It is hard not to think that the defining characteristic of our time will be the social media mob that is sure it knows something bad, demands that someone be driven from public life and private employment, and then… what? Like the dog that catches the car, the mob doesn’t really know where it goes from there. Is there any path to redemption for the miscreant? (If not, then aren’t all crimes basically equal?) If so, then it becomes a brute power play, where if you can tough it out or take a short spell in the woodshed—Ralph Northam, John Lasseter, Bryan Singer, Louis C.K., maybe soon Mario Batali—you can survive anything. Which is basically replacing a judicial system with the law of the jungle, survival of the fattest cats.

This isn’t just a question celebrities will have to deal with, as was shown this week when some Chicago chefs found themselves facing controversy in social media. There have been stories circulating in the food community for a few weeks around a server who was accusing Ian Davis, until recently chef of Band of Bohemia and then announced as co-chef for Entente, of sexual harassment.

Apparently, with Davis landing another high-profile, Michelin star gig, the unnamed server dialed it up last week, starting an Instagram account devoted to attacking him called Chicago_Industry_Pig. (Don’t look for it, it’s gone now.) On Friday, the Tribune published a story about Davis’ Entente gig being withdrawn. That was at 2 pm; by 9 pm they had a second story, which was that Davis had gone to court to try to get protective orders against two women with accusations against him, to stop them doing things like… starting Instagram accounts about him.

He didn’t succeed on Friday, but that later Tribune article is pretty interesting. We still know very little about this second woman, and cannot judge her claims. But the first woman’s account, as relayed by the Tribune, seems to refute her own claims of sexual harassment, making it sound like a consensual affair, however ill-advised:

They eventually began a consensual sexual relationship that included regular trysts in an employee bathroom, she wrote.

“I am obviously not a victim in this situation,” she said in her email to owners. “I didn’t run out of the bathroom, I didn’t go straight to you guys. I was being pursued hard core by a very powerful guy who made me feel like a rockstar. … And it worked.”

(Before I’m accused of excusing any sort of conduct, please note that what I’m trying to get at here is the line between what’s a crime, and what’s just unseemly. There are, of course, levels of decency above that, and if you want to read how it really should be handled, read what Christine Cikowski says about managing work-based relationships fairly and properly in this recent Fooditor piece.)

So what is the offense, and what’s the appropriate punishment? It seems pretty clear that these women will go after Davis at whatever new gig he gets, using publicity to hound him out, unless a court orders them not to (and even then, they may operate in secret). Many would say that’s appropriate for sexual harassment, but is it appropriate for just breaking up ugly, if that’s what it was?

Either way, it’s all social media fodder now, so I fully expect to be grilled over the coals (won’t be the first time) by somebody, for daring to suggest that the crime of… well, we’re not sure what exactly… doesn’t deserve the fullest possible punishment. Moderation is proof of shared guilt in hothouse 2019.

But while we’re at it, let’s not just make a death penalty crime out of hooking up—let’s invent new ones, like playing the wrong music for your color in your restaurant! An Eater Chicago article on Thursday was headlined “Fat Rice Among Chicago Restaurants Facing Criticism for Playing Music With the N-Word”:

In  January, Eric Williams, a prominent Chicago DJ and proprietor of the Silver Room — a business centered around African-American culture [and not to be confused with Virtue chef Erick Williams]—started a [Facebook] discussion about racism in the city’s restaurants…

“Maybe I haven’t been out in a while but it seems like the trend is for restaurants to play uncensored pop rap music. (Furious Spoon, Fat Rice, No Bones Beach Club – Chicago) just to name a few,” Williams wrote back on January 19. “[N-word] this, ‘B’ that. Am I getting old or this shit just wack? This is not a club, it’s a restaurant where I’d like to take my 10 year old daughter and not be subjected to this nonsense.”

Boy, talk about an issue where I can firmly argue aspects of both sides. As a parent, I have been bugged by hardcore rap lyrics in certain restaurants—it seemed particularly out of place one time at Avec—and tried to shelter my sons from such things, though they eventually reached the age where they started sheltering me from knowing what they’re listening to. But we talked about never using the N-word (I like Chris Rock’s notion that it’s good for white people to have one thing in society that they’re not allowed to do), not talking about women that way, and so on.

But. However you feel about hardcore rap lyrics, this kind of music is an integral part of pop culture right now, and young people of all sorts—white, black, Asian, straight, gay, non-binary, ad infinitum—drift to what’s down and dirty, what’s raw, what’s street in popular culture.

And so a place like Fat Rice or Furious Spoon (or even this frickin’ vegan beach bar thing) plays this music, which is so prominent in American music now, because something about it speaks to them even if they are not, in fact, of that group. It doesn’t do it for me, but in my youth there was a comedian named Richard Pryor who sure seemed to, and his language wouldn’t have passed Sister Mary Margaret’s muster either.

I go to Fat Rice because their whole worldview—their diverse staff, their casual atmosphere, their anime-like cookbook, their fascination with global cooking, and yes, their hiphop soundtrack—seems consistent, interesting, sincere and, yes, hip. Am I entirely happy that N-words and B-words are dropped so freely in African-American music? No, but I sure don’t see how a Chinese restaurant is the place to start fighting that fight and send the message upstream. I don’t think anyone really wants to see an America where the work of black musicians is off limits to people who aren’t black.

A prominent figure in the local food industry called me Saturday to chat about both of these cases, which he also felt are not entirely unrelated, and his reaction to the Eater piece (especially name-checking Fat Rice so prominently in the headline) was, “This is like Conan the Barbarian swinging a sword around not caring how many heads they take off. And doing that to two of the nicest owners, who care the most about their kids [employees], and have a restaurant that’s one of the brightest stars on our scene.”

What I take from all of this is that it’s just too, too easy to wreck people’s lives on social media without a fair and just process, and you shouldn’t do it unless you’re really sure of what you’re saying and what the consequences for it should be. Let’s rein the hysteria in, take it out of the social media escalation, and approach it seriously and soberly, while we still have as many good chefs as we do.


There’s always more to tell about a good place. John Kessler pointed us to Rica Arepa in Hermosa, the best of the city’s arepa spots, last year in Chicago magazine. But the magazine returns to give us an in-depth look at how the crisis in Venezuela sent Rica Arepa’s owners and customers alike to find a new life in America:

“When I say I miss Venezuela, I don’t mean the land,” says Hector Cedeno-Indriago, 19, another regular. “Really,” he says, “it’s the people that I left over there.”

Cedeno-Indriago learned of Rica Arepa from his father, who found it on Facebook. The moment he stepped inside the restaurant, he says, he felt like he was back in Puerto La Cruz. “It was something in the air, like socializing with the people that I trusted back in Venezuela. Home is like a place where I have trust in friends and family.”


It’s a bit hard to reconcile Phil Vettel’s mezzo-mezzo comments on Next Silk & Spice, the 25th (I think) Next menu, with the three stars he gives at the end. “The first course is dubbed Trade Market, and appears as a balance scale, bearing a trio of reimagined Indian bites: A lentil pancake filled with cardamom cream and topped with persimmon syrup; a skewered layering of egg custard and green beans, with a smidgen of onion puree; and a ‘deconstructed samosa’ that proved to be a spice-dusted chip bearing upright leaves of fried mint and cilantro. The stuffed pancake was a hit; I shrugged at the others.” For a dish contrasting rich and poor dining, “concept outpaced execution.” It’s the first menu since Edgar Tinoco was at the top under Grant Achatz (though he does not have the executive chef title that Dave Beran and Jenner Tomaska had), and other than Next obsessives,  I suspect many will want to wait a season or two and see how he develops. Vettel, of course, will be reviewing every one.


Crain’s has lots good to say about Althea, the high-end plant-centric restaurant in the Saks store on Michigan Avenue: “It’s one of 32 plant-centric restaurants, worldwide, headed by chef Matthew Kenney, an eloquent spokesperson for animal-free cuisine, ‘the future of food.’ Having this ambitious showcase for it at our disposal is a good thing; surely no one makes vegan dining more beautiful. Bright-green kimchi dumplings resemble origami party favors; noodle-less tomato and zucchini lasagna, a kind of savory vegetable napoleon, looks like dessert. Althea isn’t about humble piles of rice and beans or casual stir-fries of greens and tofu, but if you’re hungry for artful haute veganism, you’ll want to check it out.”


Mike Sula tells the story of Boston Fish Market (no relation to the roasted chicken chain), which started as a wholesaler in the suburbs and now has a massive restaurant in Wheeling across from the suburbs’ best known fish house, Bob Chinn’s.


Nick Kindelsperger was about to make Christmas dinner (fried chicken, as it happens) when his daughter announced that she was now vegetarian—at age 5. Here’s the story.


I was about to shoot Key Ingredient at The Drawing Room, and standing in front of the adjacent Le Colonial, when suddenly flashing lights and black SUVs pulled up. Rahm was going to lunch at Le Colonial… and I was standing there with a bunch of suspicious looking equipment. Anyway, Le Colonial, Vietnamese power lunch on Rush Street for two decades, has moved around the corner, and Anthony Todd talks to them about it.


Ina Pinkney returns for a second week as guest co-host of The Feed, talking about teaching kids better nutrition; guests include people from Chicago’s Pilot Light, Kimbal Musk’s Big Green, and San Francisco’s Readers to Eaters.


Titus Ruscitti goes to places you’ve actually heard of, for once! They include Luella’s Gospel Bird, Roscoe Village’s Le Sud and, going really old school, Hackney’s On Harms: “The real reason that Hackney’s on Harms has lasted all these years are the burgers. They have what’s unique enough of a recipe that stands out among others due to the use of rye bread as the bun. I don’t know if they bake it in house anymore, I doubt they do, but it’s still made for them somewhere. Same goes for their ground beef patties which are supplied fresh using a recipe blend that goes back more than 75 years.”


This is from a few weeks back, but a good story at the Wall Street Journal about non-alcoholic cocktails, including at Chicago’s new Bar Kumiko.


I’m all for playing around in different media, and Michael Nagrant launches a video series devoted to reading menus aloud with a short video about Funkenhausen. Check it out.


Matt Kirkley (ex of L2O, Ria, etc.) just led the US team at the Bocuse d’Or. They didn’t do that well, compared to last year’s win, but that just means they’re only among the most insanely talented and precise chefs in the world, I guess. Anyway, Kirkley gave an account of the morning before the competition to Plate here.


Chicago mag has a cool video of Kaze Chan (Sushi-San) breaking down a 500-lb tuna.


When you feel like you have to have gone everywhere, it’s hard to find a place to go for a special occasion… but I hadn’t been to Brindille since it opened, so I booked it for the day after Valentine’s Day (I always cook on the day itself). Looking forward to classical French, I was a little disappointed by the starters—a foie appetizer was fine but not remarkable, trofie (stubby little pasta) with slices of apple and truffles was wet and lukewarm, not an appealing combo. Then the main courses came… and they were sublime, wild pigeon earthy (more foie), Dover sole ethereal. Service, even as it included some definite attempts at upselling, was warm and expert, as good as I’ve had anywhere in a long time.

I went to Princi, Starbucks’ new Italian-rooted bakery on Randolph Street. Saturday morning seems to be a good, mellow time to check it out, and I was generally impressed by the well-made pastries; the best of the hot dishes was basically shakshuka, eggs in garlicky tomato sauce. And I went back to Munno, subject of this Fooditor story, for the first time since I wrote it; nice to see it packed on Saturday night, and everything lived up to my memories of delicate, well-made pastas, terrific Neapolitan pizza that would fool you it came from a woodburning oven, and genuinely caring staff. If you haven’t discovered this yet, do so now.