A conundrum for food critics (and cookbook lovers)

 restaurant

In response to the numerous chefs and restaurateurs who stand accused of sexual abuse and harassment, food critics have been reassessing their role in perpetuating the problem. Critics are struggling to balance the damage an omission can have on the lives of a restaurant's staff versus the damage wrought by praising the dining room of someone who has mistreated his (and less frequently, her) staff. Four food writers for The San Francisco Chronicle are currently grappling with this conundrum as they prepare their annual listing of best restaurants in the Bay area. Each of the four has written an essay explaining his or her thoughts on the matter.

For Esther Mobley, context matters. She notes that readers look to critics to provide more information than just whether the food tastes good; they want to know about the atmosphere, the service, and additional details such as the provenance of the food itself. "If we draw attention to the fact that a business is locally owned, uses fair-trade products or favors organic produce, we have no excuse for not drawing attention to how the business treats its workers," she notes.

Michael Bauer, on the other hand, feels that passing over a restaurant because of the accusations against a chef or owner does a disservice to the many employees who toil to provide excellent service and quality food. Why should employees be punished for their bosses' sins, he asks. "When I wear my critic's hat I'm not evaluating what happens behind the kitchen door. I'm writing about what comes out that door," states Bauer.

As I read the article, my thoughts turned to the cookbooks written by chefs who have since become embroiled in scandal. If a story of abuse or harassment implicates a chef whose work I admire - and whose cookbook I own - does the chef deserve my continued support? Would I hesitate to use a recipe from Mario Batali, for example, because of the accusations of unwanted sexual advances leveled against him? Do I give away the cookbooks that bear his name because I do not support his actions? Would it make a difference if I knew any of the people he has harmed?

Another question to ponder is the possibility of redemption. Speaking of Batali, Kim Severson of The New York Times reports that the chef has quietly started asking industry experts how he can return to the profession he loves, and if such a return is even possible. Opinions diverge on whether he should attempt such a comeback, regardless of the sincerity of his apology and attempts to improve his behavior. The answers will not come easy, and we will be contending with these issues for some time to come.

2 Comments

  • marketaffiliate  on  4/4/2018 at 12:14 AM

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  • TrishaCP  on  4/7/2018 at 9:34 AM

    I'm with the "context matters" group. I got rid of my Mario Batali and Johnny Iuzzini books after I learned what they did. I could no longer enjoy using them given the circumstances.

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