Centro Vinoteca Bankrupt, Food Network Star Anne Burrell Sued

It seems like every other week, someone’s trying to paint someone else in the cutthroat restaurant world as some kind of villain. And in the last 30 days, literally: first, there was psychotic restaurant owner Vadim Ponorovsky, who scre-mailed his employees a tirade somewhere just short of the Downfall meme. Now, in the wake of West Village restaurant Centro Vinoteca‘s Chapter 11 filing, Food Network chef Anne Burrell is being sued by former employees in a salacious discrimination filing accusing her of calling employees ‘slutty,’ ‘saggy,’ ‘ho,’ and ‘whore’.

Wait, that Anne Burrell? Yup. Try to keep up:

Centro Vinoteca’s a West Village Italian place, owned by restaurateur Sasha Muniak, that opened with Food Network star Anne Burrell in the kitchen before she was on TV. It pulled a pretty decent one-star review from Frank Bruni, shortly before one star was awarded to born-famous hotspot restaurateur Keith McNally’s West Village den of Italian eats down the street, Morandi, which also took chef Jody Williams from Gusto, another one of Muniak’s places. Some would say that she took some of her recipes with her, which isn’t exactly looked kindly upon. Jody Williams and Morandi eventually broke up, but problems continued to plague Centro: complaints came through the food blogs about bad service, their chef, Anne Burrell, leaves them for greener (read: televised) pastures.

They get a new chef, Top Chef-alum Leah Cohen, who leaves them, too. It keeps going: the city closes down Centro, and Burrell gets some smack talked on her by Cohen who wasn’t too pleased with her as a boss. Oh, and Gusto alum Jody Williams? One-starred at her new place, who’s co-owner then sued her. It should go without saying at this point that Gusto lost another chef in 2007 after getting the bodyblow of losing Williams, but are you starting to get a decent picture? These places have some shit to deal with, and these are restaurants that have had a fair amount of success in New York. Imagine what working with a lesser-known restaurant in this city entails. You have to be, on some level, clinically insane to knowingly involve yourself in this business. And so Burrell’s lawsuit and Centro’s Chapter 11 filing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. We’d try to explain the Service Industry’s Nikki Finke — PX This blogger Abbe Diaz — and her involvement in this (besides being Muniak’s wife), but my head’s spinning too fast.

Needless to say, it sucks when a restaurant has this much shit to deal with, but that’s New York’s service industry — if you can make it here, you’ve probably had someone killed. At the end of the day, people want to make money and serve food, often, not even in that order (again: insane). Meanwhile, Burrell’s got quite the set of allegations to answer for. Another bad day for another bad boss? We’ll soon find out. Elsewhere, Abbe Diaz has a fairly substantial (and, with inquisitor Dick Johnson, hysterical) explanation for financial problems relating to businesses like Muniak’s and how they’re being affected by the government’s chin-check of American banking institutions. It’s worth a read.

And now, if you ever aspired to open a restaurant in New York, you’ve hopefully reconsidered.

Abbe Diaz vs. Gawker, Round Two

imageSome people have asked me to weigh in on this one, to take a side — and I take Abbe’s side. I know she is volatile and sometimes rude, but I feel she has the right to her opinion, and it’s my pleasure to let her tell it like she sees it. I get attacked a lot, especially when I stray off the reservation and comment on other blogs, but I think that’s part of this game. So if you’re going to put it up and out there, others have a right and even an obligation to put their two cents in, even if they’re overcharging at that rate. So here’s part two of Abbe’s story, and there would be a part three if not for the most wonderful people in the world: editors.

So what’s the deal with Josh Stein now? Okay, so now Josh Stein no longer works for Gawker full-time, but he blogs for them now and again and obviously still has friends there. One of his shticks is to “re-blog” Top Chef. With your homegirls, Nikki Cascone and Camille Becerra.

They’re both friends of mine … and yes, they’re hot. I agree! Okay so, here’s Stein, Top Chef … blah blah … I’m reading … and suddenly I’m seeing red.

Everybody duck! No shit. Here he is blabbering about some chef on the TV show, how she’s an awful human being, she’s mean and caustic etc. etc. etc. Okay, rewind … I wrote an entire book on this very same subject about people in the real restaurant world (not some made-up “reality” TV show) but that makes me “batshit,” “vitriolic,” and filled with “petty anger”? Wooo child, let me tell you, I showed him what “vitriolic” means. I tore him a new one in the comment section of Gawker, so they “banned” me!

Maybe it’s the swear words. I thought of that. Except Gawker is hardly filled with Quakers. And at the time, in a way, I thought I was kind of doing Stein a favor. See, I figured that Emily Gould chick was whispering in his ear, plying him with kisses while arming him with daggers. You know the type? Like Anne Boleyn in The Tudors or some shit. And I didn’t really have that big of a beef with him. I had fun with it in a way, but Gawker, they speak a different language. If you get all dejected and earnest with them, they’ll never take you seriously. But if you play their game, you have a far greater chance of being heard. And honestly, I thought I was giving Josh Stein the opening to come out and play. To get a little frisky maybe, get jiggy with it — I swear I thought he’d just fight back, and then maybe after a few heated words, we’d smooth it all over and laugh about it.

But they banned you instead … Yeah. Weak. Needless to say, I went right back in.

You’re hard to stop. Okay, fast forward. All that was months and months ago, practically water under the bridge. I even started to like Gawker. I commented there all the time. You know, like the way we both do at Down by the Hipster. Just messing around.

Okay. So what’s the problem? Josh Stein went back to Gawker to blog about Top Chef all over again, for the new season. Unfortunately, it turns out that I know a chef on the show again, Leah Cohen. She’s the executive chef at Centro Vinoteca, and she does a fantastic job. I’m convinced the show actually taught her a lot about being a great leader, because she’s young, you know? She’s only 26. She has a huge responsibility, and I’m super impressed about how well she handles everything. She’s going to go really far.

Where is this going? So, the Internet hates love, it hates achievement, ambition, and it hates integrity most of all. I can roll with the punches like anybody — it’s all good when it’s funny, but when people in glass houses start to throw rocks, it really makes the hair on my skin stand on end. So I commented on the Top Chef Gawker-recaps. But I swear, I never ever dish it worse than it’s being served. You can read them all, it’s in black and white. And if they try to do something really asinine like surreptitiously edit me — oh that’s been done to me on other sites too, believe me — I have copies.

Abbe, you don’t mind if I move my chair just a few more feet away from you, right? Trolls. Of course, trolls everywhere. It’s the Internet, after all. Okay so, a few trolls start to emerge, and they sling all the same baseless crap. At this point, I’m pretty used to it. But that still doesn’t make it right, or something I have to tolerate. So we decided to beat them at their own game. One of my forum members took on the role of “watchdog.” He’s smart, witty, funny, and he knows how to spell. What more can one ask for in a webdog? And what he does is fight back at the trolls, in their own language, in their own style. He’s like a little e-mirror doggy dog. He barks and he bites. So, the other day, I defended Leah Cohen on Gawker, and not for the first time, either. Last time, there was one particular troll, by the name of “Karion.” She called me a drunk, she called me “batshit crazy,” she accused me of wanting to “fellate” Josh Stein, and she told me to “find a new neighborhood.” Got that? I am defending the chef of a restaurant that is very near and dear to me, and she is calling me all these awful names, to defend a blogger she has never met, and whose sole purpose is to denigrate the hardworking contestants on a television show. And she says all these terrible things mind you, without knowing anything of the story I just told here.

So it’s all just crazy? Ha! that’s what they call me.

So they banned you for that? Pretty much. What happened is the “watchdog” came to defend me. Stellar job, too. He totally reigns in the profanities. You know … good cop, bad cop. In this case, clean cop, dirty cop. I play the bumbling comic, and he plays the earnest role.

Maybe it was a little too much? I honestly don’t think so. They had another commenter there last week, named Rachel Marsden. Apparently, she’s some type of media journalist or whatever. Well, Gawker made fun of her friend last week, and oh boy — she spit out venom. She called them all “retards,” I’m not even kidding, she called them “lying, fucking pricks.” She spit out every profanity in the book. And you know how Gawker responded? They called her “shrill, but fun.”

I saw that thread where you were banned. You didn’t go nearly as far as that. Thank you. That’s my point. Why am I being discriminated against? Or my friend for that matter? For defending ourselves? Our friends? For being right? But the troll who called me a drunk and crazy and accused me of wanting to “fellate” Josh Stein — she gets to stay? Did you see at the bottom of that thread, where Josh Stein says “hello” to her? Unbelievable. He has never had the guts to address me directly, but he certainly feels all right about deriding me on a journalistic platform. He doesn’t dare show himself in that thread until I’ve been locked out, and he appears, not to discount anything I or my friend has stated, but only to massage the ego of the troll who — I’ll be blunt — figuratively “fellated” him. But evidently, I’m the “petty” one. Commenters can criticize Leah’s looks, her hair, her work ethic, and call her a “ho” as much as they please, but when I, the only person there who knows her personally, comments in her defense, I am censored.

So why do you think Gawker did it? Nepotism, of course. For their weak, feeble friend, Joshua David Stein. They have the gall to use the First Amendment to protect every bitter nasty thing they say about anyone they choose, but they have neither the strength nor the character to extend that very same privilege democracy has afforded them to those they so gleefully denigrate. They actually had the nerve to send me an e-mail and call me a “troll.” Me — one of the small handful of people who comments under their real name. They banned me on the grounds of “high-jacking the thread.” Seriously? People attack me without cause, provocation, or pertinence to the discussion at hand, but I am not allowed to respond in kind? I should just slink away and let them say whatever ignorant, untrue things they want, without repercussion or consequence?

No one would ever expect you to slink away, Abbe. Would you ever do that, Steve Lewis? Write terrible things about someone on your platform, but refuse them the right of defense? Would you want that done to you?

I don’t do that. I respond to criticisms on my blog, and to date I don’t think we have edited out any comments. That’s all I’m trying to say. I’m sorry it took all this time and space to say it.

New York Food & Wine Festival Tour

imageThe Food Network is throwing a three-day party, and you’re invited. The first ever New York Food & Wine Festival debuts this weekend in the city. Held mostly in the Meatpacking District and DUMBO, this foodie festival will have mouths watering all weekend. Get your tickets here, and check out our selected three-day itinerary to figure out how and when to get in on the action.

Friday 10 p.m.-midnight: Highline Ballroom for Midnight Music & Munchies (hosted by Daily Candy). Top Chefs featured on Daily Candy make late-night treats, hot-spot bartenders make drinks, and Tom Colicchio makes music (really) with Milton.

Chefs: Govind Armstrong from Table 8, Anne Burrell of Centro Vinoteca, Scott Conant of Scarpetta, Michael Psilakis of Anthos, Harold Dieterle of Perilla, Jimmy Bradley of The Red Cat, Akhtar Nawab of Elettaria, John Frasaer of Dovetail, and Joey Campanaro of Little Owl.

Bartenders: Jim Meehan of PDT, Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club, Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric of Employees Only, and Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge and Clover Club.

Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Del Posto wine tasting seminars. … or … 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Hotel Gansevoort wine tasting seminars. … or … 3 p.m.: Una Pizza Napoletano, pizza, pizza, and more pizza. Talk about it, learn about it, eat it. … and then … 7 p.m.: Adour, dinner hosted by Alain Ducasse. … or … 7 p.m.: Craftsteak, dinner hosted by Tom Colicchio, Jess Jackson and Alfred Portale.

Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: More Del Posto wine tasting seminars. … or … 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: And yet more Hotel Gansevoort wine tasting seminars. … then … 6-9 p.m.: Hotel Gansevoort wrap party.