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I’m Running for Office This November Because I’m a Chef and My Whole Industry Is at Stake

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My partner and I opened Morris Ramen in December of 2016. We had a newborn son and a 21-person staff, full of people at different junctures in their lives yet all committed to helping us nourish the community with soup. For two people about to open their first restaurant, we were surprisingly optimistic in the months leading up to it, but the 2016 election made us re-evaluate our identity and purpose. It wasn’t enough to just nourish the community; the election of Donald Trump was an attack on marginalized, working people, many of them part of the restaurant industry. We were traumatized, but we put on our aprons and went to work, trying to make our space a safe, stable, and inclusive place for our employees and customers. We raised money for Planned Parenthood. We helped form a group for women and non-binary industry professionals to support one another. We were still hopeful.

But when the pandemic hit earlier this year, we couldn’t just keep working. With the health of our workers and guests at stake, my husband and I felt we had no choice but to close our dining room indefinitely. We clumsily helped our staff retain some sense of temporary financial security as we tried to navigate the broken Wisconsin unemployment insurance system. We paid staff in full for as long as we could and pushed gift cards and merchandise sales to try to ease some financial burdens. We were adapting every way we knew how, while leadership at local, state, and federal levels failed to provide adequate safety nets for their constituencies. Meanwhile, leaders in the Madison food community pooled resources, time, and efforts to reach out to officials to state our case for saving small, independently owned restaurants in the food and beverage community. The responses we got were timid. Small independent restaurants were left out of traditional grants and loans made available by financial institutions. I was fielding calls left and right from servers, cooks, managers, and restaurant owners, trying to figure out the next step. We received messages from folks who were afraid of losing their homes and who said their calls to unemployment offices were being ignored—and we received overwhelming gratitude when we offered free meals to service industry workers. We were all asking for help, and we were all terrified.

By Mother’s Day this year, amid the reckoning over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and still figuring out our role as restaurants in the growing social justice revolution, I declared my run for office as a Democrat in Wisconsin’s 76th State Assembly District. The pandemic was a call to action and a call to wake the fuck up. Despite the crises of systemic racism, of the pandemic, and a global climate crisis—I saw that our industry came together to feed the vulnerable, to share resources, to invest in mutual aid and show solidarity in struggle and in care. So why couldn’t our elected officials take on that same leadership? They asked the restaurant communities with limited resources to pivot, adapt, and change, yet refused to see that they themselves must adjust the rules and recognize that the game is rigged for the working person. I’m in a position to bring an intersectional perspective to our state government being a service industry worker, a mom and an organizer. I know that strengthening the restaurant community through holistic policies that empower our workers with better housing, wages, and food systems will make our industry become more equitable, inclusive, and continue to strengthen our local economies.

Our industry as a whole is in desperate need of restructuring, but guess what? So is our government. The ability of the restaurant business to meaningfully change depends heavily on politics—and on the outcome of this next election. The inequities across every sector of the hospitality industry—and our deep roots in white supremacy—have been exposed, but none of the structural changes we need to make will be sustainable without shifts in economic and social policy. From immigrant rights and protecting farm workers to minimum wage laws, health care, and small business subsidies, it all comes back to the policies that shaped restaurants and how normalized they have become.

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Food

Danny Bowien Posts Confessional Following Mission Chinese Workplace Investigation

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Following a lengthy Grub Street investigation of the workplace culture at trend-setting restaurant Mission Chinese, chef Danny Bowien opened up publicly about the longstanding allegations of mismanagement that occurred at the restaurant while the critically acclaimed spot was operating at its height in the NYC dining scene.

On Instagram, Bowien reacted to the report with a lengthy confessional, in which he apologized while discussing rampant abuse in the industry. “I am sorry. I am truly fucking sorry,” Bowien wrote. “Not only for all that I did wrong but like in fucking general that this had to be the industry we all found ourselves in.”

In his post, Bowien alleged that he experienced sexual abuse and trauma as a child, followed by physical assault as he started his restaurant career. Bowien acknowledges that, while leading Mission Chinese, he was “cruel” and regularly used homophobic slurs, but writes that, at the time, the misconduct felt mild compared to what he had experienced in kitchens. He goes on to question the workplace ethics of restaurants as a whole, ultimately seeming to take a resigned view of the entire industry and the abuse that seems endemic to it.

Grub Street’s investigation included interviews with over two dozen former Mission Chinese staffers, who detailed allegations of extensive abuse by multiple management figures in the workplace, including many instances of physical and verbal assault. One former line cook likened the work environment to living in “a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from.”

Some of the abuse allegations, including an instance where the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Quynh Le, allegedly seared a staffer’s arm with a spoon dipped in hot oil, first came to light in a class-action lawsuit that a group of employees filed against Bowien and Mission Chinese in 2018. Le, who was not named in the suit, posted his own apologetic statement on Instagram last month in which he wrote that his actions at Mission Chinese “perpetuated and fostered an unsafe workplace.” He did not address specific instances of abuse.

Bowien, his ex-wife Youngmi Mayer, and former executive chef Angela Dimayuga have been trading blows in various public forums over the past few months regarding Mission Chinese’s workplace culture and who was responsible for allowing misconduct to allegedly flourish behind-the-scenes.

During Mission Chinese’s heyday in NYC, Bowien and Dimayuga both publicly propped up the restaurant as a bastion of healthy employee relations at the same time that the misconduct was allegedly taking place.

“It feels really distinctly like a race to cover one’s ass in terms of their involvement in this,” a former server told Grub Street of the recent finger-pointing playing out over social media.

Bowien addressed issues of alleged racism at the restaurant this past summer following the Black Lives Matter protests, and further alluded to the toxic culture at the restaurant in a podcast with Mayer in July, but this is the first time that Bowien has addressed issues at the restaurant in detail.

Bowien shut down Mission Chinese’s lauded Lower East Side location in September. Mission in Bushwick is still operational, as well as the original San Francisco location, but Bowien acknowledged in his recent Instagram post that the Brooklyn outpost was in financial trouble. “It sucks I made money off this industry,” Bowien wrote. “I guess it will be cleansing to hear I walk away with nothing but debt. Barely holding on to one place that will most likely close.”

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Your Home Is the Sports Bar Now—Make Wings!

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You can drag me to the sports bar with the stickiest floor, the rudest fans, and the worst beer selection and I will be happy. Because I LOVE WINGS. My favorite preflight meal is Buffalo Wild Wings. So with the return of Big 10 football this weekend, my home will transform into the sports bar of 2020, better than any other sports bar because it’s just me and my pod and my cat. We have a clean bathroom. And a great beer selection.

Back to the wings. Bon Appétit has many recipes for them. Some are more complicated than others. I’ve been practicing, and I took notes, so that we can figure out which wings YOU should make. Go Blue!

You want to be true to the experience, you purist you

To re-create bar-style Buffalo wings, what you really need to do is deep-fry them in the grease of 1,000 wings past. I don’t do that at home because of the amount of oil required and my general laziness. But if you MUST, this recipe is the truest expression of those wings you so desire. Super-crispy skin, drenched in sauce, an absolutely delicious mess.

You want Buffalo wings but don’t want to fry them

Why go to the trouble of deep-frying when the wings get sogged in sauce anyway? When you bake them you can achieve a pretty damn crispy skin and no one will be the wiser once they’re smothered in ranch that’s all over your face and couch cushions. Steam cleaner’s coming next week, don’t worry about it. 

NOTE ON THIS RECIPE: Some commenters do NOT like the brown sugar in the Buffalo sauce, which is “untraditional” and “blasphemous” depending on your wing religion. I made them with the sugar and have to agree: not necessary. I want straight buttery Frank’s Red Hot heat.

You want to grill 

The weather’s nice and you have one of those outdoor setups with a TV on the patio! This is a nice recipe for the occasion. The soy-honey marinade is easy and lip-smacking, I’ve made these about once a summer since the recipe came out. Plus shishitos! If you want.

You want crispy wings but don’t like them “wet”

Sorry, not sure how else to say it. But after some time in the boiler, these peppercorn wings get a texture  I’d compare to a salt-and-pepper-flavored kettle chip. The recipe’s also super flexible—play with whatever spices you have around the house, as long as you go HARD on the pepper for those crunchy bits.

You want a sweet, glaze-y wing

Within this recipe there’s a traditional Buffalo sauce and the option of a simple glaze with ginger, honey, garlic, and soy sauce. I hate to mention B Dub’s “Asian Zing” sauce because that name, oof, but these really did remind me of them. (I add sambal.)

You want crispy wings AND leftover chicken fat

Andy Baraghani’s wings have a couple of cool cooking-technique things going on. The wings get covered in spices and a ginger-garlic oil and sit for 30 min-to a full day to season them deeply. THEN you bake them starting from a cold oven, which makes the chicken fat slowly drip off into the pan (which you can save and use later) and leaves you with super-crispy skin. It’s a bit of a process but with restaurant-worthy results. Very Andy.

You want “mind-altering” wings

This is a recipe from a Texas restaurant, Hot Joy, know for its crab-fat caramel wings. I haven’t made these because there’s frying involved, but there’s also a fish sauce and crab paste caramel for glazing the wings. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll make THAT and then bake the wings to be more user-friendly. I’ll report back soon. 

See you on the sidelines!

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The Ideal Thanksgiving Wine Is Versatile, Slightly Chilled, and Orange

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As the sommelier at Pinch Chinese in New York City, I get a lot of questions from friends and family about which wines to pair with Chinese food. But this time of year I field one specific crisis call: What should I drink on Thanksgiving?! Even among somms, Thanksgiving dinner is a notoriously difficult meal to pair because of all the sides. How do you find a wine that plays well with a green bean casserole, three types of stuffing (it’s a competition in my family), and creamy mashed potatoes?

In the past I’ve leaned on tried-and-trues like Prosecco and Lambrusco, but this year I’m tying the meal together with a few bottles of orange. Also known as skin-contact wines, they’re made by fermenting white grapes with the skins on, like you’d normally do for a red wine. I recommend starting with a light-maceration option that’s spent only a few days fermenting with the skins—like steeping a bag of tea for an extra few minutes to extract more flavor and aroma. The result tastes like white wine with the volume turned up, but not as intense and barnyardy as some other orange varietals. And because of their floral aromatics, heightened acidity, and fruity flavor, these wines work well with just about anything on your table.

So this Thanksgiving I’m pouring slightly chilled glasses of Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, with half the bubbles but twice the flavor of Prosecco; Oenops’s Rawditis, full of grilled lemon and apricot notes (perfect for Chardonnay-loving relatives); and Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, which tastes like orange blossom and jasmine, a reminder of The Summer That Could Have Been. It’s a new tradition, like muting my uncle on Zoom, wishing I was in Santorini, and telling myself that there’s always next year.

Buy them: 

Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, $15 at Leisir Wine 
Oenops’s Rawditis, $30 at Astor Wines & Spirits
Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, $22 at Astor Wines & Spirits

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