Chef’s Culture War Fizzles
The Internet is a dangerous place. Social media is a den of toxicity. And Americans are ever prone to speaking their minds haphazardly. For chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who decided to indulge himself in an outburst on Twitter saying he would refuse to serve customers wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats at “his” restaurant. Things couldn’t have gone worse.
Lopez-Alt’s “Resist Movement” themed Tweet went viral. The Internet’s echo chamber triggered the inevitable drumbeat of cubicle news reporters aggregating nothing news into click-bait and the next thing you know, Kenji’s fifteen minutes of infamy had begun. The chef’s career as a respected influencer of cooking morphed into the nightmare known to public figures like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford and other previously private persons suddenly caught in the impenetrable “D.C. Border Wall” between U.S. President Donald Trump and the Washington Establishment.
Brash actions have tangible consequences. Brick and mortar San Mateo, California restaurant Wursthall, with which Kenji Lopez-Alt is partnered, as well as New York based cooking website Serious Eats which features his “The Food Lab” section, found themselves with the mother of all nightmares, a firm specific reputational risk crisis. These are going concern for-profit businesses that can little afford to sacrifice market share or cash flow to D.C. politics.
And here’s the thing. These businesses don’t belong to Kenji Lopez-Alt. According to the respective websites, the Wursthall restaurant is owned by San Mateo natives Adam Simpson and Tyson Mao while Serious Eats is owned by former New York Times food coordinator Ed Levine. Nearest I can tell, Kenji Lopez-Alt isn’t authorized to speak on behalf of either business. I suspect he found himself treated to that most nasty of Sarbanes-Oxley Act business experiences, the practicing of the “adequacy of internal controls”, with prejudice, emphasis added.
Kenji Lopez-Alt has since attempted that most shameful of Internet about face postings, the lukewarm indignant apology following getting caught with you foot in your mouth while your head is stuck where the sun don’t shine. He did so in a missive on Google’s Medium.com. You can send him a nice word of encouragement if you like. It’s the Internet. Everybody is eligible to mouth off and run with the football.
Here’s what I posted, “I’m sure the business meeting that followed your outburst was humbling. This should serve as yet another lesson to all those who still think that acting like an ass on the internet is without consequence, particularly on the liberal side of the spectrum where there is still too much belief that mouthing off isn’t an invitation to be slapped upside the head for being stupid. You’ve learned the lesson the hard way and this missive I am reading on Medium says you are still processing the full meaning of it. The question for you now is whether you will take your newfound awareness of societal decorum and do some good with it.”
The Internet makes it all too easy for our inner voices to escape past our minds through our keyboards into cyberspace. We do not realize that we are not just speaking to ourselves or our closest friends when we Tweet, Facebook or Medium, we are broadcasting to an entire planet of strangers who will judge us far outside the context and nuance of our thoughts. And we pay dearly when we reveal that Thomas Jefferson was right, mankind is frail.
I will leave you with this simple observation about the diversity that is America. When you drive south on US 101 crossing the line out of San Francisco County into San Mateo County, look for a small sign on the right. It says, “Gun Range Next Exit”.