With victories in three separate categories at the Rammy Awards gala — the “hat trick,” he calls it — Jeff Black of the Black Restaurant Group was a big winner Sunday night at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
He was also the butt of the local blog world for a remark he made during his acceptance speech.
According to Amy McKeever over at Eater DC, the chef and restaurateur said, “I started out scrubbing pots and pans and cleaning toilets. But you work your way up. It’s great to see respect being given to people that work in the business that do the long hard hours, not the bloggers and not the people on the outside.”
The comment is somewhat inscrutable on the face of it: Is Black saying it’s unfair that bloggers get more respect than the hard-working denizens of the restaurant industry? Is he saying that bloggers don’t understand the hard work that goes into the hospitality business? Is he saying bloggers are lazy?
All We Can Eat decided to seek clarification.
Black acknowledges that some recent posts on Yelp and DonRockwell.com set his teeth on edge. He singled out comment by a Rockwellian, who dissed the food at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace without tasting one bite. Black also highlights a recent female Yelper who claimed that a waiter at Pearl Dive was trying to hit on her boyfriend. The waiter, Black claims, is straight. (I couldn’t immediately find the comment on Yelp.)
When I pointed out to Black that there’s a difference between a diner who rants on Yelp and an often poorly paid or unpaid blogger, he recognized his error. “That’s my mistake,” he says of his use of “blogger” in his speech. “I was referring to those who get ahold of a phone and start typing out on it, thinking they’re an expert.”
Black says he has a lot of respect for bloggers such as Amanda McClements at Metrocurean — those who “try to get the full story when talking about the restaurant or a chef.” It’s the legion of uninformed, sometimes agenda-driven diners (like those angling for freebies or just looking to hurt a restaurant after they’ve had a poor experience) who drive Black nuts. They seem to have no compassion for the workers who toil in the thankless, late-night underbelly of the hospitality industry, he says. Black notes that he has the bad knees and bad back to validate his years in the trenches.
“It wasn’t meant to be a slight on bloggers,” he adds. “It was meant to be a tip of the hat to the people in the room that make [a restaurant] happen.”
Even if Black’s acceptance-speech bomb fell on the wrong village, the blogger community was quick to take offense, without trying to check first with Black about his intentions. (This knee-jerk critical dynamic, in and of itself, may define the New Media era, in which victims are shot first and questions are never asked.) It’s not clear whether Black’s clarification will be accepted among bloggers as genuine — or as just a smooth public-relations move.
Freelance writer and blogger Nevin Martell (who writes occasionally for the Food section) says he plans to follow through with his threat to print T-shirts that read: Jeff Black Hates My Blog.
“I made a promise to the blogging community and I wouldn’t want to let them down,” Martell e-mails. “Plus, since Jeff wasn’t taking aim at them directly, everyone can wear them as an inside joke rather than as an indignant protest.”
The D.C. blogger world may have bristled over Black’s comments, but the restaurateur says the chef community celebrated him. Black says the wild applause for his Rammy award was not for the honor itself. It was for his speech. They were releasing their own pent-up anger over years of ignorance spewed forth on social networking sites and boards.
“Every single chef came up and shook my hand” during the after-party, Black says. “The people in the industry were really thankful.”