Restaurants Are Boys’ Clubs, But What About the Champagne Room?

Reporting that the restaurant world is a boys’ club is like reporting that the Empire State Building is tall or that dogs have tails. But even if that doesn’t exactly bear repeating, what’s less talked about is that all bromances are not created equal. There’s the club, and then there’s the champagne room.

Whereas just about anyone with a sleeve tattoo, knife, and substance abuse issues can get into the club, the champagne room, as Chris Rock reminded us at the turn of the century, is a more rarefied place.

Only a few choice bromances play out there, and they are quite a sight to behold. In one corner sit Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the boys who brought Los Angeles Animal and Son of a Gun. In another are the two Franks—Falcinelli and Castronovo—whose Frankies 457 and Prime Meats played a substantial role in making “Brooklyn” shorthand for an entire culinary philosophy. Sitting close by are Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, credited with almost singlehandedly reviving both Italian-American cuisine and the turkey sandwich by way of their consistently overcrowded Torrisi Italian Specialties. Nearby the Torrisi boys are Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien, creators of Mission Chinese Food, the pop-up restaurant to end all pop-up restaurants.

And then there are our friends in the north, Frédéric Morin and David McMillan, whose Montreal restaurant Joe Beef just last week earned them the designation of “two of Canada’s hottest chefs.” David Chang considers Joe Beef his favorite restaurant, and as such has written the foreword to the pair’s new cookbook, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts.

Which, of course, brings us to Chang, who is a champagne room unto himself—one with its very own in-house publication, no less. When the first issue of Lucky Peach came out in June, the quarterly, which is published by McSweeney’s, was hailed by The Atlantic as “2011’s best food magazine.” And while the issue, which was dedicated to ramen, did boast beautiful design and some great writing from the likes of John T. Edge, Todd Kliman, Harold McGee, and Pavement’s Mark Ibold, it also came across as a circle jerk with high production values.

On one page, Chang and Peter Meehan, his Momofuku cookbook coauthor, recounted their excellent adventure in Japan. On another, Chang, Anthony Bourdain, and Wylie Dufresne engaged in a conversation about mediocrity. And on another, kitchen scientist and Chang/Dufresne BFF Dave Arnold showed what happens to eggs cooked at various temperatures. Apart from a photographer and an illustrator, only two girls were allowed to participate in the proceedings: den mother Ruth Reichl and Karen Lebowitz, who is married to Myint.

It’s a terrific publication, to be sure. But it’s also kind of difficult to read without blushing a little at such an effusive display of brotherly love. (And speaking of Bourdain, he enjoys his own storied bromance with Eric Ripert, who once said of their friendship, “We’re very different in our way of thinking—our relationship is kind of like The Odd Couple. We have tremendous respect for each other, and though it’s a sort of an absurd relationship, it works.”)

Women chefs, of course, also have their clubs and cliques, but the media tends to pay attention to them only when they want to illustrate intermittent stories about how few female chefs there are. (There are, of course, many female chefs and cooks, but unless they have a best-selling book or do tremendously popular things to offal, their stories aren’t deemed nearly as worthy of coverage.)

Maybe the key is more hunting trips to Mongolia.

In summer 2009, a coterie of high-powered lady chefs including Traci Des Jardins, Loretta Keller, Mary Sue Milliken, Anita Lo, and April Bloomfield traveled there to camp out in yurts, track wild boar, and shoot things. By all accounts it was a blast, so to speak, and Des Jardins told a reporter that there was talk of a future wild-pig-hunting excursion to Spain. There’s no word of whether it took place, and without its own quarterly publication, we may never know, but it seems that where VIP membership is concerned, women aren’t that much different from men—they just carry bigger guns.

Image source: David Chang by Flickr member watchmojo under Creative Commons