A profile of Thomas Keller, the fine dining chef behind The French Laundry, Per Se and a cookbook that impacted a generation of young chefs was harmless until about two thirds of the way through.

Preeti Mistry, one of those young chefs that looked up to Keller in her formative cooking years, is chef at Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen in California. Writer Kim Serverson added Preeti’s perspective to the article in the form of a couple of quotes.

“In 2004, she visited the French Laundry. At the time, she thought it was the most amazing meal she had ever eaten. She even got to shake hands with Mr. Keller. “I left feeling like I just met Drake or something,” she recalled.”

A touching tribute to a chef that has helped define American dining. Then comes this:

“But now? She views fine dining as disingenuous, built from a system steeped in oppression and hierarchy in which women, gays and other minorities — whether customers or cooks — are not treated the same.
“It’s essentially haute couture, and we know haute couture appropriates from minorities and urban communities,” she said. Chefs as powerful as Mr. Keller, she said, have a responsibility to address those issues. “You need to go on your woke journey.”

Then, a rebuttal from Keller:

“I pushed against convention when I was young,” he said. “Then you realize there is no reason to push against things. There is no value in it.” Hard work and dedication to craft, he said, will right all wrongs.”

As a woman of color, Keller’s quote felt very familiar. Keller’s response to Mistry is the equivalent of saying ‘All Lives Matter’ when someone says ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I wasn’t surprised. Keller is a successful chef, with no grasp of what it’s like to be a woman or person of color so he did what a lot of people do when something they love is criticized; he stripped chef Mistry of her unique experience and viewpoint so he could re-center himself in the discussion. I’ve had this exact conversation in kitchens and dining rooms. I’ve watched as chefs and servers and diners uncomfortably squirm as I speak about something that’s specific to me as a black, female hospitalian.

Not surprisingly, a number of chefs jumped to chef Keller’s defense. One of these chefs, Christopher Kostow of The Meadowood in California took to social media to add his two cents. In an Instagram caption, with a picture of a man literally standing on a soap box, he calls out the comments by Mistry:

Chef Kostow’s Instagram Post

“I must admit that the recent commentary by @chefpmistry within the @nytimes article describing haute cuisine as being inherently racist and “disingenuous” and as one that appropriates from minorities and urban communities (and supported without context by the great @kimseverson) flies in the face of my own experiences and seems to represent a trend in food writing that posits that the lack of diversity exists because of some nefarious plot by chefs. This couldn’t be further from the truth (just ask said chefs) … as someone who treasures progressive, “fine dining” (whatever that means) restaurants for the inclusivity, internationalism, and diversity of their staffs, I am troubled by such accusations. So is my team–who represent all genders, orientations, socioeconomic strata, political stripes, a dozen different countries, and multiple religions. It is intimated in the article that we aren’t upon a journey that is sufficiently “woke”. Please tell that to the communities, growers, artisans, and charities that benefit from many of such restaurants. There are few workplaces in the world as diverse as the kitchens and dining rooms of many of these restaurants. Perhaps the food media should be less cavalier in trying to tear people like @chefthomaskeller down, and stop relying on outdated and thinly researched beliefs to draw conclusions from.”

That’s where things got personal for me. As a former line cook, server, manager, hostess in fine dining restaurants I was once part of that diversity that he speaks of. Chef Mistry is part of that diversity as well. I felt a wave of anger wash over me. I was angry that the very issue that Mistry brought up, the issue of minorities giving so much to a community and not being treated the same, is ignored. Kostow says that diversity makes restaurants great and in the same breath chastises a woman of color speaking about her experiences by calling them ‘outdated and thinly researched.’

If you see people of color talking about oppression as trying to tear a white man down, then you’re part of the problem. Silencing opposing voices that are coming from the very industry that you’re defending does not help. It’s another form of oppression.

If you want to be a part of an industry that is as progressive and inclusive as you say it is then it’s important to listen to voices that are not usually heard and to not write off an entire group of people because it doesn’t fit your experience as a white, male chef.

There’s more and more food writing that tackles the lack of diversity in this industry because more food writers of color (like myself) have access to food outlets and we have been historically barred from telling those stories. What chef Mistry was alluding to was how white supremacy or the idea that white is better is overarching and touches many different aspects of our culture including dining. No one thinks that chefs are getting together to discuss how to keep minorities down. We’re merely addressing issues that have impacted generations of people of color.

This post reminded me of a conversation that I had at a dinner with a manager of one of the top restaurants in Boston. I mentioned that I would love to see more people of color at hospitality events. He responded with, ‘well, maybe those kinds of people don’t care about hospitality.” My jaw dropped. Then I felt angry. Then I felt embarrassed as I looked around at my fellow restaurant workers, managers, chefs, all of whom were white, and realized that none of them were challenging him in this assertion.

Minorities are often celebrated as the “backbone” of restaurants and kitchens but they are rarely given the voice and the opportunities to lead them as chefs, managers, sommeliers , captains, etc. If we want to move forward as an industry we have to listen and be self critical.

As I looked through the likes and comments on Kostow’s post, I saw chefs, managers, line cooks and servers at some of the top restaurants in the country. The very people that are going to be responsible for making this industry a more inclusive place. The only way that it’s going to get there is if chefs like Keller and Kostow open themselves up to hearing experiences different than their own.


Like a lot of diners in New York City, I have come to rely on Google and its seemingly never-ending results for where to get a good meal. The words I most commonly search for are “underrated” “affordable” and, unfortunately, “Midtown”. My trips into Manhattan start and end at Port Authority in Midtown West so I often have to find a good place to eat around Times Square. On a recent weekday I Googled the best food carts in Manhattan and learned that there was one on my way to Port Authority that served Caribbean and Pakistani food. That’s how I learned about Trini Paki Boys food cart on 42nd and Sixth Avenue.

The cart is only open Monday to Friday, 9am-4-ish focusing on serving the busy lunch crowd that descends into midtown. The menu is like a greatest hits of Caribbean and Pakistani food. There’s bake and shark, stewed oxtail, chicken biyrani, jerk chicken. All homemade and delicious. Fatima Khan owns this cart with her husband and is the Trini part of the Trini Paki name and food. She was kind enough to sit down with me on a cold day in Manhattan to talk about how she got started and what it’s like to own a food cart in New York City. (more…)

Chef Halabi Gazala

Chef Halabi Gazala is the chef/owner of Gazala’s Place in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s a tiny storefront with a handful of tables tastefully (and densely) arranged in a warm dining room, with a large oven in the front window. Since 2007, Gazala’s Place has created a following of loyal diners who love Gazala’s take on Druze cuisine, a cuisine and a community from the mountains of Syria, Israel and Lebanon.The menu has all of the Middle Eastern dishes you expect like hummus, falafel and kebabs but each dish is seasoned and cooked in the Druze style where spices are a little heavier and preparations are a little lighter. The pita, for example, is airy and light unlike the heavily floured bread most diners are familiar with. Gazala makes this special Druze-style pita, sagg pita, using the oven in the window and a recipe she grew up with.

On the front of the menu is a picture of Gazala’s parents who actually didn’t want her to open this restaurant. Not because she wasn’t capable, but because they didn’t want her to leave their village in Israel and move to a place as far away and as foreign as New York City, only to have her hopes crushed when her business wasn’t a success. Gazala put them on the menu as a reminder of what she’s capable of and where she comes from. Today, ten years later, she’s still in business and thinking about the next phase of her restaurant. On a recent weekday, in between lunch and dinner service, she and I sat down to talk about what it’s like to be a chef in New York City, her style of cooking and being a mother.

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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, here are a few food-focused charities and organizations that will need our help in the coming years. There have been great strides made to create a more sustainable and equitable food system but we still have a long way to go and the work over the next few years will be crucial. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what you can do to help and protect communities that are the most vulnerable. Below are five organizations that need donations or volunteers to continue their work in the food space.
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Just one week into 2017, Pete Wells, food critic for the New York Times, dropped a bomb in the food world in the form of a zero star review for Loco’l in Oakland, California. Loco’l is a fast casual restaurant opened by superstar chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. Choi, a chef who rose to fame off of his Mexican/Korean creations, and Patterson, chef behind the critically-acclaimed Coi in San Francisco, opened the first Loco’l in Watts last year to much fanfare. This isn’t your typical fast food restaurant. It was designed to hire and feed the community that surrounds it, communities that are typically forgotten by high end restaurants and organic markets and have few options for nutritious meals. For many, the review felt cruel since the business model of Loco’l is unlike any of the restaurants the New York Times typically reviews. Many questioned the ethics of reviewing Loco’l at all.

After reading the review, I tweeted one of my favorite podcasts, Racist Sandwich, and one of my favorite food writers, Soleil Ho, to see what they thought. Soleil and I agreed that it felt strange to review a restaurant that’s so intertwined with race and class and I signed off for the night to finish some work. The next morning I signed into my Twitter account to see that people joined in our conversation and wanted to know where we go from here. Fellow food writers of colors also reached out to join the conversation and talk about the review and the state of food writing in 2017.
Soleil and I moved our conversation off of Twitter and onto a call to talk more. Our talk turned from the review, to food writing, European-centric standards in cooking and more. Our conversation is transcribed below.  – Korsha Wilson
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Soleil: When I first saw the review of Loco’l by Pete Wells that you sent via Twitter, I wasn’t really keeping up with the New York Times food section because I was like, wait, why is he even covering this? They’re in California! I guess the things that really stuck out to me were his desc of the decor. My favorite passage of this is: Before noon on a weekday to hear Snoop Dogg advertising the health-giving properties of gin and juice. I don’t know of any other fast food chain has put Street culture at the heart of its locations in this way the closest most of them come. Surroundings while a bullet proof glass.

Korsha: Yeah. It’s not great. There’s just something so gross about that to me. But to back up a little bit, after I read it, I started thinking about the role of criticism like what it was and what it is right now and with a restaurant like Loco’l is it even fair to apply the same things that you would use to write up place like Per Se? Should you use the same rules or the same tone, in a review like that?

Soleil: Right! I think what’s interesting about Loco’l too is that it’s these two big-name chefs on the West Coast. Applying the innovations of haute cuisine to fast food and bringing these innovations to people is what attracted Pete Wells to the restaurant, right? And I think Wells’ review mirrors that in a way because he’s applying haute criticism to fast food.

Korsha: My biggest problem with it is that it makes it all about Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, when the restaurant’s supposed to be about the community of people around it. He mentions in passing in the last couple of paragraphs about how it’s done a good thing and it’s great, blah blah blah, but ultimately that restaurant’s about community. But because he’s so not in that community and he didn’t get a lot of context, it’s just stripped of that.  So if you’d never heard of it before, you’d read this and think, oh, it’s about these two chefs who just decided to do fast food.

Soleil: And I think it’s telling, too, that he goes to the Oakland location.

Korsha: That didn’t make any sense to me, unless they were doing like a whole spread, like a full-blown food section about Oakland, then that makes sense. But the fact that they didn’t go to the original Watts location is just crazy to me.

Soleil: Yeah he pointed out in the review that was where all the fanfare was, that that was sort of flagship. Instead of going to Watts, he just quotes Jonathan Gold’s feature on it. I think it’s important to note that Jonathan Gold, the restaurant critic for the LA Times, he didn’t review the restaurant. He did a feature on the opening, and talked about the context, the people who were there, why it existed.

Korsha: And why it matters. He did a radio interview yesterday about this review and he was talking about how he really likes the food. And the fact that it opened in Watts? There haven’t been new restaurants in Watts since the riots. It’s more than the restaurant, and that’s probably why he didn’t review it. I think he took a step back and said, this isn’t the typical restaurant that’s opening—it’s kind of bigger than that.
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screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-10-35-53-pmThere are a lot of food blogs about where to eat in NYC, but none of them are quite like Food Before Love, the site that shares a diverse range of restaurants, events and travel all focused around food and hospitality for the millennial set. The site is managed by Casandra Rosario,who left the finance world to follow a love of food and hospitality. Today, she runs her own hospitality consulting firm called The Rosario Group and helps food brands step up their social media game and create fun and profitable food events.

“In the beginning I just started sharing and one day I was like, ‘oh snap, this is a real thing’,” says Casandra. What started as a hobby, grabbing a bite to eat after work and on the weekends, became a way to connect with other food lovers online. “I was Instagramming my food way before other people were Instagramming their food,” she laughs. “I hated working in finance and wanted to get back into food somehow so I started my site.” One of the biggest reasons why she felt like it was time to start her site was because she didn’t see anyone else like herself running a food blog. “There weren’t a lot of sites for people my age and I wanted to bridge that gap for professionals looking for a place to eat.”

So, she created Food Before Love to share her food and travel experiences with her followers. Below, I talk to her about food media, her plans for her site’s 5th birthday and why she thinks more people should skip brunch. (more…)

A woman makes a plate of food for a customer.
A woman makes a plate of food for a customer.

I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to learn about a city, town or neighborhood is to go the closest grocery store or liquor store and see what they have. I think markets are the same way and give you a glimpse into the history and cuisine of whatever area you’re exploring. In Daegu, South Korea, the Seomun Market, the stalls varied from food to clothing to shoes, and showed me a lot about Korean food culture. (more…)

Happy Friday! Here are some of the best food articles from this week for you to devour over the weekend….

“Why so many fast-casual chains get started in Washington” via Washington Post
Taking a look at why big-name fast casuals like Sweetgreen and Beefsteak have started in the nation’s capital before expanding to other parts of the country.

“Hillary Clinton Asks Chefs to Endorse Her With Recipes” via Grub Street
The presidential nominee has started a Pinterest page soliciting recipes from top chefs like Mario Batali and Dominique Ansel.

“The Movement to Define Native American Cuisine” via New York Times
Chef Sean Sherman is working to preserve and document Native American foodways in the Dakotas.

“Good Cooks are Quitting the Kitchen, and That’s Bad News for Your Favorite Restaurant” via Toronto Life
Chefs speak out about how the low wages in the kitchen have impacted their lives and careers.

 

Did we miss anything? Add your favorite story in the comments below or tweet us using the tag #AHungrySociety! 

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Happy Friday! Here are some of the best food articles from this week for you to devour over the weekend….

“Dinner, Disrupted” via New York Times

Has Silicon Valley ruined fine dining?
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/opinion/sunday/dinner-disrupted.html?_r=0

“Water Ice, Philly’s Classic Summer Cooler, Gets Hot Across The Country”via NPR’s The Salt Blog

Water ice finds fan across the country.
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/10/489217423/water-ice-phillys-classic-summer-cooler-gets-hot-across-the-country

“How your Korean sashimi dinner gets there: From sea to tank to plate” via The Los Angeles Times

A fascinating look at how the fish used in sashimi gets to your plate. 
http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-0618–koreatown-live-seafood-20160527-snap-story.html

“The Oyster’s Mighty Comeback Is Creating Cleaner U.S. Waterways” via NPR’s The Salt Blog

Keep eating oysters! Oysters’ rise in popularity on restaurant menus means there are more growers looking for clean water to start oyster farms. 
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/07/31/488122810/the-oysters-mighty-comeback-is-creating-cleaner-u-s-waterways

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 7.44.25 PMHistorically, the concept of the “long lunch” was treasured by restaurant fanatics of all stripes. Self-styled foodies who, in taking four hours over lunch, felt they were paying homage to the Mediterranean dining ideal may have looked down on flash City gents rinsing the company credit card over £11,000 bottles of Pétrus, but their motives were not that different.

Read the rest of the story here.