The restaurant industry is eaten alive.
While now-disgraced food icons like Mario Batali and Ken Friedman have been rightly gunned down for their illegal actions, scoop-hungry food blogs are now looking to chefs for the most petty offenses – and restaurant insiders in enough of the cannibalism that threatens to devour what’s left of a struggling industry.
The latest target? Sustainability evangelist Dan Barber and his Blue Hill restaurant empire, which was the subject of a recent Eater investigation in which former employees spoke out against the company’s working conditions and practices.
The bulk of the lead story, published Wednesday on the Eater site, chronicles the utterly startling reality of working at Blue Hill Stone Barns. On the menu, “exhausting” 70-hour work weeks, working at minimum wage and stressful working conditions. The article quoted hot-headed Barber – who has been open about his anger issues – and Blue Hill management ‘screaming’ at former employees who felt hurt when their work was criticized or, as the saying goes. the report, “publicly humiliating them even for minor reasons”. errors. One employee cried at work, “despite believing their experiences made them better cooks,” Eater wrote.
Sources also disputed how local the restaurant’s butter was, how well the pigs were protected from the heat in the summer and a ‘dark series of events’ that culminated in the slaughter of a cow on the run – gasp! – after he escaped from the farm. Another serious allegation involved the restaurant’s handling of an alleged sexual assault outside of work.
While acknowledging that “there always has to be a forum for someone to speak up”, Eytan Sugarman, owner of White Horse Tavern and Hunt & Fish Club, said “there is this feeling that owners and managers are the bad guys”. And, he noted, “it’s not helpful at a time when the industry is on its knees.”
Others wondered what Blue Hill employees thought working in a highly acclaimed location would be like.
“What do these children think they are walking in? Like it’s Sesame Street? I don’t understand. It is a two Michelin star restaurant. There is a high standard and it will be an intense work environment,” Bryce Shuman, executive chef of Japanese restaurant GG Tokyo told NoMad and former executive sous chef of Eleven Madison Park. “When you run a restaurant at this level, you operate on the edge of extremes. The people who are going to work for you understand this when they sign up.
Indeed, some of the former employees quoted in the Eater article came to Barber’s defense, saying they were “not bothered by the Blue Hill culture at Stone Barns” or “even thrived there.”
The Blue Hill article was the latest report to mislead the feelings of the restaurant’s former employees. Last month, Business Insider published an investigation of Eleven Madison Park, citing complaints from staffers that they were still hungry after a free family meal. Eater, meanwhile, recently wrote takedowns of Jordan Kahn’s ornate Destroyer restaurant in Los Angeles and published an essay from a “traumatized” employee at David Chang’s Momofuku Ko in recent years.
But this latest withdrawal is meeting with more resistance.
More than 100 current and former Blue Hill employees have signed a letter obtained by The Post saying Eater’s portrayal of the restaurant “does not reflect our experiences and paints a false picture that we do not acknowledge”.
Eater is standing near his piece. “This story has been carefully documented, reported and verified and we are proud to have published it,” spokeswoman Priyanka Mantha said in an email.
Meanwhile, Blue Hill does not back down.
“Blue Hill and Dan have always been strong supporters of our team members and fostered a work environment where they can learn and grow,” a spokesperson said. “The anecdotes in the article by a small number of former staff members paint a misleading picture that does not accurately reflect our culture and our teams.”