At a panel at Aspen & Food and Wine today, Gabrielle Hamilton went all in on her decision to partner with disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman to run the Spotted Pig with her wife and co-chef at Prune, Ashley Merriman. According to Food & Wine, the scheduled panel quickly turned heated as fellow panelists Will Guidara, Hugh Acheson, and Traci Des Jardins called out Hamilton for “giving a hall pass to a predator,” as Acheson put it.
Hamilton was adamant in her position that the deal (which has not yet been finalized) would improve industry culture and fell back on the comparison she’s used multiple times — that working with Friedman at the Spotted Pig, a restaurant that was the site of multiple sexual misconduct allegations, is not so different from José Andrés’s disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico. She said, “I only have the restaurant as my platform. I’m not in the red-orange jacket. I’m not in the boat going out to rescue the people. I really love my metaphor. This is a man-made disaster. I didn’t make this mess, and I’m going in. We’re going in. Ashley Merriman is going in. We’re two women going in.”
Hamilton’s industry peers have spoken out about her decision. Many are disappointed that she would contribute to the redemption of a man accused of misconduct. During the panel, Hamilton called the the backlash to her decision in the days following the announcement in the New York Times “very confusing.” She also noted that she doesn’t need women to support her in this. “I’m not asking for allegiances,” she said. “I’m not asking [anyone] to feel like, ‘Oh my god, I love women, but now I have to hate her.’ I want every woman to go out into the world according to her own ethic and her own sense of what is just.”
Hamilton sees herself as helping “longtime friend” Friedman, who has remained tight-lipped about the deal, but was candid when asked why he hasn’t spoken out. “Is Ken Friedman going to work the service? Should we get the ‘rape room’ going on the third floor? I hear myself getting sarcastic, and I don’t want to do it,” she said during the panel. “He’s a shit show. He’s not coming to work at the Spotted Pig tomorrow.”
Ultimately, Hamilton remained firm in her conviction that she is doing the best thing for the industry in this moment, saying, “I choose this truth and reconciliation idea, rather than this shut it down, scorch it, burn it, clean slate.”