THE MANAGEMENT PROBLEM CHILD VS. THE MANAGEMENT
COMBATANTS: Chef Ryan Skeen vs. Owners and Managers of Various Restaurants
LOWDOWN: Ryan Skeen is an extraordinarily talented chef. Ryan Skeen is also an extraordinarily volatile personality, as evidenced by the sheer number of restaurants he’s worked at and the various ways those stints have ended.
BEST SHOTS: Three months into his tenure at New York City’s Allen & Delancey and even after a five-star review from Time Out New York, Skeen tweeted, “[G]et me the f--k out of NYC I can’t do it anymore,” among other complaints (he later called the owners “liars” and “shady,” according to Eater). A few months later, Skeen was punched in the face by the general manager at the Harlem restaurant whose kitchen Skeen was running, 5 & Diamond.
AND THE WINNER IS? Nobody, really. Skeen was fired from Allen & Delancey, but the restaurant closed just a little over four months later. The GM who punched Skeen left, but landed a plum job afterward (draw). Skeen was eventually dismissed from 5 & Diamond, and has worked various gigs throughout New York, all of which remain as high-profile as the length of time he can hold onto them. (He’s currently consulting on troubled restaurants’ menus and most recently planned on a pop-up restaurant that was canceled before it could come to fruition.)
THE SCORCHED-EARTH APPROACH TO CRITICISM
COMBATANTS: Famed New York City Restaurateur Keith McNally vs. Every Single Food Critic, Ever
THE OWNER: McNally is the man behind such epic New York City dining destinations as Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s, Morandi, Pulino’s, and Minetta Tavern. His restaurants commonly attract as much buzz as they do celebrity clientele, and can be anywhere from moderately penetrable to nearly impossible to get into.
THE RAW SAMPLER: On New York Post critic Steve Cuozzo: “an illiterate, low-life hack” and “a paid lackey.” Reading Cuozzo “is like receiving a lecture on ethics from Richard Nixon.” On New York magazine critic Adam Platt: “Out of touch” and a “bald, overweight” critic “incapable of reviewing lively downtown restaurants impartially.” On former New York Times critic Frank Bruni: “Desperate for attention” and “a man of limited, but undeniable intelligence.” Also: “I’m not sure whether being called ’a horrible man’ by the person who wrote an entire book in praise of George W. Bush (Ambling Into History) is necessarily a bad thing.” When he accused Bruni of a bias against female chefs: “One can only wonder whether Bruni would still have his job at the Times if he himself was a woman. Based on the unremittingly sexist slant of his reviews one has to say no.”
AND THE WINNER IS? Unbelievably, McNally, who Frank Bruni begrudgingly awarded three out of four stars for his smash-hit revivalist steak house Minetta Tavern. Cuozzo and Platt will never be able to review a McNally restaurant without the bad, objectivity-tainting juju of being sliced with an ad hominem attack by the restaurateur in question hanging over said reviews. Of course, McNally restaurants are still packed to the gills nightly, and given his celebrity draw, remain about as critic-proof as a Michael Bay movie.
THE CRITICAL MELTDOWN
COMBATANTS: Frank Bruni, Former New York Times Dining Critic vs. Jeffrey Chodorow, Restaurateur
HISTORY OF FEUD: To call Frank Bruni’s tenure as the Times dining critic “memorable” would be a vast understatement. His reviews didn’t elicit reactions so much as they did fervor. The most widely remembered instance, however, followed his February 2007 review of China Grill restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow’s Kobe Club—a flashy, big-box dining destination serving up the trend-of-that-moment, Kobe beef, in every possible iteration. Now, Chodorow makes restaurants for critics like Disney makes Broadway shows for theater scholars, which is to say, he doesn’t. That doesn’t mean they won’t review them, though.
ROUND 1: Bruni’s Kobe Club review was one of the most scathing slams the Times’ dining section has run over the last decade. Fearing the samurai swords dangling above his head (literally), he noted the design as a “gloomy rec room” the atmosphere of which was “part torture chamber and packed with chunky guys on expense accounts.” The food? “Disappointing,” “infuriating,” and “alarming.” Chodorow responded by taking out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times in the form of a letter to dining editor Pete Wells, whose integrity he attacked while questioning Bruni’s qualifications to be a reviewer. Eater.com called it, at the time, “100% pure, uncut insanity.”