Gabrielle Hamilton, San Pellegrino, and Fine Dining’s Boys Club

June has been yet another banner month for discussing the role of women in the restaurant business, and for all the wrong reasons. On June 13, Prune chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton and her co-chef wife, Ashley Merriman, announced that they would be partnering with accused sexual abuser Ken Friedman to take the place of former chef-partner April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig. On the 19th, San Pellegrino announced the 2018 edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, with its grand total of four restaurants led by women, two of whom have male co-chefs. They also continued on with the outdated tradition of naming a Best Female Chef, not just unnecessarily separating men and women, but also clinging to a binary understanding of gender.

For almost two decades, food writers have adored Gabrielle Hamilton, considering her one of their own. She did, after all, have an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. She did, we all agreed, write one of the greatest food memoirs of all time, Blood, Bones, Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Ryan Sutton of Eater called her restaurant “as relevant as ever” fifteen years into its life, and in 2017, Pete Wells of the Times gave it two stars. In the Instagram era, an overlit plate of raw radishes served with sweet butter and kosher salt from Prune became a foodie staple.

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Hamilton had come to epitomize a certain brash femininity in food, her restaurant’s signature color a bright hot pink. She was considered an antidote of sorts to the bro-ness of the city’s restaurant scene, and was of the only two women ever featured during six seasons of The Mind of a Chef; the other, as it happened, was Bloomfield.

But two weeks ago, Hamilton and Merriman made their announcement, undoing almost two decades of goodwill. (Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment on this piece.) Matt Rodbard, editor in chief of Taste, tweeted a concise and near-universal statement: “And Gabrielle Hamilton is cancelled.”

Both the Spotted Pig deal and the World’s 50 Best List’s boys club — which, as a bonus, is also conspicuously Eurocentric — point to just how little has concretely changed since the mainstream emergence of #MeToo and widely vocalized calls for women to be centered in restaurant world discussions. The New York Times had outed Friedman as a serial sexual harasser at the end of 2017, and noted that the Spotted Pig’s third floor was known commonly as “the rape room.” Mario Batali wasn’t only a partner in the massively influential restaurant; he was also a rape room regular

What was once a place known for being a haunt of the famous and home of an exceptional burger had become ground zero for the #MeToo moment in food. It seemed the revelations would mark a major blow to the industry’s desire to hide its issues on sexual abuse, harassment, and gender-based discrimination. At the very least, many felt, the Spotted Pig should shut its doors for good.

Which is why Hamilton’s announcement felt like such a betrayal. Some hoped she would walk back the decision once she realized how damaging this could be to her reputation. Instead, she and her wife doubled and tripled down, crudely comparing their business deal to Jóse Andrés’s humanitarian work in Puerto Rico. “Everyone gets so excited when José Andrés goes into these natural disasters and helps people,” she told the Times. “They ought to be happy that these two women are going into a man-made disaster to help make things right.”

Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of Dirt Candy, as well as an outspoken critic of the erasure of women in the restaurant world who’s written about the topic for Esquire, sees Hamilton’s decision as “a complete failure on every level.”

“Morally it’s cynical and shortsighted,” says Cohen. “Personally, I’m disappointed in what it reveals about the key players, but most importantly, as a business decision I don’t understand why you would want to tie yourself to a restaurant whose biggest attraction is something called the rape room. No one wants the burger at the Spotted Pig anymore, they want a selfie on the third floor. Why would you want to be associated with that?”

At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen just days after the announcement, Hamilton said she couldn’t buy the Spotted Pig outright. According to an interview Merriman did with Eater, though, they weren’t looking to expand before this opportunity arose. Regardless, one would think the owner of a successful, nearly twenty-year-old restaurant would have ample access to capital — especially after being named Outstanding Chef at the James Beard Awards just this year.

As Food & Wine’s digital restaurant editor Maria Yagoda reported, fellow chef Traci des Jardin called it a “ ‘sad statement’ on the state of women in the industry.” 

“Women mostly get covered when they get sexually assaulted or when they court controversy, as in this case,” says Cohen. “That’s not the most secure foundation for a multimillion-dollar investment in a restaurant, and if I was an investor I’d give my money to a male chef before I gave it to a female chef. Investing in the patriarchy is usually a safer bet.”

Hamilton, though, had seemingly infiltrated that patriarchy, winning prestigious awards and press coverage — something Cohen notes is especially key for restaurateurs.

“Who cares if [World’s 50 Best] thinks you’re one of the best restaurants in the world?” she says. “What matters is that being on that list raises your press profile to an astronomical degree and starts bringing a lot more people through your door, including international food tourists, judges for other awards, and people who use these lists to plan their vacations and are willing to spend a lot more on food and wine. When investors see that you can pull in these guests, they’re more likely to fund your next restaurant or your expansion, and it allows you to put more money into your restaurant and elevate the food and service, which brings in more guests and press, and so on, in a never-ending virtuous cycle. As long as women are left off these lists they’re shut out of these opportunities.”

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Cohen also points to the stories not being written, ones that wouldn’t focus necessarily on identity but on the work being done in food and restaurant culture.“There are so many amazing women and chefs of color out there running restaurants who get absolutely zero coverage,” she says. “There are still so many great articles to be written about the economics of restaurants that have nothing to do with gender. There are still so many great features to be written about why the best Thai chefs in New York all seem to be women, or what happened to the big wave of lady chefs from the Eighties, or the legacy of Anne Rosenzweig.”

Instead, the World’s 50 Best List is absurdly male-heavy. The New York Times food section, while reporting on sexual harassment in the industry, did not review a single woman-run restaurant between November 7, 2017 and May 1, 2018. The media and awards have let a few women, such as Hamilton and Bloomfield, stand in for the whole, which is why their collaboration with an abuser becomes such massive news and feels almost insurmountable. When we make heroes out of chefs, of any gender, the stories we tell never quite paint the entire picture.

The change will have to come from both people working behind the scenes and the media covering the industry, as restaurants helmed by abusers and harassers briefly assailed in the press continue to bring in customers as though it’s business as usual — because it is.


Easing My Grief by Eating Like Anthony Bourdain

Maybe it’s because I’m paranoid by nature; maybe it’s because, now, the news cycle is never not stomach-churning. But when I see a celebrity’s name unexpectedly trending on social media, my first reaction is often to worry that something terrible has happened to them. (My second, lately, is to wonder if they’ve been outed as a monstrous sexual predator.) But early last Friday, when I woke up and first spotted Anthony Bourdain’s name on Twitter, the possibility — either possibility — didn’t remotely occur to me. The celebrity chef, writer, and Parts Unknown host always seemed more full of life than anyone I could imagine. Bourdain died by suicide in France, where he was shooting an episode of Parts Unknown. Even now, a week later, it’s difficult to believe. And it fucking sucks.

I lost most of that morning. In a haze of grief, I read his 1999 essay in the New Yorker (a hilarious, blistering piece that, among other things, warned of the dangers of ordering restaurant fish on Mondays), then the profile of the late chef published last year in the same magazine, then thumbed through my paperback copy of Kitchen Confidential, and then scrolled numbly through the remembrances that comprised most of my Twitter feed. It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, and doubly shocked that I was taking the loss of someone I’d never met as hard as I was. Bourdain’s bawdy wit, curiosity, and equal capacity for profound empathy and scathing cynicism made him a hero of mine — an all-time New Jersey great, a true pork roll, egg, and cheese of a man — as he was to so many others. He was, in my estimation, about the best possible representation of America abroad, especially in the Trump era; he was an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement. He was hungry in every sense of the word.

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I thought throwing myself into work would make me feel better, but work didn’t want to cooperate: I had a meeting and an interview scheduled that day, but both, for unrelated reasons, needed to be moved. So I decided to eat my feelings instead. Before I left my apartment, on an impulse, I sent off the kind of tweet that I usually delete a few endless unfaved minutes after posting, which is to say that it expressed a genuine, difficult emotion and not just a joke about a squirrel I saw eating garbage: “I am sad, so I have decided not to do my work and instead to go outside and eat something I’ve never eaten before.”

I took the 7 train from Long Island City, where I live, to Jackson Heights. Actually, I accidentally took it one stop too far, to 82nd Street, and walked west down Roosevelt Avenue back to 74th Street. Almost in spite of myself, I felt my mood lightened by the sunshine, fresh air, and being surrounded by other human beings. I started to receive responses to my tweet, from fans of Bourdain’s pledging to do the same, to leave their culinary comfort zones and try something new. That helped, too.

Lhasa Fast Food is hidden in the back of a cellphone store, past a jeweler and above a luggage shop. I felt hungry — suddenly, extremely hungry — for the first time that day when I wandered inside. Despite its unusual location, the tiny Tibetan restaurant is an increasingly less-hidden gem, having been warmly reviewed by the New York Times, Eater, and Bourdain himself. He dined there in the Queens episode of Parts Unknown. I’d come for the momos, Himalayan steamed dumplings, a dish I’ve wanted to try for years. I’d forgottten about Bourdain’s visit to Lhasa until my momo-related Googling led me directly to it — once I remembered, my lunch plans made themselves obvious.

Two oversize thermoses, one full of sweet tea and the other of salty butter tea, invite diners to pour their own cups for $1 each. A large portrait of the Dalai Lama, set before a snowy mountaintop, gazes down from above the register. From where I sat, I made direct eye contact with a photo of Bourdain with owner Sanggien Ben mounted on the wall. The pleasingly pleated beef momos (eight for $6) were delicious, and even more so when dipped in the black vinegar and fluorescent orange sepen, a truly spicy Tibetan hot sauce, available on every table.

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I replied to my original tweet with a photo of the momos, and was pleasantly surprised to discover my mentions were full of reports of first-time eats from around the country and beyond, many with images. There was mofongo and pineapple cornbread, pork and preserved egg congee, tater tots with kalua pork, and a late-night expedition to Waffle House. There was spinach gözleme from a Turkish food stall in Germany, Yukgaejang in Massachusetts, grilled venison in Spain, and (apparently lackluster, but still) takoyaki in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. The rapper Heems, who dined with Bourdain on Parts Unknown, sent me a photo of a custom-ordered Swedish biryani. Sometimes, I learned, the results of this experiment were incredible. Sometimes, not so much (sorry, again, about the takoyaki). But there was a universal sense of pleasure in the exploration: The world felt smaller, and much larger, all at once.

I’m still sad. Maybe you are, too. But expanding your horizons and seeking out experiences different than those you’re accustomed to — and maybe patronizing a small, family-owned business while you’re at it, or having a conversation with someone you might otherwise never have encountered — is a fitting tribute to a man who encouraged us to do exactly that. So go get some momos.


If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

Health Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Too Sad to Move: On the Paralysis of Depression

On my honeymoon we hiked a glacier at the border of Argentina and Chile, about as far south as you could go before hitting Antarctica. No organic life moved. Neon blue water faded to the shore into a milky hue due to particles of ice. The shore was rock, the redbrown of a lion. The glacier sliced in white sections shot with the same chemical blue as the waters. The guide said the blue came from the sun. When ice gets super cold and dense, light refracts off it differently; the color shows more intense. We slipped and climbed in our rented spiked shoes and caught panoramas of water and rock and air. It was like no sensory experience I’ve had, save staring into a canvas — pure color, something by Gerhard Richter, maybe. Occasionally we’d meet a blue sliver in the ice plunging more than a mile. The guide told us to beware; if we tumbled to the bottom we might not die, but we’d break every bone, lie in pain until they somehow got us out.

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A bedrock of pain linked us, so this caught our attention. By then we’d developed a game, my husband and I, that we called: “Should we just kill ourselves?” It involved saying the phrase, then pondering the question. (The rules were unstated but understood.) We played when faced with a task that felt insurmountable, some paralysis, due to career, or other people, or family. Paralysis was something I felt I would live with always. My first therapist couldn’t figure it out, met with silence my description of sitting on the couch unable to move, circles of thought moving me instead, arguments against living. I’d found her after calling my dad, after considering walking into traffic with a seriousness that was new. No one we knew from India or with roots there had a therapist, at least not openly; but my dad was a pragmatist, and we didn’t need more death. The smell of my mom’s cremation was still in my nose, every word still in my head from the letter I slipped under her bathroom door a few days before she fell from a stroke that came like a surprise wave — blaming her for the hands that touched me when only hers should have, for denying me when I asked for therapy years later.

Now she was dead and I worried she didn’t know that I also didn’t blame her, that I loved her. I went to an old escape fantasy, first shared at the office of my pediatrician in Texas, who laughed when I asked for a pill that could turn me back to a baby. Some darkness always lay in wait to get me and I felt I couldn’t stand it — kids laughing in the shadows, or grown-ups who hated me, or, always, hands. I imagined the whole world sharpened to a point against me, a vision helped along by the many times people would stare: when I walked into a classroom, the only brown kid; when we entered a gas station on a road trip. Some years later a girl around my age, seven or eight, shot herself with a gun in the bathroom of her fancy prep school nearby. I was transfixed by the story, couldn’t stop thinking of a girl my age being so decisive while I stayed wishy-washy. I contemplated the knives in our kitchen, asked my mom what she’d think of a girl my age going that way, covered my tracks by saying I’d heard of such a happening. She said she’d think the girl was sick. I didn’t want her to think badly of me, so that was that.

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I don’t know where the urge to kill oneself comes from, if some of us have it and some of us don’t. My mom didn’t seem to have it. She had no hair or ability to walk or talk, and still she raised her arms every day to exercise them, on the hope she would get strong enough to live through surgery to remove the tumors that caused the stroke, a cancer growing in hiding until it made itself known by wrecking her in a second. Watching her I felt awed, and confused. If it’s not a kitchen knife that gets you it’s a rotting hole in your belly from the feeding tube, physical pain if not emotional. At amusement parks, I’d get to the end of the line and turn around, bow out, push through all the people to exit the experiment. I knew I’d never fight as my mom had, given the chance to die. Why waste time along the way?

Biology tells me I’m programmed to want to live. So many sperm could have made their way to the egg. Clearly the one that did had will, a survival instinct, expressed years later in my dad insisting I live by securing outside help. That day on the ice, my husband and I considered dying, but only because the glacier was more beautiful than anywhere else we could go. Better to die there, we reasoned, than return to a place of paralysis. I’ve found it helps to physically move, the way stretching can stave off the stiffening of joints that comes with another sort of disease. But healthcare is expensive in this country, people too busy to talk on phones, therapy treated as a luxury good. I do not know what one does without a biological proxy for the survival instinct, engaging your will to live when it is lost to you, who calls the numbers, writes the checks, lifts your arms in exercises when you can’t move.

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

Health Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Who Are We Telling Depressed People to ‘Reach Out’ to, Anyway?

“Reach out,” they say. “Get help,” they say. “Go to therapy,” they say. They, of course, are seemingly every friend, celebrity, and politician offering well-meaning platitudes after the suicides of culinary force of nature Anthony Bourdain and iconic designer Kate Spade last week.

It is comforting to believe that all that stands between a beloved friend or family member and suicide is an active cry for help. Unfortunately, that banal chestnut too often doesn’t match the available treatment options for a vast number of Americans, especially when the Narcissist in Chief’s budget slashes funding for the National Institute of Mental Health by more than 30 percent in 2019.

In New York City, where major depressive disorder is the single greatest source of disability, according to a 2015 report by the mayor’s office, who exactly are we telling our friends and neighbors to reach out to? The report found that poverty, race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity, age, where a person lives, and whether or not they’ve been bullied all increase the likelihood that a New Yorker may experience mental health challenges or suicidal ideation — and yet those same factors make it harder to access treatment.

“At any given time over half a million adult New Yorkers are estimated to have depression, yet less than 40 percent report receiving care for it,” the 2015 report states. Eight percent of New York City public high school students report attempting suicide, a percentage that “doubles if a student has been bullied on school grounds, which 18 percent of students experience.” LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide, while elder citizens and Latina adolescents are both at elevated risk as well.

As a media critic, my journalism has almost never included personal memoir. But in light of the implicit shaming underneath all that stock advice to “reach out,” I want to share a story about how few resources are available for mental healthcare in our city, and why judging someone for “not getting help” is not just rude but dangerous.

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Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve considered myself lucky that I have never experienced suicidal ideation, beyond fleeting dark thoughts as a child and adolescent while living in an emotionally abusive home. But because of that upbringing, I’ve dealt with a kind of low-grade depression my whole life, an undercurrent that is always right under the surface, always, and which I work really hard to push through every day. (A coping strategy reflected in the Ani DiFranco lyric “Maybe you can keep me from ever being happy, but you’re not going to stop me from having fun,” which has resonated with me since 1997.) Most of the time I’ve been able to remain functional, but at times the depression has become much more acute.

In my mid twenties in the early 2000s, in the midst of a deep depression during which I stopped having the desire to see friends, take showers, or even write (the most alarming “tell”), I finally overcame my resistance and tried to find a therapist I could afford on a low-income activist writer’s budget. At the time, I was working completely unfunded as the founder and director of a small nonprofit feminist media justice group I was working to build, and I could not afford health insurance; I could barely afford rent and food. As I researched my options, nothing was affordable except for students in training, or group therapy, which — though often extremely useful — I determined wouldn’t be helpful for my specific challenges.

Activating my local network, I finally found one supposedly feminist therapist who I was told offered sliding-scale payment options. I called and asked the therapist if she was taking clients. She said she was. I told her I was living one bare step above poverty and did not have any savings or health insurance, but that I was suffering from a deep depression and I had finally accepted that I needed help. I asked what her rates were at the lowest end of the scale. I can’t remember if she said $75 or $100 per hour; I do remember the burning feeling of internalized shame rising up in my throat as I regretfully explained that I couldn’t afford that rate. Did she have any other options, or could she suggest other therapists with a lower scale? She replied, in a derisive tone I will never forget: “If you are unwilling to pay that little for therapy, you are not dedicated to improving your mental health.”

I hung up the phone and sobbed. I felt even more defeated, demoralized, and depressed than I had been before I reached out, and I quit the search for therapy right at that moment. It wasn’t just that I felt shamed; it was that my research had led me to a brick wall. It seemed as if there was no point in trying to seek additional resources.

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Now, many of us are familiar with the phrase “depression is a liar,” so perhaps if I had been in a better state of mental health I would have left her a scathing Yelp review and initiated another search, or returned to my network for additional recommendations. But the whole reason I was reaching out was that I wasn’t in that healthier state of mind, and so I fully believed there were no therapeutic options available for me.

It took a lot longer for me to get out of that period of depression than it should have, in part because of that therapist insisting that I was “choosing to not prioritize my mental health” just because I was unable to afford her fees. I’m in a much better place now (my low-grade depression is less of an urgent battle and more of an endurance race these days), and thankfully I now have the option for mental healthcare under my partner’s employment benefits if I find myself in need of help in the future. But I know that if I — a cis-gender white journalist adept at research who, while having no money, has significant social capital and a strong network of connected writers and advocates — was unable to secure adequate mental healthcare, it’s decidedly more of a struggle for New Yorkers with fewer racial and professional privileges.

The outpouring of grief, disbelief, and concern in the wake of beloved public figures’ suicides is certainly normal, as is the instinct to want to encourage those struggling with depression and suicidal ideation to seek lifesaving support. But blanketing social media with hollow statements about “reaching out” (exhibit A: senior White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump) obscures the fact that, too often, the infrastructure for that aid is wholly inadequate. That is especially true under the despair-provoking darkness and myopic cruelty of the Trump administration, whose budget is making an already rickety ladder of support even more unstable, while triggering increased anxiety and depression.

If we truly want to help keep people alive and thriving, we need more than platitudes about calling friends or suicide hotlines in a moment of extreme crisis — we need ongoing, substantive, broad-based investment in mental healthcare. So instead of demanding that depressed people reach out to some random concept of help, how about every single person who isn’t struggling reach out to politicians who can fight for more effective mental healthcare policies and resources, and to philanthropic foundations and individuals who can help fund nonprofits that provide direct support to people who need it most. That’s the kind of outreach we should advocate for if we truly want to save lives.

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

To learn more about the battles for funding of mental health services in the U.S., visit the Mental Health America website.

To contact your congressional representatives about mental health funding, visit Call My Congress.


Health THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Fighting the Darkness That’s Always There

Each depressive episode is a battle in a war that will never end. Sometimes, you can see the enemy coming, its march toward you set up in straight lines like a British military exercise, and you have time to fortify yourself, to build up your habits and your friends and your resources to protect you. But sometimes, when everything seems fine, and the horizon looks clear, you face a guerrilla attack. Every episode, you must fight not for victory, or power, or glory, but simply to continue, to stay alive.

Here is a list of habits I have constructed to keep me here: I walk every day for more than an hour. I exercise three times a week. I do not have more than three drinks at a time. I try to eat vegetables every day. I see a therapist weekly for an hour. I get eight hours of sleep. I take two pills every morning. I go to museums and walk in nature and do things I like even when I cannot feel anything from them at all. I am fighting like hell, and I am so tired.

“What merely a few weeks ago had seemed beautiful to her, was no longer beautiful, it was nothing,” Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his wife’s depression in his new book, Spring. “She hated it. There was nothing she wanted more than to free herself of it. It ruined her life, she often said. There was something other inside her that took her over.”

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That other, that creeping terror, that darkness is always there. It creeps around the edges of your vision even on the best days. If you get to the darkest part, and you are all alone, danger is there waiting for you. I’m a solid six out of ten.… I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me.… If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great,” Scott Hutchison, the former frontman of Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit, recently told Noisey.

I say “former” because last month, Scott Hutchison lost the war. Designer Kate Spade lost last Tuesday; celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

In the past year, four beloved musicians got stuck in the dark space and couldn’t find their way out. Chester Bennington of Linkin Park lost his war last July. Chris Cornell lost last June. Tim Bergling, the Swedish DJ-producer who performed as Aviciilost in April. I know how all these men died. I shouldn’t, but I do. I know how Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died. I know if they left notes. I know what method they used. There are guidelines to reporting on suicides that are perfectly clear: Don’t describe it. Sharing these details, we know, is statistically dangerous.

Among the depressed — those on the front lines — war stories are allowed, encouraged. The more people who know you’re scared and tired, in theory, the more people you have on your team. Rarely do those stories leave the safety of like-minded people with the same fears. And so we all — those of us with the brains that lie to us, who can see the vignette of depression always just there — know plenty of people struggling with our same fears. But depression manifests itself differently in different people. Its symptoms are both weight gain and weight loss, sleeping all the time and not at all. It is a loss of pleasure, a slowing of the brain and the body, an absolute conviction that those around you would be better off without you. And it is hard as hell to talk about. In the wake of these deaths, more people have been writing about this struggle, talking about it, opening up. Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes admitted Saturday in an Instagram post to once having been “dangerously and actively suicidal,” and that “suicide has been an at-many-times daily part of my psychic reality.”

I’m a high-functioning depressed person, and I am not brave. For years, I hid those thoughts from everyone, kept them tucked away from even those closest to me. They were too damning to share, I felt, too terrifying. I could hide the darkness — not from myself, but from everyone else — behind good grades and hard work and productivity. It feels easier, safer, to be more like Kate Spade, to tell no one how extreme your feelings are. But it isn’t actually. In a statement, Spade’s husband said that she struggled with both anxiety and depression, took pills, saw doctors, fought. But still he was blindsided; her death was a “complete shock.” 

Mental health remains stigmatized: To take an antidepressant is still, in some perceptions, an undeniable weakness; to see a therapist means that you must be broken. We are getting better at admitting that people have depression; we are even trying as a society to talk more about it. But suicide? Suicide seems, in the court of public opinion, like another level of mental illness, something beyond depression. But it’s not. The darkness can arrive at any moment. Ready or not.

These deaths are devastating. They are not romantic. They are brutal and terrible and so, so sad. Suicide is no one’s first choice. Suicide is an act a person commits because they feel they have no other option, because they feel — as David Foster Wallace so eloquently put it — like a person who jumps from the window of a burning building: “It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk looking up yelling, ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really.” Suicidal thoughts only make sense if you’ve at one point opened the front door of your consciousness to find them on the doorstep already pushing their way in.

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As Chris Gethard says in his HBO comedy special Career Suicideabout his lifelong battle with clinical mental illness, “Sometimes people just break.” It seems like more and more people are breaking, and not only artists or famous people or the rich. Depression does not discriminate. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that one of the action steps in preventing suicide is simply to talk openly and honestly about it. Not to debate its ethics, but to check in on people you love, even if they seem fine, explicitly about suicidal thoughts.

The hardest part for me about Scott Hutchinson’s loss, about Kate Spade’s loss, and Anthony Bourdain’s loss, is that we know they were fighting. Hutchison was even brave enough to talk about it publicly. He knew he was depressed, and he told us. He was vulnerable, and open, and he still failed. He found art that could mend him, and friends who could support him. He made mistakes, of course, but he was relatable. He lost a battle so many people are fighting. What happens if you fight like hell and still lose? You can know everything, be doing everything, and it might not be enough.

Perhaps the most important, most constructive thing we can do is continue to speak openly and honestly about the battles we are fighting; to listen, as Scott did, to each others’ stories and fears. Depression did not deserve to take any of these people. And it does not deserve to take you.


If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.


Remembering Anthony Bourdain, 1956–2018

Tony Bourdain died and there’s no silver lining or lesson to learn or pithy takeaway from it. Just, for me and I’m sure the thousands of people who knew him personally and the millions of other people who saw him on television, a tremendous amount of sadness that turns this sunny New York day somber.

I first came into contact with Tony in 2007, when I was an editor at Gridskipper, Gawker’s defunct travel website. We had sold a bunch of pre- and post-roll ads for his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, attached to a silly video series of neighborhood guides I hosted. After the first one went live, I got an email from a strange AOL address. It was Tony, saying he’d enjoyed them. Anthony Motherfucking Bourdain emailed me and signed his name “Tony.” I was in heaven. I’ve received and sent hundreds of thousands of emails since then. That one sticks forever in my inbox. There was no reason for him to send it except that, as everyone knows, what Tony thinks he says.

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Evidently not. Over the years, I’ve interviewed Tony a handful of times, run into him at events and parties and whatnot. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly, and in ways big and small he always offered a helping hand. A single tweet from Bourdain could — and did — make a huge difference professionally. But more than that, to me, Tony was this towering, loping beacon in whose wake I could trail. Through his television shows and books and the never-depleted feast of often profane, often profound sound bites he proffered, he made the transition from talking about food to talking about people, about what we eat to who we are. From the time I was first introduced to the angry bad boy in Kitchen Confidential, I watched as Tony became a father and an athlete, digging into his insatiable curiosity to find a deeply human and humane heart. There was still anger there, but it turned into the sharp sword of righteous outrage. He didn’t take bullshit, called it as he saw it, and, because he never stopped traveling, saw a lot of the world, the good and the bad. The last time I saw Tony, his cookbook Appetites, about cooking at home with his family, had just come out.

When we spoke, Tony was talking about the joy of cooking for his family, how he wanted to make things ahead of time and things that were easy. “You want to be at your own party,” he said.  I stood in awe of how effortlessly, or rather fearlessly, he had shed the chrysalis of anger and emerged as something new, someone healthier. But, I suppose we know now, he kept some parts unknown, too.

Death is coming fast and heavy now, I fear. I can’t help but lasso together the loss of Tony and that of Kate Spade, just a few days ago. I hope I’m not out of line to suppose that Tony probably wouldn’t have had many nice words to say about the chirpy, cheery world created by Kate Spade. It was so antithetical to his rough rock ’n’ roll personality. But if he had known Kate, glimpsed just a bit of the back alleys of her mind, he would have been kind to her, because Tony was kind, and because Tony had them too. To me, they’re together in the bardo, and my heart breaks for them that they felt so hopeless that they took their own lives. I pray for Kate and I pray for Tony, that somehow I can decrease their suffering wherever they are. But I don’t think Tony would want sacred thoughts or noble feelings. So I offer instead a very Bourdainian prayer:

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Love. Love. Love. But fuck.


If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, call the Suicidal Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people in suicidal crisis or distress. Those who feel less comfortable speaking on the phone can text HOME to 741741 in the United States to reach the Crisis Text Hotline. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.


This Week in Food: Roberta’s Square Pizza Takeover, Champagne Parties, and Veterans Day Specials

NYC Champagne Week, Multiple Locations, Monday through November 14

From a Monday night Champagne boot camp hosted by Back Label Wine Merchants to a Friday evening cruise around Manhattan, this week is all about the bubbly. Additional seminars include a discussion about Dom Perignon with Champagne expert Alysa Mizia at Bottlerocket Wine and Spirits. A full schedule of events and ticket options can be viewed here.

Roberta’s Kitchen Takeover Pop Up, Humboldt and Jackson, 434 Humboldt Street, Brooklyn, Monday through November 15, 5 p.m.

Missing Detroit or just looking for an excuse to eat more pizza? Square pan pizza (or Detroit-style to some) courtesy of Roberta’s is taking over the kitchen at Humboldt & Jackson for 10 days. The menu includes signature slices and whole pies such as the all-cheese Cheesus Christ, Speckenwolf, and the Millennium Falco. There’s also garlic knots, stracciatella, and cacio e pepe. To drink, guests can select from beer, wine, or cocktails. Walk ins are welcome, and reservations are only needed for parties of six or more.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook Launch with Danny Bowien and Anthony Bourdain, Powerhouse Arena, 37 Main Street, Brooklyn, Monday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Learn the recipes that made Mission Chinese a bicoastal hit. Executive chef and owner Danny Bowien, along with Anthony Bourdain, will host a conversation detailing Bowien’s recently released cookbook and the humble beginnings of Mission Chinese. Tickets  are $70 and include admission, a Mission Chinese take out meal, drinks, and a signed copy of the book; RSVP here.

Veterans Day Specials, Multiple Locations, Wednesday

In celebration of Veterans Day, ESquared hospitality restaurants will be offering lunch and dinner specials to all veterans and military personnel. For parties of two or less, guests can receive fifty percent off their total bill by showing their military ID; parties of three or more receive twenty five percent off their total bill. Participating locations include Casa Nonna, Horchata, BLT Steak New York and BLT Steak White Plains, BLT Prime, and The Wayfarer. For those seeking a more casual way to celebrate, Kimoto Rooftop Beer Garden is offering a complimentary special appetizer for those with military ID, as well as a $5 War Flag Brewery American pilsner for everyone.

Mystery Bottle Share, KelSo Taproom, 529 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday, 5 p.m.

Are you a true detective when it comes to identifying beers? Kelso is rewarding guests who can identify the style (lager, ale, etc.) of a few mystery beers with drink specials for the remainder of the evening. Home brewers are also welcome to bring in a few of their own creations for tasting and feedback.


A Barbecue Run Through Three Boroughs With Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn

The beef rib at Mighty Quinn’s is so big, it must be butchered with a plastic knife.

It’s not uncommon in barbecue states to do an extreme barbecue run that includes three or four pits in an extended afternoon of gorging, driving, sightseeing, and breaks along the way for bursts of healthful exercise. Well, a group of barbecue enthusiasts, including myself and New York Times critic Pete Wells, set out on such a run in New York City yesterday, dubbed the Convince a Texan Tour, stopping at four barbecues over a period of seven hours and eating lots of pie and drinking the stray beer and cocktail along the way. The occasion was the release of Daniel Vaughn’s new book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, which details his own barbecue excursions from one end of Texas to the other. The book is the first in a series of food volumes being published by Anthony Bourdain.

Daniel Vaughn and Anthony Bourdain will be discussing Vaughn’s new book tonight at Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th Street, at 7 p.m.

Shown here in front of Mighty Quinn’s, the crew included (left to right) Bourdain social-media producer Helen Cho, literary agent David Hale Smith, Daniel Vaughn, and Jennifer Vaughn.

There was another reason for the barbecue run, too. I’ve been doing a lot of boasting about New York barbecue, and Vaughn has been doing some good-natured sniping from his home in Dallas, and this was a chance for him to either deny or confirm some of my wilder assertions. Indeed, he was already familiar with many of the city’s older places, such as Hill Country, Mable’s Smokehouse, and Fette Sau, and this would be an opportunity for him to try some of the newer ones. We decided to do the entire pilgrimage by subway and on foot, and ended up with quite a different experience than, say, driving across North Carolina.

We started at Mighty Quinn’s in the East Village, where we were seen waiting outside the door as the place opened at 11:30 a.m. There, the six of us wolfed down a pound of brisket, a giant beef rib which Vaughn particularly admired, pork ribs, and spicy Italian sausage, the latter which caused the author to launch into a discourse on barbecued sausage. He noted that the vaunted beef link of Kreuz Market (also served at our own Hill Country) is loose in the casing because it’s improperly fabricated. He was to make several more interesting and unusual assertions in the course of the afternoon.

The Chinese-leaning barbecued chicken wings were a surprise hit.

Photographing everything became part of the ritual.

Briskets waiting for the smoker at Mighty Quinn’s.

The barbecue spread at Fletcher’s.

We hopped on the F train and headed for the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. After admiring the new Smith and 9th Street station as we slid through, our rollicking party detrained at the Fourth Avenue stop and hiked over to Fletcher’s. There, the pitmaster recognized Vaughn, who is a regular at barbecue events around the country, and discussed the day’s offerings. While the burnt ends of the brisket made from the fatty half were a little underdone, a special of lamb breast was totally on the money, and we ate our way through pork ribs, tri-tip tacos, Carolina-style chopped pork sandwich with slaw, chicken wings, and a mess of beans. Vaughn pondered why New York barbecues serve sweet pickles instead of dills. At this point Mark Ibold, bass player in Pavement and Lucky Peach contributor, came running in and sat down to eat some barbecue with us. He’d been riding by on his bike and saw us inside. Life is random.

At this juncture, around 1:30 p.m., we were already reeling from the amount of food the party had consumed, so we decided to go down the block and cleanse our palates with some pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, where the chess pie was the biggest hit, washed down with fortifying mugs of coffee.

Placing our order at Fletcher’s

Palate-cleansing pies at Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Picking the ‘cue at John Brown Smokehouse

Next, we jumped on an R train and headed for Queens. At Queens Plaza, we hopped out in a wind-blown Long Island City neighborhood that seemed to be all gleaming high-rises and antediluvian rubber-stamp factories. Vaughn had wanted to check out Alchemy, Texas in Jackson Heights, but that place is closed on Mondays, so we picked its predecessor establishment, John Brown Smokehouse. Unfortunately, the ‘cue offered there on a Monday seemed to be leftovers from the weekend, and the meat simply wasn’t as good as it has been on some other occasions. Nevertheless, we appraised the pork belly BLT, pastrami, burnt ends of brisket, and a pepper-flecked lamb sausage that was quite good.

Later, on the G train back to Brooklyn, Vaughn – who was recently hired as Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly magazine – made one of his stranger pronouncements: “When it comes to barbecue, brisket is not necessarily the most perfect meat. I’d have to say that distinction belongs to beef short ribs, especially if they’re cut just the right way.” Our jaws dropped of course.

Barbecue hoard at John Brown Smokehouse

Preparing to unleash the giant beef rib at BrisketTown

In Williamsburg, it was too early to eat at BrisketTown, so we headed over to Dram to get beers and cocktails, and to kick back for a little over an hour in the cedar-clad premises near the bike exit from the Williamsburg Bridge.

Slightly tipsy, we stormed BrisketTown. Vaughn was right up front at the counter of the dimly little space with the neon steer on the wall, supervising the slicing of the brisket and begging the carver to give us certain morsels, including the charred end edge of the non-fatty part of the cut. There were pork ribs, too, and another gargantuan beef rib, along with potato salad, raw onions, white bread, and sweet pickles. We finished up with pie and bread pudding, then went into the slightly chilly evening. Pete Wells and I headed for our homes; the rest of the party lingered in front of the barbecue, and contemplated what to do before their dinner reservation in a couple of hours.

Slicing the brisket at BrisketTown

A pile of ‘cue at BrisketTown

And, in case you wondered: Sometimes recognized, sometimes not, we paid for everything we ate.


Anthony Bourdain Answers Questions On Gawker, Says Rachael Ray Tells Dirty Jokes

Anthony Bourdain, famed chef behind No Reservations who has recently become a Twitter maven, stopped by Gawker to for an ‘ask me anything’ live Q&A with readers. He revealed that Rachael Ray tells good dirty jokes and answered questions like “Your drunkest episode appeared to be in SF. Would you agree?” to which he replied, “Yup. I was hammered.”

He also gave readers some choice recommendations in NYC. Mission Chinese, John Dory Oyster Bar, and almost nothing on the Upper East Side are among them.

This happened too.


Bourdain Wears Guy Fieri Wig, David Chang Makes It on Fortune Magazine

A round-up on celebrity news . . .

Anthony Bourdain got roasted at the New York Food and Wine Festival this week and according to a tweet by Andrew Zimmern, at one point Bourdain was sporting a Guy Fieri-esque wig.

David Chang made the list for 40 Under 40 at Fortune. The 35-year-old recently expanded his nearly 500-employee empire to eight Momofuku restaurants in New York City and two bars and five Momofuku Milk Bar bakeries in New York.

Franklin Becker, who left his post as executive chef of EMM Group, is working on a book called “Good Fat, Great Flavor” which will focus on the use of healthy fats in your diet.

Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff are bringing Big Gay Ice Cream Truck to Los Angeles from October 23 to 27.