having read all the “you knew what you were getting into” comments like this Facebook post from a Las Vegas food critic / blogger John Curtas – is this quote from Carla Rza Betts, former wine director at TheSpotted Pig, John Dory, and The Breslin:
“We are not people who can live in cubicles… There is a grab-ass, superfun late-night culture — I love that part of the industry. But there is a difference between fun and sexualized camaraderie and predation. When you are made to feel unsafe or dirty or embarrassed, that is a different thing.”
Writers Jaya Saxena and Helen Rosner both tried to analyze and emphasize that distinction this week, with pieces in GQ (“Mario Batali Thinks Sexual Harassment Is Like Eating Too Much Pasta” – Saxena) and The New Yorker (“Mario Batali and the Appetites of Men” – Rosner). The kickers are nearly identical, so I’ll quote Saxena’s because it came first: “Batali built his career on the assumption that his behavior would be mistaken for just another party foul, or accepted as part of his ‘hedonist chef’ image. In order for the restaurant industry to address its harassment problem, people in power need to stop acting like harassment and indulgence were ever the same thing.”
Outstanding Asterisks – The James Beard Foundation has announced thatin light of “the sexual harassment and misconduct revelations surrounding some previous JBF Award winners, currently unfolding in the press and on social media… the Foundation and its Awards Committees are evaluating our policies to … ensure the integrity of our programs.” In other words, some past winners could have their awards revoked (think Ken Friedman’s Outstanding Restaurateur 2016, Johnny Iuzzini’s Outstanding Pastry Chef at Jean Georges 2006, 2003, and Mario Batali’s and John Besh’s many and many, respectively, not to mention whoever’s next…).
Big Q: If they do void past results, will they name new winners for those years? Could a list of runners up suddenly be JBA winners soon?
Bigger Q: Who’s next?
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Fallout note – ABC is scratching the rest of its Great American Baking Show this year because of Iuzzini’s involvement. Four more women came forward to accuse him this week. And, through the magic of video editing, you won’t seeJohn Besh on this season of Top Chef.
I have no idea what to make of this, but… “Last week on December 6, [L.A.] bar and restaurant owner Mark Houston (Black Rabbit Rose, No Vacancy) filed a defamation and extortion lawsuit against former girlfriend and international model Lucy McIntosh.” A reader actually sent me the initial stories on this last week, but it is such a fuzzy case (“strange and sad all around” per the tipster) that I didn’t include it in last Family Meal. Now, Eater LA has updated details on the alleged assault vs. alleged extortion case. Hope truth wins.
The Expansion – Per Eater Las Vegas, “The transformation of the Monte Carlo resort into the Park MGM and NoMad Hotel next year has found the final piece for its dining scene. Famed Los Angeles fixture chef Roy Choi will debut his first Las Vegas restaurant inside the resort… Long anticipated to be expanding to Las Vegas, late last year Choi and business partner Paul Pruittmade an initial early move by creating a local company, 14 Grand Hospitality.”
That Fast Casual $$$ – Looking to expand? Here’s a long Eater article on the major money people to know: “The earliest stage investment fund player on the field is the Kitchen Fund, which writes checks in the single-digit millions to concepts that have just one or two units. At the moment, this is a space uncrowded with other investment funds, likely because it’s too risky for those without a deep knowledge of restaurant operations and finance. Kitchen Fund, which has positions in six companies — Inday (gluten-free fast-casual Indian), Hummus & Pita, Pie Hole (sweet and savory homemade pies), Cava (fast-casual salads, grain bowls, and pita sandwiches), and Curry Up Now — has both.”
Last and not least – Former noma pastry chef Malcolm Livingston II and his Ghetto Gastro collective have been making noise for a while, but if you haven’t gotten to know them, Sierra Tishgart has a short profile in Grubstreet this week. Or, you could just go to their title page and make music with the letters for a good 30 seconds or so. I spent longer on it than I would like to admit.
And that’s it for today! I hope someday we can get back to talking about all the good things restaurants are up to. If you’ve got something positive you think is worth sharing, please hit reply and let me know.
Either way, I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal!