Political Chefs Leave Bad Taste

If you sought escape from the pundits, critics, media and politicians during the 2016 presidential primaries and general election, you wouldn’t find much distraction in the culinary arts. Chefs and cooking magazines sharpened their knives for Donald Trump and his followers everywhere you turned.

Chief among the soured chefs is Anthony Bourdain. He has migrated from Food Network to Travel Channel and now to CNN, bringing his tangy comments on travel and food to include politics. Trump has brought him to a boiling point as he illustrated in this excerpt from Food & Wine:

Anthony Bourdain has already said he’d never dine with Donald Trump—and in a recent roundtable at a culinary getaway held in Puerto Rico, we now know exactly what the author and Parts Unknown host finds objectionable about the president-elect’s dining habits (possibly in addition to his politics).

“Donald Trump eats his steak well done,” said Bourdain in a conversation that also included José Andrés, Eric Ripert, and Tim Love. “He likes fast food. He loves Big Macs, though probably a Quarter Pounder would be better for his tiny little f***ing fingers.”

Bourdain went on to slam Trump’s anti-immigrant stance—during the campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and he has since pledged to deport as many as three million immigrants upon taking office—and pointed out his lack of familiarity with non-American cuisine.

“He’s never been seen with chopsticks,” Bourdain said, of the then-candidate. “He hates people who come from outside of the United States. Imagine him at a Chinese State Dinner trying to handle chopsticks.”

“Well done steak,” he added, as if in disbelief.

I’m sure when he dined in Vietnam with Obama, the president showed his mastery of such things. Big deal. Most of us would rather he had had decent policies than politesse.

Bourdain’s friend, Jose Andres, along with another chef, Geoffrey Zakarian of Food Network, backed out of a contract at the new Trump hotel in Washington DC.

CNN writes:

In July 2015, Andres backed out of a plan to open up a restaurant in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals” when he launched his bid for president.
Trump then sued Andres for breach of contract in August 2015, causing both Andres and fellow chef Geoffrey Zakarian — who also backed out of his deal to open up a restaurant in the hotel — to file counter-claims. They’ve been locked in a battle for more than a year.
Trump is scheduled to answer lawyers’ questions during a deposition in the $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit he filed against Andres weeks before his inauguration, The Washington Post reported.

Andres was seen at a Hillary Clinton event the day of the DC Trump hotel ribbon cutting. Hmm.

It wouldn’t be with either of these chefs, and Bourdain, too, that they want to keep the stream of cheap immigrant labor working at their restaurants would it? Do you think they act out of pure compassion on this issue?

The media has had fun bashing Trump wine and Trump steaks, but they haven’t ignored his restaurants. Here’s Vanity Fair reviewing one in Trump Towers with the headline “Trump Grill Could be the Worst Restaurant in America.”

The allure of Trump’s restaurant, like the candidate, is that it seems like a cheap version of rich. The inconsistent menus—literally, my menu was missing dishes that I found on my dining partners’—were chock-full of steakhouse classics doused with unnecessarily high-end ingredients. The dumplings, for instance, come with soy sauce topped with truffle oil, and the crostini is served with both hummus and ricotta, two exotic ingredients that should still never be combined. The menu itself would like to impress diners with how important it is, randomly capitalizing fancy words like “Prosciutto” and “Julienned” (and, strangely, ”House Salad”).

Perhaps Trump’s veneer of a steakhouse is too obviously a veneer, meant for the hoodied masses to visit once and never return.

Our waiter, coiffed and charming, was determined to gaslight us into thinking we were having a good time. “Trump gets the taco bowl and the lasagna and baked ziti,” he said, before subsequently informing the table that we could not order the lasagna or baked ziti. I asked the waiter what Trump’s children eat. He didn’t seem to understand the question, or, like Marco Rubio, appeared unable to depart from his prescribed talking points.“Oh, I’ve shaken hands with him before, and they’re pretty normal-sized hands,” he responded.

Our table nevertheless ordered the Ivanka’s Salad, a chopped approximation of a Greek salad, smothered in melting goat cheese and dressing and missing the promised olives, that seemed unlikely to appetize a SoulCycle-obsessed, smoothie-guzzling heiress. (Instead, it looked like a salad made by someone who believes that rich women only eat vegetables.) But the cuboid plant matter ended up being the perfect place to hide several uneaten Szechuan dumplings.

Our waiter eventually noted that Don Jr. gets the filet mignon cooked medium-rare, with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The steak came out overcooked and mealy, with an ugly strain of pure fat running through it, crying out for A.1. sauce (it was missing the promised demi-glace, too). The plate must have tilted during its journey from the kitchen to the table, as the steak slumped to the side over the potatoes like a dead body inside a T-boned minivan. Don Jr. probably does not eat the filet mignon here regularly, either. Come to think of it, judging by its non-cylindrical shape, it might not have even been a filet at all.

Renowned butcher Pat LaFrieda once dared me to eat an eyeball that he himself popped out of the skull of a roasted pig. That eyeball tasted better than the Trump Grill’s (Grille’s) Gold Label Burger, a Pat LaFrieda–branded short-rib burger blend molded into a sad little meat thing, sitting in the center of a massive, rapidly staling brioche bun, hiding its shame under a slice of melted orange cheese. It came with overcooked woody batons called “fries”—how can someone mess up fries?—and ketchup masquerading as Heinz. If the cheeseburger is a quintessential part of America’s identity, Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” suddenly appeared not very promising. (Presumably, Trump’s Great America tastes like an M.S.G.-flavored kitchen sponge lodged between two other sponges.)

And then there was the prerequisite, practically mandatory taco bowl. The dish became the most popular item on the menu after Trump turned it into a social-media avatar of racism this summer, tweeting a photo of him happily devouring it on Cinco de Mayo and declaring, “I love Hispanics!” It ended up being the most edible thing we ate. The fried shell, meant for one, contained a party-sized amount of lettuce and ground beef suspended in sour cream and “Dago’s famous guacamole”, which NASA might have served in a tube labeled “TACO FILLING” in the early days of the space program. Sadly, the taco bowl, perfectly adequate as it was, is not good enough to prevent Trump from deporting millions of Hispanics. (Trump, it should be noted, is again hot on the wall. Earlier this week, Thousands of supporters cheered Trump as he yelled “We’re going to build the wall, Paul” referring to House Speaker Paul Ryan.)

The one thing required to save the meal—booze—turned into its greatest disappointment. Trump himself does not drink alcohol, a possible explanation for why the cocktails seemed to be concocted by a college freshman experimenting in their dorm room. The Tower was a tall glass filled with three types of rum and several types of fruit concentrate. (One person named it “The Cancun,” and slowly nursed the spring-break-colored drink over the next two hours like morphine.) The You’re Fired, an oversized Bloody Mary, appeared to be a chunky shrimp-cocktail sauce, heavy on the horseradish, mixed with ice and a lot of vodka. The Fifth Avenue—Grey Goose with Cointreau and a “splash of cranberry”—tasted like vodka mixed with Crystal Light, the ultimate drink for an 18-year-old pledging a sorority. The alternative to these cocktails—which we could not bring ourselves to finish over the course of two hours—was Trump’s own branded Trump Wine, which came with one red option and one white option.

It goes on, but I’ll spare you.

None of this will end with the inauguration. However, I don’t think this kind of snobbery will help liberals get back the working class voters they think they own.
Fortunately, none of us has to frequent their chichi places or turn on their programs.

And we won’t.

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