Dinner with a side of sexual harassment
I've written a bit about the chef Gabrielle Hamilton recently. A couple weeks ago, I randomly picked up her 2011 book, "Blood, Bones, and Butter". The writing was great, her story was interesting and in particular, her "take no shit" attitude came across. I believe she is unlikely to suffer fools or engage in things she feels are untrue to herself. I don't know her but this is a bit of what I took away from reading her book, in which she was very open about some tough things in her life.
As I wrapped up the book, I began to write about it and talk about it with others. While out with a couple friends one evening, I mentioned just having finished the book and learned from one of them that Hamilton has been in the news recently. I wasn't really familiar with why and so the friend proceeded to tell me Hamilton had decided to step in at the famous, now embroiled in scandal restaurant, Spotted Pig. One of its co-owners, Ken Friedman, has like several others in the restaurant industry, been outed as having had a sexually overt attitude towards many female employees and at times, has been sexually forward with by touching or grabbing employees. There are multiple accounts and was unsettling to read about later on.
Hamilton is stepping into this new role in part because its chef owner, April Bloomfield, is leaving among the mounting allegations against Friedman. Rather than wait for Friedman to leave, or demand his resignation, Hamilton stated Friedman will remain at his post. This has sparked shock and outrage. Hamilton in turn put out a statement (see it in full here) and I've included excerpts below:
We (Hamilton and her partner Ashley) are excited and deeply invested in being at the leading edge of the much-needed paradigm shift in the industry.
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.
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.
There is a population of women who have been craving a more nuanced conversation regarding the #MeToo movement. A population of women (and men) who have been having their conversations privately, and [who are] frankly, super jumpy. It would be better for everyone if we could get that out in the open and start that rolling, too.
We can tell you assuredly and confidently that we are not coming to partner with Ken to be his “fence.” We are not about to sell on the street some shitty knock-off handbag of “redemption” and “I’m a new clean man with a wife and child and I don’t do any drugs or any drinking and it was all a misunderstanding and April is the real Bad Wolf and Mario is the Bigger Badder Wolf” crock of shit.
We see ourselves helping the Spotted Pig, helping the industry at large, helping April, helping our longtime friend Ken, and helping ourselves.
We feel exceptionally poised to be the leading edge of the paradigm shift, to make the Spotted Pig the best it has ever been; to protect, honor, and respect April’s magnificent work; and to be one of the luckier things that ever happened to Ken Friedman — to be women in the business of increasing power and to get paid for our impeccable work.
After reading the allegations against Friedman, thinking about people standing at his side is tough.
But I also spent parts of the past year discussing "restorative justice", which is described as: "repairing harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational. It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons." It was discussed in the light of the criminal justice system, which at times leaves victims feeling unsatisfied, while focusing more on punishing a person than rehabilitating them, which can also increase the likelihood of them re-offending.
I do not wish to see Mr. Friedman march through this un-phased or not compelled to make things as right as possible with those he victimized. But I also wonder what the right response is in the long run regarding how we treat him and offenders like him? Many might at this moment move to shun him permanently from this industry but I worry this means we are walking away from asking "how do we move forward in a productive way?" When it comes to conversations of criminal and restorative justice, there is talk now about spending more time on rehabilitating and helping people better land on their feet after they've been convicted, jailed and released in addition to supporting the victim. Is there some form of that conversation to be had in this space?
While I still have to ponder my feelings on Ms. Hamilton's decision to partner with Mr. Friedman, I believe the easier thing to do on her part would be to punish and shame Friedman rather than working on a path aspiring to improve the industry and hopefully make things better for his victims.
Finally "Esquire" and "Marie Claire" magazines teamed up earlier this year to take up the #MeToo discussion. It carried some 20 opinions on the topic but one from author Emily Gould stuck with me, "Forgiveness must be hard-won. But it also must be possible."
Go Forth Boldly