“In the case of ABC, there was a knee-jerk reaction to solve this PR crisis. The majority of the [Great American Baking S]how’s executive producers were women, all of the finalists and semi finalists were women. And instead of stopping a man from causing more hurt, they continued to send out a ripple effect of the hurt that one person’s behavior caused.” —Vallery Lomas
Season 3 of The Great American Baking Show, the US-based spinoff of its beloved cousin from across the pond, The Great British Baking Show, premiered on December 7, 2017 on ABC. After only one episode aired, Mic dropped a bombshell expose on head judge and well-known bad boy pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, alleging, what else? His nasty habit of sexual harassment in the kitchens he led. In light of this scandal, ABC chose to abruptly stop airing the remainder of the season and declined to renew any working relationship with Iuzzini in the future. People applauded this, on its face it certainly felt like the right decision, and it probably was; but no one was thinking about all the other women Iuzzini hurt with his misogynist and lurid behavior. Like Vallery Lomas, that season’s winner. She did nothing wrong, yet her achievement she’d hoped to parlay into a career change was just discarded on a media company’s cutting room floor. She couldn’t collect her deserved cash prize, nor the positive publicity that would’ve boosted any attraction to her cookbook proposal. Lomas never worked for Iuzzini, he barely knew her and never harassed her. And yet. His misconduct cost her terribly. This is collateral damage.
When celebrity chefs or food media personalities behave badly, the damage they cause isn’t limited to their direct victims, but quickly spreads out in a ripple effect of hurt, confusion, and inconvenience. First and most important are, of course, their direct victims. The women he harassed or assaulted. The people of color directly impacted by her racist statements. Beyond that though, you find the collateral damage, the wreckage often left unseen, the betrayal unacknowledged, the pains left unaccounted for. Collateral damage consists of employers losing money on their investment, people whose much-needed big breaks are cut short like Lomas, and then, at the furthest but still very real outer edges of those painful ripples, the fans and enthusiastic users of their products and services. The show watchers, the social media followers, the cookbook buyers and users. Even though we did nothing wrong, we are automatically expected to jump into action with social media decries and boycotts and book burnings and pointed channel changes. But… what if we don’t want to do any of that? What if we are genuinely disappointed in that cookbook author, but also we really want to keep making their recipes because they are workable and unique and delicious? What if we are sick and tired of being the collateral damage?
I had a fairly easy time “doing the right thing” in the wake of Paula Deen’s and Mario Batali’s revealed racism and sexual misconduct, and that’s likely true of many others as well. These were two celebrity chefs with a rather broad niche, and it isn’t difficult to look elsewhere for a quality pasta carbonara or shrimp and grits recipe. It’s easy to boycott Chik-Fil-A over their homophobic financials when you live in a region of America that doesn’t have any Chik-Fil-A establishments. I was never a fan or consumer of Mario Batali’s or Paula Deen’s wares, so I had no trouble feeling superior when I just… continued never consuming their wares or making their recipes after their respective scandals hit the front page. But now, I struggle to do what feels like the knee-jerk “right thing” in the face of John Besh, April Bloomfield, and I guess now Alison Roman’s cancel-worthy episodes of, again, alleged sexual misconduct and racism.
Especially in the post-#MeToo era, we often discuss separating the art from the artist. Is that an okay thing to do? Can it even be done? Sometimes it’s easy to discard the artist or performer: does anyone really miss Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose? I think not. On the other hand, our fond memories of what turns out to be the art of monsters are not easily shed. A 1970’s era teenage love of Woody Allen movies, an appreciation for Roman Polanski’s filmmaking genius, romantic milestones set to the tune of Miles Davis, and on it goes. I appreciate and applaud the Beastie Boys (one of my favorite bands) having disavowed and apologized for their hit song “Girls”; but does that mean I must erase my fond memories of thirty eighth-grade band students on a school bus all shouting “JACKING. MIKE. D. TO. MY. DIS. MAY.” in unison while the self-appointed Band Parents all side-eyed each other in bewilderment? It was our thing; they didn’t get it, and that was part of the appeal. So I guess if it’s not too much trouble, could you do me a solid and kind of not mar that memory by pointing out problems with casual sexism and glorification of overt misogyny? Is that really so much to ask??
And now I have the same kind of struggle with the aforementioned celebrity chefs (Besh, Bloomfield, Roman). I like their food. I like their cookbooks. I ate at August the last time I visited New Orleans, and it was delicious and beautiful and probably THE best restaurant service I’ve ever experienced. What all three of them did angers me, and not just on behalf of the people they directly injured. I’m angry because now I, a fan and consumer of their books and recipes, have to stop what I’m doing and grapple with whether to keep their books or continue making their recipes, when you know what? I was doing just fine before. I’m angry because now I’m expected to Take A Stand and all this other shit, and maybe I just don’t want to. Maybe I am a lowly home cook who loves exploring different recipes and just wants to keep happily using the books I paid for.
The moral obligation to throw out perfectly usable and interesting recipes over someone else’s misdeeds irks me to no end. I didn’t make lewd comments in the workplace, I didn’t whip my dick out in front of a subordinate at work, I didn’t run cover for a sexual predator, and I didn’t make racist comments. So why do I have to give up something I was thoroughly enjoying and have already paid for? That’s collateral damage. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of being swept up in it.
I support whatever other (former?) fans want to do with their now-tainted wares. And I freely admit, were Besh, Bloomfield, or Roman to publish a book now, after their scandals hit the airwaves, I highly doubt I’d purchase it. I bought Bloomfield’s first cookbook before learning of her misconduct at The Spotted Pig, and although I’d otherwise love to also own her followup book, I can’t bring myself to buy it now. My internal struggle comes from what to do with her first book, the one I already paid for before knowing what we now know. Truth be told, I just want to keep using it. I’m tired of feeling obligated to carry the onus for atoning someone else’s terrible behavior.
So yes, the recipe I’m sharing to accompany this post is a John Besh recipe, from his third cookbook Besh Big Easy. It’s a unique cookbook I find intriguing, and I selfishly want to keep mining it for recipes and ideas. I feel twinges of queasiness each time I reach for it; there is probably no getting around that. As a person, he’s kind of gross. But his recipes are not. And so I very much desire to separate the art from the artist, the chef from the recipes he created that I have enjoyed. There aren’t easy answers to this question, and I’m sure many people will disagree with mine. I can’t say I have even completely made my peace with it, or that I won’t change my mind in the future. For now, this is where I land, and if you have too, you’re in good company.
- 1 tbs bacon fat or neutral oil
- 1 lb Italian sausage, removed from casings
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
- 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 quarts chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
- 1 15 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
- Heat the bacon fat in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Take the sausage and pinch off little bite-size, freeform meatballs. Drop them into the hot oil and then don’t touch them. Let them brown on one side for a few minutes, then use a wooden spoon to gently stir them around until they are cooked through. Try not to break them up. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened but not browned. Turn the heat down to medium if the onion is browning. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, plus salt and black pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
- Now add the kale, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 5 minutes, just to wilt the kale and let the flavors briefly marry. Add the black-eyed peas and let them warm through. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.