Last week, the restaurant world was tittering about a post on New York magazine's food blog Grub Street about Porchetta chef Jason Neroni, who seemed to be soliciting votes for a Beard Foundation Rising Star Award, and while he was at it, noting that "Danny Meyer does it all the time." (Soliciting votes, that is.) Then Neroni emailed Grub Street defending himself.
But we felt that there was more yet to be told in this unseemly story of chefs, backroom emailing, and pork. Lots and lots of pork. So we contacted Neroni ourselves and asked him a few questions. You know, power to the people and all that! The real story, including some well-aimed potshots and some diplomatic Danny Meyer-placating, after the jump.
What's your side of the story? And how has it impacted business?
I got an email from a friend telling me about the Beard House's new voting procedures which allow internet voting, so, I called them to find out if it was ethical for me to vote for myself for Rising Star Chef. A rep from Beard House, who is also a friend, told me that not only was it ethical, but that I should call and email my friends and encourage them to do the same. I sent off a quick, personal email to some friends, and thought nothing more of it until a few days later when my picture and email appeared on Gawker, via Grub Street. I was definitely a little disappointed at Grub Street's choice to reprint my email without first calling me for comment, fact checking, or even substantiating the email's provenance (after all, according to Cutlets, it came from a totally anonymous source). They took a few pot shots that I thought were unfair (like calling me "desperate"), especially considering the fact that Josh used his position at NY Mag to come in to Porchetta for dinner and said everything was fantastic. I suppose now that I was a little na ve for trusting someone in the media (no offense). As for business at Porchetta, I have not noticed any impact and we are just as busy as before.
What kind of mentions do you expect in future issues of New York? Grub Street?
I don't really know what to expect from NY Mag or Grub Street in the future. Josh sent me an email the day my email showed up on Gawker to apologize and tell me that he understood if I thought he was an asshole (his words, not mine). I was understandably reluctant to talk to him. A few days later, he had his assistant call to get all the details on our monthly pork and beer dinner so Grub Street could put it on their calendar. We also had a photographer come in to take some pictures, I think for an end of year new restaurant roundup. In any event, I don't know if they will be inclined to give us positive or negative coverage, but I'll definitely be much more cautious in the future about what I say to them, you know, lest I come off looking "self-promoting."
Who's the one critic in New York City you'd be most afraid of pissing off?
Probably my fianc . She does some freelance food writing and I know that pissing her off would have much more dire consequences in my personal life than anything that I might do to Frank Bruni or Adam Platt. [Ed. note: Who's Neroni's fianc ?]
Who'd win in a fight, you or Josh "Cutlets" Ozersky?
I don't think it would ever come to that. I'm sure that my beating up a NY Mag food editor would make a much bigger splash than any email I sent and I would prefer the food get press not me. But I wouldn't rule out Iron Chef.
Danny Meyer famously "hosted" an event for a critic to win a favorable review for Blue Smoke. What would you to do get good mention for Porchetta?
I would hope that Porchetta would get a favorable review based on what we do on a regular basis, rather than anything special that we did for a reviewer. At heart, we are a neighborhood restaurant, and I want the guy who lives around the corner or the neighborhood couple out for date night to have the same experience as a reviewer would. I know that sounds a bit Pollyanna, and obviously, I am concerned with reviews and press, but I am not going to go out of my way to give preferential treatment to reviewers. It is nice to be recognized for what I do with a good review or an award, but what good does a glowing review do if it is based on a performance that I can't repeat with every diner? However, that does not mean that I am being critical of what Danny Meyer did for Blue Smoke. Danny Meyer is in a different league than we are at Porchetta, and I am sure he had his reasons for doing what he did.
Seriously, what's the deal with the pork vodka?
I've never actually tried pork vodka [Oops. —Ed.], so I can't really comment on that one. We serve a Maile Margerita, which is made with Anejo tequila and rimmed with slated pork cracklins. It's not too assertive, but you definitely get a little of the flavor of the pork - sweet, salty, smoky - on the back of your palate. I think it's a good compliment to the Anejo. You should come in and try one!
Maybe we will, Jason. Maybe ... we ... will.