After we posted about Esquire's restaurant features writer John Mariani's rant against chef Grant Achatz and then ran Achatz's business partner Nick Kokonas' response late on Friday, Mariani hopped into the comments on Saturday to tell his side of the story and again deny the claim that he stole the wine list from Alinea.
And because, in that comment, he suggested that "Eater should do some real reporting [and] not just print one man's defensive diatribe," we got on the phone with Mariani.
At his urging, we reached out to his two dining companions from that fateful night, David Stevens and Jenn Galdes, for their version of events. Stevens confirmed Mariani's story; Galdes couldn't recall the details of the evening. Their statements are below.
First up, presented in full, John Mariani in his own words:
The guys I dined with, David Stevens, my editor for 15-20 years at Playboy and Achatz's and Kokonas' own publicist Jenn Galdes — they both deny that I was anything but gentlemanly throughout the whole night, whereas Kokonas painted me as being this absolute horrible person, but you know, that's interpretation. But they will tell you that, no, I did not walk out with with it. Eater called it a "slight." A slight is a papercut. This was a slash. He's basically accusing me of a criminal act, of stealing — as he called it — an expensive wine list and walking out the door with it, when in fact I've got two witnesses that say it's ridiculous.
The fact is that I may sometimes write on a menu, after asking, may I have a menu to take with me, as probably everybody who ever goes to Alinea as it's a special kind of document. I challenge anybody to call any of the 10,000 restaurants I've ever written about and say, did Mariani ever take your wine list? Unless it was written on the back of the menu or something, there's no reason for me to do so. I can look it up online, I'm not going to lug this thing around. And I can't imagine why I would write on it anyway because all of my notes would be about the food and the matchings, which as I recall, the sommelier did the matchings of the wine so I wasn't choosing them.
Because you have to ask, what are Kokonas and Achatz after here? I never wrote a bad word about them, not one. In the Esquire best new restaurants of the year — which they didn't get into — I alluded to a couple of chefs in Chicago who were doing science fiction-type of food, I never wrote a bad word about these guys. And then, the real problem is dredging up this retracted commentary by Homaro Cantu — who also I never wrote a bad word about — a six-year-old libel that was retracted by him, whose owner denied it to the New York Post. And it's still out there. You know how these things work. If you search for my name on google.com, "Why does everybody hate John Mariani?" is third on the list! This is a three-year-old article that was on MenuPages and it referenced Homaro Cantu. If I could get that thing pushed down I'd be happy.
So this is more than as I said just a paper cut, this is a real slash job. And when I wrote the Esquire.com piece, it really was about modernist/avant garde/science fiction cuisine, which I hopefully wrote it in a humorous but telling manner of what I think of a great deal of it. Having tasted a great deal of it, my real point was that these guys have had zero influence — zero — on the world of cooking despite what the media say about how they have changed the way we eat in the 21st century. There isn't a shred of evidence that that's true. If you want, I'll give you telephone numbers of Stevens and Galdes.
So we got in touch with David Stevens who told us:
I dined with John Mariani and Jenn Geldes at Alinea the night that's mentioned in Achatz book. Mr. Mariani ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY did NOT take an expensive wine list with him when we left the restaurant. He did take the regular menu which I understand is common practice. I've dined with Mr. Mariani all over the world--Scotland, England, Hawaii, and other places--and he has always conducted himself in a professional manner on every
occasion. If he hadn't I wouldn't have dined with him.
We also got in touch with Jenn Galdes, who emailed back:
I represented Alinea, beginning several months before opening and continuing through mid-June 2008, and dined there numerous times while working with them. Unfortunately, as I have shared with both Nick and John, I simply do not remember the details regarding the wine list on that particular evening. In general, John's preference has been to have materials (press kits, menus, wine lists, etc.) mailed/emailed to him but I cannot say definitively one way or the other what occurred that evening nearly six years ago.
· Nick Kokonas to Mariani: "I Stand by Everything in the Book" [-E-]
· John Mariani, Feeling Slighted, Attacks Grant Achatz [-E-]
· All John Mariani Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Grant Achatz Coverage on Eater [-E-]