Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Keith McNally, Defender of Women?

You have to love the New York restaurant world. Where else could a superstar restauranteur like Keith McNally, who once said he'd like to use actress Maria Bello as dinnerware for his last meal, use the occasion of a one-star review from Frank Bruni for his latest venture, Morandi, to morph into a defender of women? In a bizarre "response" to Bruni's review, McNally dropped off a letter to accusing the critic of sexism. His proof? Bruni has never given more than one star to a female chef. Morandi's chef, Jody Williams, is a woman, so...

McNally writes:

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. The surprise is that The New York Times continues to condone it. But until it refuses to, its message, through Frank Bruni, is loud and clear: If you're a woman and talented, the one place you'd better get out of, and fast, is the kitchen.

Oh, Keith. We rather expected this kind of drivel from theme-park restauranteurs like Jeffrey Chodorow. But not you, especially when Bruni's review was consistent with every other review we've read , if not kinder. We also can't figure out what he means when he questions whether Bruni would still have his job if he was a woman. You mean, like his predecessor, Ruth Reichl?

If McNally was truly seeking to defend women in the kitchen, he'd take up the issue in the restaurant industry, where bias is far more real and prevalent than the bias he conveniently reads into Frank Bruni's reviews. Bruni's predecessor, Ruth Reichl, has written and talked on this sexism extensively. In reality, and Reichl would surely agree, New York's three and four star restaurants are usually from culinary traditions that harbor deep sexism in the kitchen, notably French and Japanese. It seems to me that while railing against sexism in reviews, and worse, on the occasion of receiving a disappointing review, without addressing it the kitchen is balatanly disinegnuous. This feels like a low blow if not outright defamation. And, it makes me think that McNally is, well, kind of an asshole.

Spoon did a delightful interview with McNally not too long ago, and really enjoyed talking with him. We both enjoy his restaurants and love his cookbook. I can't help but remember, however, that when Spoon showed up at Balthazar "for the interview" at the appointed time, they instinctively gave her an application and sent her off to wait in line with the other waitress applicants.


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