Portland chef Jenn Louis is under fire for an offensive Instagram post. According to screenshots posted to Twitter by Portland Mercury food critic Andrea Damewood, the chef chose to recognize the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death with a photo of fried chicken. The post appeared on both the chef’s personal Instagram and Facebook pages and the Instagram account for her Israeli-inspired restaurant, Ray, yesterday; it has since been removed.
Wednesday was also fried chicken day at Ray, and it seems Louis couldn’t pass up the opportunity to connect the two occasions. The photo of Ray’s fried chicken dish (the same photo posted to the Ray Instagram account previous Wednesdays) included a caption stating that the civil rights leader would have loved Ray’s Israeli fried chicken, if only he had the chance to try it. That caption reads in full:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior died April 4, 1968. One of his favorite foods was fried chicken. We know that he would have loved Israeli fried chicken, if he had the chance to try it. Thank you for spreading so much love Dr. King. Today is fried chicken day @rayrestaruant
Instagram users quickly pointed out that the post was, at the very least, in poor taste, but Louis defended her decision. In the comments — captured by Damewood and others in screenshots — Louis responds to a Twitter user who said the post was “racist and not cool.” She wrote: “I am not racist I am a fan of all cultures. I am well-traveled and always seek to learn more about cultures I don’t know about.” According to Louis, the post was not offensive because “Fried chicken was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite foods. I researched that.” Elsewhere, she responded to a comment by saying “None of this is cultural appropriation. I am a fan of all of it!”
Louis is a prominent figure in Portland’s culinary scene. Food & Wine named Louis one of its best new chefs in 2012, and she has made multiple television appearances, including on Top Chef Masters. In 2016, she was arrested on charges of domestic violence after an incident at Lincoln, the restaurant that became Ray. Those charges were later dropped.
As of this morning, the post has been deleted from Instagram, but still appears on Louis’s Facebook page. She has yet to issue an apology.
UPDATE, 12:57 p.m.: Louis removed the photo from Facebook and posted an apology to her Facebook page:
After reflecting on this over the last 24 hours, I realize I unintentionally and very sadly made an error in judgement.
I sought a way to mark out this painful anniversary and to pay tribute to MLK’s remarkable fight for equality. I connect through food, and learning that this was one of his favorites made me excited to share it.
By no means did I intend to offend or trivialize his legacy. I offer my sincerest apologies with great humility.
We are all still learning about each other’s cultures, and through this experience I’ve learned to be more thoughtful and aware. I hear you all, and thank you for being open and honest with me as I continue to grow.
• @adamewood [Twitter]