On Wednesday, as José Andrés was serving hot meals to victims in Guatemala following a volcano eruption, the chef and humanitarian got caught up in some breaking news back in Manhattan: Prune chef and owner Gabrielle Hamilton announced that she would partner with disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman to turn around the culture at the Spotted Pig, the West Village gastropub where celebrity chef Mario Batali is accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
There is no signed deal yet, but even the suggestion of a partnership did not go over well in many corners of the culinary world, which reacted as if Hamilton and her wife and fellow chef, Ashley Merriman, were working to redeem Friedman’s reputation in the wake of widespread accusations of sexual harassment at the Spotted Pig, where its third-floor space was nicknamed the “rape room.” In a New York Times investigation in December, Friedman was accused of unwanted touching of employees as well as text requests for naked photos, among other allegations. (Friedman told the Times that “some incidents were not as described,” but he apologized for his actions.)
When the allegations first surfaced, Friedman co-owned the Spotted Pig — and several other restaurants — with chef April Bloomfield. But on June 6, Bloomfield announced that she had officially ended their 14-year partnership, leaving Friedman without a famous chef to oversee the flagship Spotted Pig. Some suggested that the restaurant should just die.
Hamilton, who was just named Outstanding Chef at the James Beard Awards, and Merriman clearly felt otherwise, which is when Twitter erupted.
This is where Andrés got dragged into the unfolding drama: In prototypical Hamilton fashion, she didn’t back down from the fight and, in fact, seemed to be calling out her critics for their inability to spot a heroic effort. On Wednesday, Hamilton told the Times’s Kim Severson and Julia Moskin:
“Everyone gets so excited when José Andrés goes into these natural disasters and helps people,” Ms. Hamilton said, referring to the Spanish-American chef who received praise for his relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria last fall. “They ought to be happy that these two women are going into a man-made disaster to help make things right.”
You could almost hear the jaws drop on Twitter.
The criticism only seemed to make Hamilton double down on the comparison to Andrés, whose nonprofit World Central Kitchen has fed victims not just in Houston after Hurricane Harvey but also in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in Southern California after the wildfires and, now, in Guatemala following the eruption of the Volcano of Fire. For his efforts, Andrés was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and was again named to Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world. He even appeared on the Oscars stage in March.
Such selfless relief work didn’t stop Hamilton from repeating the Andrés analogy in a statement to Eater later Wednesday. It read, in part:
We are excited and deeply invested in being at the leading edge of the much-needed paradigm shift in the industry. (For us, it is not a shift at all because we have been living it, modeling it, and shepherding it for 19 years at Prune, and we are eager to have the larger field, the bigger pool, the greater influence — not only for the 96 employees of the Pig at this time, but also for its owner Ken Friedman, and as a way to set the paradigm in the wider industry). Jesus, wish us luck!
We are not working with any PR team, and have no spin, no crisis PR team, no lawyered-up responses: If anyone has any worries or questions or fears, I am glad to answer as best as I am able.
If anyone can get their head up to also look at the rest of the picture and who might be worried about the burger and its future, they can ask me that as well!
You have your heroic José Andrés going into the eye of the natural disaster, and in us, I think you have two highly qualified and capable women going into the ground zero of the man-made disaster to start to help out.
How does Andrés feel about the comparison of his humanitarian work to Hamilton’s efforts to clean up the Spotted Pig’s mess? It’s hard to say. When reached in Guatemala to see whether he would talk, Andrés texted back: “No comment.” He added a face blowing kisses as a kind of punctuation.
The chef’s Twitter feed will instead have to do the talking. Earlier on Thursday, Andres gave a mixed endorsement/criticism of the new partnership at Spotted Pig.
As to what Andrés thought about Hamilton’s analogy to his humanitarian work, I can only go by the chef’s response to my own comment: I wrote on Twitter that Hamilton’s was “a USDA Prime Grade A quote,” by which I meant that the comment was not only the kind of quote that journalists live for but also the kind that the Internet will devour like red meat.