Paula Deen: I Would Like To Thank The Food Network For 11 Great Years

deenfoodnetwork-3Paula Deen has caused a bit of a flap recently with statements made in a deposition last month, which has recently gotten into the hands of the National Enquirer.  By way of background, Deen, her brother “Bubba”, and assorted corporations that own a pair of restaurants in Savannah, GA have been sued by a former employee who claims to have been  subjected to “violent, racist and sexist” behavior while working for Deen’s various businesses over the past five years.

Much has already been written about her testimony, and based on this media coverage, strong opinions have been formed and expressed.  This post does not offer opinion or commentary on the substance of the statements made by Deen – rather, it presents those statements mostly in context, as they were recorded during the deposition.  Although few will take the time to read the whole deposition (except me), it is probably better to understand exactly what she said, rather than relying on a summary provided by the media.  It is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.  However, it doesn’t seem like this is going to be particularly helpful in defending her lawsuit.

Q Did any of the things that your brother admitted to doing, including reviewing – reviewing pornography in the workplace, using the N word in the workplace, did any of that conduct cause you to have any concerns about him continuing to operate the business?

A No. My brother and I, 25 years ago, quite by accident, each started a business and we each had $200 to start that business. My brother built the most successful long-service business in Albany, Georgia with his $200. My brother is completely capable unless he’s being sabotaged.

Q Now, does his [Bubba’s] sense of humor include telling jokes about matters of a sexual nature?

MR. FRANKLIN: Ever, or what are you —

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Sure.

A We have all told off-colored jokes.

Q Okay. Does his sense of humor include telling jokes of a racial nature?

A I’m sure those kind of jokes have been told. Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.

Q Okay. Miss Deen, have you told racial jokes?

A No, not racial.

Q Okay. Have you ever used the N word yourself?

A Yes, of course.

Q Okay. In what context?

A Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.

Q Okay. And what did you say?

A Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.

Q Okay.

A I didn’t — I didn’t feel real favorable towards him.

Q Okay. Well, did you use the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?

A Absolutely not.

Q Well, then, when did you use it?

A Probably in telling my husband.

Q Okay. Have you used it since then?

A I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.

Q Can you remember the context in which you have used the N word?

A No.

Q Has it occurred with sufficient frequency that you cannot recall all of the various context in which you’ve used it?

A No, no.

Q Well, then tell me the other context in which you’ve used the N word?

A I don’t know, maybe in repeating something that was said to me.

Q Like a joke?

A No, probably a conversation between blacks. I don’t — I don’t know.

Q Okay.

A But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.

Q Okay.

A As well as I do.

Q Are you aware that your brother has admitted to using that word at work?

A I don’t know about that.

Q All right.

A I’m not sure about that.

Q Okay. Were you ever aware from any other — other source prior to — or excuse me, or during Miss Jackson’s employment that Mr. Hiers was viewing pornography in the workplace?

A No. I know that men are really, really guilty of sending inappropriate jokes to each other. My husband would be under the jail if that were a sin right now.

Q Do you understand that there is some conduct that one can engage in outside the workplace that is not appropriate to inflict on your subordinate employees in the workplace?

A One more time, please.

Q Are you aware that there is some conduct that is allowed under the law outside the workplace that supervisors and managers cannot inflict on their subordinates employees inside the workplace?

A Yes. I think I understand what you’re asking, and yes.

Q Okay. And are you aware that Mr. Hiers, in addition to receiving these pornographic images and sexual jokes, would display them to his subordinate employees?

MR. WITHERS: Object to form.

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. You can answer, Paula.

THE WITNESS: I know that that computer’s in the office and anybody can come in and snoop. What I know about a computer, Mr. Billips, you could slip through an eye of a needle because I think when people sit at that keyboard they become rich, brave and invisible, and it’s just a situation that I never wanted to put myself in.

Q Miss Deen, earlier in your testimony you indicated that one of the things that you had tried to — that you and your husband tried to teach your children was not to use the N word in a mean way, do you recall that testimony?

A Yes.

Q Okay. And could you give me an example of how you have demonstrated for them a nice way to use the N word?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Or a non-mean way?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

THE WITNESS: We hear a lot of things in the kitchen. Things that they — that black people will say to each other. If we are relaying something that was said, a problem that we’re discussing, that’s not said in a mean way.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q What about jokes, if somebody is telling a joke that’s got —

A It’s just what they are, they’re jokes.

Q Okay. Would you consider those to be using the N word in a mean way?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

A Depends on how it’s used in a joke.

MR. WITHERS: Object to form, vague.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A That — that’s — that’s — pardon?

Q He was talking to me, go ahead.

A That’s — that’s kind of hard. Most –most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. I can’t — I don’t know.

Q Okay.

A They usually target, though, a group.Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.

Q Okay. Well —

A I can feel out that person pretty good on what would offend them, but I’m not sure, Mr. Billips, what — what the question even means.

Q Well, if you were sitting around at home just with you and your family, would you feel any hesitation in telling a joke that you thought was funny if it had the N word in it?

A I don’t tell jokes, not at my house. That’s —

Q Do the other members of your family tell jokes at home?

A Yes.

Q Okay.

A Yes.

Q And they told jokes using the N word?

A I’m sure they have. My husband is constantly telling me jokes.

Q Okay. And have — are you offended at all by those jokes?

A No, because it’s my husband.

Q Okay. What about your brother, does he tell those jokes?

A I’m sure he has. Bubba’s not good at joke telling, but I’m sure he’s tried to repeat some.

Q Okay. He just does it badly?

A Yeah, he don’t — he doesn’t tell ’em good.

Q Okay.

A Barry Weiner will ruin a funny joke. You know, some people can tell jokes in a funny way and some can’t.

Q Okay. And would you consider telling jokes, racial jokes, to be an example of using the N word in a way that’s not mean?

A Not for me personally. It would not —

Q It wouldn’t be mean for you personally?

A No, it wouldn’t — I wouldn’t tell it.

Q Okay.

A I mean, that’s — that’s not my style of joke.

Q What about racial harassment?

A We don’t tolerate that.

Q Okay. Well, what is it in your mind?

A I would think that – racial discrimination, was that the question?

Q Harassment.

A Harassment. I would think that that would be picking out a certain race and never cutting them any slack. I don’t know, verbally abusing them maybe, I’m not sure.

Q Okay. Using racial slurs in a workplace, would you —

A To them. If you were doing it against a Jewish person and constantly talking about — badmouthing Jews or lesbians or homosexuals or Mexicans or blacks, if you continually beat up on a certain group, I would think that that would be some kind of harassment.

Q Okay.

A I don’t know. We don’t — we don’t do that, I don’t know.

Q Did you consider what Dustin Walls was accused of doing to constitute racial harassment?

A I understand — I understand the pressure that goes along with the restaurant business. When that dinner bell rings at 11:00, it’s like you and your team go to war. You’re fighting a war to get everybody fed, every customer happy, and I know in the heat of the moment you can say things that would ordinarily not be said. Therestaurant business is just so stressful, so stressful.
Q Okay. Do you recall my question?

A Yes.

Q Okay.

A No. Maybe.

MR. FRANKLIN: All of the above.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q My question was, would you consider what Dustin Walls was accused of to constitute racial harassment?

A Yes.

A . . . . And I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited. And I’m wanting to think it was in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere, and it was so impressive. The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret.

Q The media might misinterpret it?

A Yes, or whomever —

Q Okay.

A — is so shallow that they would read something to it.

Q Were they dressed in white shorts and bow ties?

A No, they were dressed in white jackets.

Q White jackets?

A Dinner jackets.

Q And a bow tie?

A And a bow tie and black trousers, and they were incredible.

Q Okay. And you said something —

A These were men that had made their living off of service and people in a restaurant.

Q Right.

A It was — I was so impressed.

Q Okay. And they were all black men?

A Yes. Professional servers and waiters.

Q And when you described it to Miss Jackson, did you mention the race of — well, you had to have mentioned the race of the servers —

A Of course I would —

Q — because that’s the part that —

A — because that’s what we just experienced.

Q Right. Do you know what word you used to identify their race?

A I would have used just what I just told you.

Q Black or African-American?

A Black. I would use the word black.

Q Okay.

A I don’t usually use African-Americans.

Q Okay.

A I try to go with whatever the black race is wanting to call themselves at each given time. I try to go along with that and remember that.

Q Okay. So is there any reason that you could not have done something just like that but have people of different races?

A Well, that’s what made it.

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection.

MR. WITHERS: Object to form.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A That’s what made it so impressive. These were professional. I’m not talking about somebody that’s been a waiter for two weeks. I’m talking about these were professional middle-aged men, that probably made a very, very good living —

Q Okay.

A — at this restaurant. They were trained. The — it — it was the whole picture, the setting of the restaurant, the servers, their professionalism.

Q Is there any reason you couldn’t have found middle-aged professional servers who were of different races?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection, relevance.

THE WITNESS: Listen, it was not important enough to me to even fight, to reproduce what that restaurant had. I was just simply expressing an experience that my husband and I had, and I was so impressed.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Did you describe it as a — that that would be a true southern wedding, words to that  effect?

A I don’t know.

Q Do you recall using the words “really southern plantation wedding”?

A Yes, I did say I would love for Bubba to experience a very southern style wedding, and we did that. We did that.

Q Okay. You would love for him to experience a southern style plantation wedding?

A Yes.

Q That’s what you said?

A Well, something like that, yes. And —

Q Okay. And is that when you went on to describe the experience you had had at the restaurant in question?

A Well, I don’t know. We were probably talking about the food or — we would have been talking about something to do with service at the wedding, and —

Q Okay. And it was just you and Brandon and Lisa Jackson?

A I couldn’t — I couldn’t tell you who all was in there because the only reason I would have — they would have come to speak to me in my dressing room is because I was in between takes.

Q Okay.

A Changing clothes and getting hair and makeup —

Q Okay.

A — prepped.

Q Is there any possibility, in your mind, that you slipped and used the word “nigger”?

A No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.

Q Why did that make it a — if you would have had servers like that, why would that have made it a really southern plantation wedding?

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. Relevance.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q You can answer.

A Well, it — to me, of course I’m old but I ain’t that old, I didn’t live back in those days but I’ve seen pictures, and the pictures that I’ve seen, that restaurant represented a certain era in America.

Q Okay.

A And I was in the south when I went to this restaurant. It was located in the south. Q Okay. What era in America are you referring to?

A Well, I don’t know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War.

Q Right. Back in an era where there were middle-aged black men waiting on white people.

A Well, it was not only black men, it was black women.

Q Sure. And before the Civil War –before the Civil War, those black men and women who were waiting on white people were slaves, right?

A Yes, I would say that they were slaves.

Q Okay.

A But I did not mean anything derogatory by saying I loved their look and their professionalism.

Q But you knew that if you did something like that, the media would pick up on it and have something to say?

A I didn’t — no, not necess —

MR. FRANKLIN: Objection. Asked and answered.

BY MR. BILLIPS:

Q Correct?

A Not necessarily the media.

Q Okay.

A But people around us.

Q Okay.

A No, I knew the media was not covering Bubba’s wedding.

Q Okay.

A But just people around. It just wasn’t worth — it just wasn’t worth it.

Q Okay.

A If I could have brought the restaurant there I would have done that, but I could not afford to do that.

Late Night Shift at Wendy’s: I CAN HAZ FROSTY?

After all, straws just slow you down and a cone is merely empty calories . . .

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Paula Deen In The News: Butter, Donut Burgers and Diabetes Drug Endorsement Deals

June 12, 2013 1 comment

paulaeatingbutter-300x300Here at Allegations we love us some Sandra Lee, but how has Paula Deen escaped our withering gaze for so long?  Last week, I observed that, in regard to chefs “climbing in bed with corporate partners,” “if they have a viable brand, they should make the most out of it while they still can.”  Well, Paula Deen, bless her heart, she sure doesn’t need my advice.  Let’s check the ol’ Google News Feed and see what she’s been up to recently:

  • On HGTV’s “Celebrities at Home,” tells host Nancy O’Dell “When you hear the name Paula Deen, I don’t want you to think of the word ‘butter.’ I want you to think of the word ‘hope.’”
  • Launches a new line of flavored butters which, according to her press release, “let cooks bring a wonderful fresh butter taste to various dishes while just adding butter to the end of the cooking process.” Flavors include Southern Grilling Butter, Lemon Dill Butter, European Style Butter, Sweet Citrus Zest Butter and Garden Herb Butter.  According to Paula, “My Sweet Citrus Zest butter is hard to practice in moderation.”
  • Will soon have a museum celebrating her contributions to the world, like flavored butter and that recipe for a hamburger on a donut (or not, see below).  The museum will reportedly be opened in her childhood home in Albany, GA, although the home itself will be moved, presumably to a more marketable and tourist-friendly area.
  • Claimed on Leno that she had “accidentally” invented the donut hamburger, called  the “Lady’s Brunch Burger,” on an episode of Paula’s Home Cooking in 2008 when she had decided on a whim to substitute donuts instead of hamburger buns.20120523-207677-Straw-The-Ringmaster-Left

You know what’s funny is that’s not her recipe. That was a Minor League Baseball thing, and my mom did like a spoof on it. That’s the only thing that really bothered me was they gave us credit for that recipe but it wasn’t even our recipe. The Minor League Baseball team did one of those things, you make the craziest things you can think of. So they made a cheeseburger on a donut. And it was on the national news cycle for about five minutes and somebody from our production team put it together. I have never tasted or seen my mom ever make a Krispy Kreme cheeseburger in my life.

  • Released a cookbook called “The New Testament.”
  • And, of course, hid her type 2 Diabetes diagnosis for three years until she had a massive endorsement deal in place for diabetes drug Victoza, all the while trading off her “Queen of Rich Food” persona/brand.

Writing about Paula Deen makes me feel kind of icky, like I need to shower afterward.  Plus there is nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said by a hundred other commentators.  Sandra Lee is much more fun to write about.  Team Sandra all the way!

Sandra

Celluloid Banquet: When Food Intrudes On The Silver Screen

royale-with-cheeseAs film viewers, we keep going back to the movies because we can relate at a basic level to the needs of the characters on the screen – the need for survival, acceptance, revenge, relaxation, sexual gratification, etc.  But one such need that is often sorely neglected in the movies is the need for sustenance – the need to eat, and the enjoyment that comes from eating.  Presumably James Bond enjoys a good meal (he obviously enjoys a good drink), but in his world, food is an afterthought – a room service order of caviar and champagne (charged to Goldfinger’s account, of course) – which he never actually eats because he’s too busy making sexytime and thwarting his nemesis’ attempts to cheat at cards.

Food is most often extraneous to a film’s storyline, except in those rare instances where the story is actually about food (for example, movies like Ratatouille or Big Night).  But occasionally, food – or the act of eating – is used by filmmakers to bring out traits of the characters or themes of the film as a whole.  For example, in Die Hard, John Mclaine unsuccessfully attempts to “fire down” a “1,000 year old twinkie” he finds on an empty floor of the L.A. office building in which he is trapped with murderous international thieves.  He’s been running around in his bare feet dodging bullets and crashing through windows for most of the movie, but it is only then we realize the poor guy probably hasn’t eaten since he first got on the plane in New York.  At that point we actually realize how exhausted, beaten up (and hungry!) he must be.

Inglorious Basterds

In Inglorious Basterds,  Jewish heroine Shosanna Dreyfus finds herself alone at a Parisian restaurant with “the Jew Hunter,” Nazi Col. Hans Landa, who murdered the rest of her family when she was a child.  She looks to get away as soon as possible, before he discovers who she is – but Landa insists she join him in a plate of apple strudel while he interrogates her, and seems to enjoy watching her squirm as she grudgingly nibbles at it.

Annie Hall


Next up, “the lobster scene” from Annie Hall.  Here, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton do battle with a pair of feisty lobsters who do not want to go gently into that good night.  The scene illustrates the fun and frivolity of the early stages of Alvie and Annie’s relationship – SPOILER: there are difficult times to come.  The actual eating of the lobsters is not depicted, although it probably would have been pretty amusing to watch.  There is a second “lobster scene” later in the film (also included in the clip) where Alvie attempts to cook lobsters with a new, post-Annie girlfriend.  Clearly, things are not the same.

The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors is a 1988 “escape to nature”/”annoying in-law” comedy starring the late John Candy and Dan Aykroyd (as the annoying in-law).  Throughout the film, Dan Aykroyd’s character antagonizes, belittles, befuddles and causes grievous bodily harm to John Candy, but the most memorable scene is at a restaurant where he dares Candy to consume “the ol’ 96er,” a behemoth 96 oz. “Paul Bunyan” steak which will result in a free meal for both families if entirely consumed (a feat which has not occurred in the waitress’s lifetime).  This scene has a little-heralded but much deserved place in the holy trinity of competitive eating scenes in the movies, which include the pie-eating contest in Stand By Me, and of course Paul Newman’s excruciating consumption of 50 hard boiled eggs in Cool Hand Luke.  Candy’s delirious “meat sweat” is entirely convincing (but feel free to ignore the weak romantic subplot designed to appeal to teenage viewers).

*note: This is not to be confused with the “escape to nature” comedy Funny Farm, where Chevy Chase breaks the local record by eating thirty “lamb fries,” only to find out they are in fact sheep testicles.

Goodfellas

Goodfellas is chock-full of eligible “food” scenes, so I went with the most famous of all, the “dinner in prison” scene.  As Henry Hill explains:

When you think of prison you get pictures in your mind of all those old movies with rows and rows of guys behind bars. It wasn’t like that for wiseguys . . . . everyone else in the joint was doing real time, all together, living like pigs. But we lived alone. We owned the joint.

Here, Paulie famously shaves the garlic for the sauce so thin that it “liquifies in the pan.”  I would not recommend this for anyone who is not incarcerated, as it is extremely time consuming and doesn’t seem to make much difference anyway.

Five Easy Pieces

Another classic “food” scene, the diner scene in Five Easy Pieces is not so much about eating food as much as ordering food, but really it is about the Jack Nicholson character’s late 60’s-era relationship to the regulated society in which he lives, and his frustration in having never really been able to “get his toast” for most of his life. Much analysis of this scene has been written better elsewhere, so I will leave it at that.

*Note: after the scene,  the clip contains some bizarre remix of the scene – for those who have not seen the movie, this is not what actually happens! People on Youtube love to remix things, even 1970s-era dramatic films.

Oldboy

In Oldboy, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped, imprisoned for fifteen years in what looks like a shabby hotel room, and subsists entirely on a diet of fried dumplings and television.  During this time he learns that his wife has been murdered, his daughter sent to live with foster parents, and he is the prime suspect. He is suddenly and inexplicably released, and soon thereafter ends up in a sushi bar, where he demands “to eat something alive.”  In one of the most memorable scenes from the film, he angrily consumes a wriggling octopus whole and passes out face first on his plate.

I am aware that I have merely scratched the surface of memorable movie “food” scenes. Perhaps I will discuss more in future posts.

“Inch By Inch, Row By Row”: Where Mother Nature Meets Aggressive Litigation

641720_f260Mother nature ain’t got nothing on Monsanto.  Monsanto, an agricultural biotech mega-corporation with seemingly insurmountable political muscle, holds a virtual stranglehold  on the U.S. food supply (including 90% of the GMO – genetically modified organism/food market).  The corporation is ostensibly pro-farmer, if you look at the slogans and sunny wholesome photography on its website – however, it has also waged a massive legal war on these same farmers.  Monsanto is reported to have filed nearly 150 patent infringement lawsuits against farmers and settled out of court with seven hundred more.  Monsanto holds patents on genetically modified seeds, which have been altered to address many of the difficulties in growing them, and it makes a tidy profit selling these seeds. The thing about seeds is, of course, that when they grow successfully, they produce more seeds, and Monsanto cannot control  at least this aspect of the natural order (without making a useless product).   Unable to wrest control of the natural order, they have turned to the next best thing – the U.S. judicial system.

There are (at least) three ways that unsuspecting farmers can find themselves dragged into federal court to defend a patent infringement lawsuit against Monsanto’s army of lawyers.  In the words of Paulie Cicero: Plant a crop with Monsanto seed, save the seeds from the new crop and plant those next year? “Fuck you, pay me.”  Monsanto seeds scattered onto your fields from a neighboring farm?  “Fuck you, pay me.”  Try to plant the second-hand seeds you bought from a grain elevator?  “Fuck you, pay me.”

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Of course, to carry out this sort of litigation strategy, one must keep a watchful eye on potential plaintiffs (farmers).  Vanity Fair has reported that:

As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities.

Which brings me to the subject du jour which is not, as one might expect, a rant against Monsanto’s aggressive business practices, but rather a brief recap of recent relevant events in the legal world.

Vernon Bowman is a soybean farmer and a good customer of Monsanto.  He bought Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” soybean seeds to plant his primary soybean crop. “Roundup Ready” seeds have been genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide/weed-killer “Roundup,” and Monsanto holds patents on them.  Needing seeds for a secondary, lower-yield soybean planting, Bowman bought less-expensive “commodity” seeds from a grain elevator.  These seeds were a combination of seeds from various farmers, which also contained “Roundup Ready” seeds.  After Bowman planted these seeds, he was sued by Monsanto for its infringing its patents because he planted “Roundup Ready” seeds that he did not buy from Monsanto.  His case wound its way through the federal court system, and ended up before the Supreme Court, which handed down its decision on May 13, 2013 (Bowman v. Monsanto Co.).

imagesThe central issue in the case concerned the doctrine of “patent exhaustion,” which generally protects an authorized purchaser from a claim of infringing a patent by using or reselling the product.  If Albert holds a patent on Product X and sells it to Bob,  his exclusive right to control the use or sale of the patent is exhausted upon the sale, and Bob may then legally use or resell Product X.  Bowman argued that the right to “use” the seed included the right to plant the seed as well as its progeny, since that is how seeds are “used.”  The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed, holding essentially that a farmer may plant seeds he buys directly, but may not plant any subsequent newly grown seeds.

This result vindicates Monsanto’s legal stance and puts farmers back into the position they were in before the decision, which is to say not a great one, where they are constantly under suspicion/investigation and at risk of being hauled into federal court based on circumstances they may not even be aware of.  The Court’s decision  seems to result, at least in part, from its concern that if patent exhaustion applied, Monsanto would lose significant ground to the secondary seed market and lose its incentive to innovate.

A skeptic could conclude that Monsanto has adopted a business strategy of destroying (or threatening to destroy) the livelihood of many of America’s farmers to strengthen its monopoly by killing off the secondary market for its seeds.  Monsanto would doubtless reply that the number of farmers affected is extremely small, and that on balance, they do a lot more good for farmers than harm.  Monsanto’s lawsuits will doubtless continue.  One can only hope that measures will be taken to account for situations where farmers end up with patented seeds growing on their land through no fault of their own (e.g., through contamination from nearby fields).

What is a “Ramen Concept” And Why Are They Suing Over it?

Big Food has decided there’s money to be made in selling bowls of ramen to the masses.  It’s surprising it has taken this long, since ramen isimages basically just a bowl of water and noodles (with maybe a few veggies and things, additional charge), and presumably has a very high profit margin.  Ramen has long been the go-to staple for people trying to subsist on an extremely limited budget – a dollar or two can provide many days of salty ramen slurping.  Now, of course, we’re talking about fancy ramen (rather, “traditional” ramen) in this case – not your college dorm ramen, but rather the kind of ramen that world-famous chefs looking for that corporate paycheck have painstakingly designed and tweaked.  The kind of ramen that won’t be sold for 29 cents a pack, but rather $8-10 dollars a bowl, presumably.

And where there’s big money at stake, litigation is soon to follow.  In this case, Kyle Connoughton, former head chef of London’s “The Fat Duck” (“Best Restaurant in the World 2006 – 2007), is suing Chipotle, and its CEO Steven Ells, claiming Ells fraudulently induced (i.e. tricked) him into taking a job with Chipotle, and became unjustly enriched by the work Connoughton performed on “ramen concepts” pursuant to this employment.

To understand the basis for this claim, one must look to Mr. Ells’ (alleged) prior ramen dealings.  Connoughton’s complaint alleges that Chipotle worked with chef David Chang (yes, the Momofuku guy) on a “ramen concept” around 2008, subject to a non-disclosure agreement signed by Ells.  The complaint alleges that this work was never authorized by Chang for use in any restaurant.  It further alleges that Ells and Chang could not agree on what Chang should be paid for his work and involvement with the concept, and that Ells thereupon insisted that Chang tear up the non-disclosure agreement, which he refused to do.  Chipotle executives allegedly believe that Chang will sue Chipotle once it begins opening its “ramen concept” stores. When Connoughton confronted Ells about his dealings with Chang, Ells told him to forget about it and proceed with the “concept,” but soon thereafter fired him on the grounds that he “no longer had confidence in the ramen concept.”

Ramen So you may be wondering – where is the legal claim in all this?  Connoughton essentially is asserting that Ells’ failure to disclose Chang’s involvement was fraudulent and that he never would have taken the job if he had known the history, because it would have forced him to violate the non-disclosure agreement and would have given him the reputation of having stolen the ramen idea from Chang.  He is seeking to recover the equity in the company that he lost when he was fired, the loss of other opportunities he could have taken if he had turned down the Chipotle job, as well as the value of the work that he performed for Chipotle while employed there.

I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions about the viability of Connoughton’s lawsuit.  My own observation is that these circumstances likely present a cautionary tale for those chefs who seek to climb into bed with heavyweight corporate partners.  I am sympathetic to why they choose to do so – if they have a viable brand, they should make the most out of it while they still can, there is no shame in securing the financial well-being of themselves and their family.  That being said, they are advised to watch their ass.

Finally, if you have been wondering what a “ramen concept” is, this should give you an idea.  “Shophouse” is a Chipotle-owned joint in DC which, according to Connoughton, is based on the work initially done by Chang.  Chang has played his cards close to his vest regarding this whole affair (as his lawyers have properly advised him) – however,  the legal wars over these “ramen concepts” may soon heat up further, so stay tuned.

Apparently Chang et al. are not the first to come up with a “ramen concept.”  See below for an alternative concept published on the interwebs.  I’m not sure quite what the concept entails but perhaps you the reader will have some insights. Patent pending.

ramenConcept

J.Frankfurter Got Crabs (and Collards)

Quick ‘n dirty saturday night dinner report:  I had spent all saturday working on “Day 1” of Mark Bittman’s cassoulet recipe as published in the New York Times a few weeks ago (available here, for you masochists and those with lots of time on their hands).  Dinnertime rolled around and it was time to put away the duck carcass (broken down, fat rendered, carcass roasted and simmered as stock) and figure out what to make for dinner.  On a whim, I had ordered a duo of softshell crabs from FreshDirect, never having cooked them before but determined  to do so while they are in season.  Now, I’ve read enough Asian cookbooks to know that it is FROWNED UPON to cook any crab that is not alive and kicking – however, it is early in the season for softshells, they are presumably coming from some place warmer (Florida?), so they are unlikely to show up in Queens still wriggling (God forbid they were shipped up here live and they began to harden en route, the first bite would be painful).

It also happened that I had a bunch of collard greens, also purchased on a whim earlier that day at the supermarket. So – here’s my quick and dirty saturday dinner recipe – perfect for whenever you’ve spent all day prepping for cassoulet and also happen to have softshell crabs and collards in the fridge:

Garlic Pepper Crabs

2 softshell crabs, cleaned (just Google how to clean them, you have to cut the eye stalks off, etc.)
2 tsp. cracked black pepper (use a coffee grinder, mortar & pestle or, failing that, a food processor)
1.5 tbsps. minced garlic
3/4 cup peanut oil

You will also need a pan that can fit both crabs, a candy thermometer, a slotted spoon or spatula, and a splatter screen or just a cover for the pan if no splatter screen

1) Put the oil in the pan, heat to 375 degrees. This will take awhile.  In the meantime, open all doors and windows and turn on your ventilation fan if you have one (and I hope you do, for your sake).

2) When the oil is heated, toss in a pinch of garlic and half the pepper, stir vigorously for fifteen seconds.

3) Lower in the crabs GENTLY – put the splatter screen or  cover over the pan as soon as possible.  Crabs are notorious for popping and snapping in the pan, showering bystanders in 375 degree oil. Cook for 3 minutes then flip the crabs over carefully, wearing an oven mitt if possible.

*note: you should  be maintaining the heat at 375 degrees as the crabs cook.  The temperature will drop when you add them to the oil, so don’t be afraid to goose the heat until it climbs back up).

4) Fry the crabs on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.

5) Add the remaining garlic and pepper, stirring vigorously and flipping the crabs at least once (you could also add a pinch of hot pepper flakes if so inclined).  After 30 seconds, remove the crabs onto paper towels.  Scoop up the garlic and pepper bits in the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and spread them over the crabs.

6) Season crabs with some salt, serve.

Basic Collards

If making with crabs, prepare these first as they can just sit in the pot keeping warm while you focus on the crabs.

1) Rinse the collard leaves and cut lengthwise into 1-2 inch strips.  Trim any particularly fat stems with paring knife.

2) Pile all the leaves into a large saucepan and turn on medium heat.

3) At this point, you should add some fat.  Traditionally, it would be some fatback, ham hock, bacon fat, etc.  The healthy alternative is a teaspoon or two of olive oil, I guess, but Southerners will likely ridicule you if they witness this.  Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the lid on and cook.

4) As the collards release water, they will steam themselves. Check them every 10 minutes or so and add a little water (or chicken stock, beef stock, whatever) if they look dry, and also be sure to stir them.

5) Keep this up for 30-45 minutes, until they are fully wilted and look like properly cooked collard greens.  If you want to test them, try one of the bigger stems  -if it is tender, you are  in good shape.  Then turn the heat to low.

6) When ready to serve, pull out the  fatback or ham hock if such a thing is in there, add salt to taste and serve.

7) For a nice touch, you can drizzle a little cider vinegar over the top of each serving of greens (don’t overdo it), and/or sprinkle with some toasted walnuts.  Whether or not these are traditional additions, I don’t really care.

If executed with care, and served with some white rice and your favorite wine, these will make a perfectly acceptable saturday night dinner.

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