Happy New Year! It’s January 5th and I already can’t keep up.
Let’s get to it…
The New Directive – From members of the James Beard FoundationRestaurant and Chef Awards Committee to judges around the country: “When considering the candidacy of a person or restaurant, bear in mind that award winners are held up as role models. If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations. If you’re inclined, send a note that expounds on any obvious omissions.” Full memo in Eater. (My memo to judges: A penny for your notes…)
A serious question: Would James Beard have survived this moment?
Here’s an anecdote from John Birdsall’s James Beard Award winning 2014 essay, “America Your Food is So Gay,” which first appeared in Lucky Peach, but is now up on Medium (in case you already cashed in your back issues on eBay):
“Beard was called the ‘dean of American cookery,’ as if this new doctrine of pleasure had the weight of scholarship behind it. He occupied a curious persona that combined decorum with total self-indulgence. On one of his regular trips to San Francisco in the 1980s, Beard ate at a restaurant where I worked, though on a night I was off. One of the bussers working that night was a young gay guy with boyish American looks. He mentioned to Beard that he wanted to be a baker, and the great man invited him to stop by his hotel the next morning to talk pastry. When the busser arrived, the dean of American food was seated in a chair in the hotel suite’s bedroom, wearing a silk robe; Beard’s assistant left the room. The aspiring baker told me he looked away at some point in the conversation, and when he looked back Beard, still talking pies and layer cakes, had opened his robe—underneath he was naked. The flustered kid looked away, kept his eyes averted. When he looked back, Beard had closed his robe again, still talking, like nothing had happened. That was the essence of Beard’s food: draped in a respectable Sulka robe that was always threatening to drop to expose unashamed hedonism.”
Birdsall is literally writing the book on Beard this year, so I reached out to him for comment. He gets the desire to look back, but sees anachronism here: “Beard lived and worked mostly before chefs became the focus of American food and U.S. food media, and the current conversation is happening about the culture of restaurants and chefs. It’s historically incorrect to conflate James Beard with the culture of restaurants that grew in the 1980s.” That’s fair. As Eater’s recent piece on the “boys club” culture fostered by Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali makes clear, the conversation in food right now is about much more than incidents of one-on-one sexual harassment.
But, the larger #metoo movement is more expansive still, and it also seems fair to reexamine our idols, as long as we take into account the context of time, and – key in this case – the unspoken, spoken, and often enshrined-in-law rules about sexuality at that time. I’ll leave you to it, but if you do have thoughts on this (especially if you’re one of my JBF committee readers), I’d appreciate them.
The Fallout – In Chicago: “More than two months after One Off Hospitality Group fired Publican restaurants executive chef Cosmo Goss, Goss and the company announced that he is no longer involved with Pacific Standard Time, the much-anticipated restaurant scheduled to open this spring in River North.” The restaurant groups’ statement on Eater makes it clear this is a result of the earlier firing for failing to sufficiently respond to harassment allegations at Publican Anker.
Very bad PR – A proud American-of-Italian-decent (“‘My dog is called Cannoli,’ she told Chicago Inc.”) complained that Eataly Chicago posters suggesting customers “Bring home an Italian / Great legs, better body” were inappropriate in the wake of shareholder Mario Batali’s behavior, so naturally Eataly’s Crisis PR team had a discussion about her complaint. Then they accidentally forwarded the entire email chain of that discussion to the angry customer, including the part where they decided it was best to keep the signs up and ignore her. This of course prompted another bad news cycle, a write up about the whole thing in the Tribune, and questions about other ads like “Bring home an Italian / Worth the smell” which the PR team insists is just about truffles.
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The Media – FYI, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a new part-time associate reporter covering restaurants for Eater NY.
The Critics – Per Reuters: “Google is exploring a potential sale of Zagat, the U.S. restaurant review guide which the search giant bought for $151 million in 2011, people familiar with the matter said.” $152M says Google loses money on this one. Takers?
Subsistence Scholarship – Applications now open for a new 50 Best-backed scholarship which pays… get ready… $113 / week! To be fair, you do get to skip a bit of a line and work at Mugaritz and Atelier Crenn for six weeks each, and they throw in flights and a trip to the 50 Best ceremony, but still… wanna know how much summer interns make at their dream tech companies? I reached out to Atelier Crenn and 50 Best to see if the restaurants will pay wages to the winners on top of the prize money, but haven’t heard back. (To be fair to the Crenn team, I reached out after midnight their time. Will gladly update.)
For radio fans – Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s farewell episode of The Splendid Table is now up online: “a bit of a roast, some of Lynne’s favorite stories from The Splendid Table, and a touching tribute to Lynne from our new host, Francis Lam.”
For design fans – Eater cities are doing a “Most Beautiful New Restaurants of 2017” thing and I love it. So far I see: Washington, D.C. (mentions but fails to include shots of Edward Lee’s amazing Succotash for some reason – those’re here); New York (Comment section: “Where are the tablecloths? … It’s disgusting!”); Chicago (in map form – booo); San Francisco (Villon!), and Los Angeles (those dark, lattice walls at Lono).
Price Watch NYC – Ryan Sutton has a rundown on NYC’s new, 2018 prices(listed as one tasting menu per diner, service included) at Brooklyn Fare ($362), Per Se ($340), and Eleven Madison Park ($315), complete with supplement and tax breakdowns, and comparisons with other pricey places (think: Masa at $595). And Sutton also tweeted a reminder chart re: minimum wage increases in the city this year, including this editorial reply: “Having a separate, lower wage for waiters and bussers is wrong, but kudos to new york for having a tipped minimum ($8.70, going up to $10 next year) that’s actually HIGHER than the full federal minimum ($7.25).”
Last and not least – Here come’s facial recognition. Buried in this big New Yorker piece about how America is abdicating a leadership role to China is this nugget from Evan Osnos: “I stepped before a machine, which resembled a slender A.T.M., that assessed my ‘happiness’ and other attributes, guessed that I am a thirty-three-year-old male, and, based on that information, played me an advertisement for skateboarding attire… The machines are used in restaurants to entertain waiting guests. But they contain a hidden element of artificial intelligence as well: images are collected and compared with a facial database of V.I.P. customers. ‘A waiter or waitress comes up and maybe we get you a seat,’ Jin said. ‘That’s the beauty of A.I.'”
That’s the beauty of it.
And that’s it for today. I’ll see you back here Tuesday if [insert bomb cyclone joke here]!
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