As the furor mounted over comments Nancy Silverton allegedly made about Mexicans and an lone Armenian, the James Beard Foundation demanded the chef immediately return the prestigious award she won Monday night in New York City.
On a secretly recorded audio tape leaked Monday to the Food Network, Silverton, who was honored a week ago in Lincoln Center as the Best Chef in America, is heard saying “Mexicans are the hardest working people in then entire restaurant world industry".
That comment and one about not wanting her photo taken with an Armenian man, spawned outrage from across the restaurant world, prompted debate of banning the chef from her own restaurant, and even triggered protests outside her beloved Mozza.
"What she is basically saying, if it indeed does turn out to be Silverton on those tapes, is that other nationalities, including my own, don't work as hard as Mexicans and therefore shouldn't be hired," said an outraged Rene Redzepi, chef of Noma, a highly regarded restaurant in Copenhagen. "Is she saying all Danes are lazy? Does MIss Best Chef even know how many times my international staff and I have been bitten by varmints while searching for the tastiest moss?"
In America, the reaction was even harsher.
"Nancy is a dear friend, but I have to say she stepped in the quick sand this time, " said Jonathan Waxman, who Silverton praised during her Beard acceptance speech. "Look, it's almost universally known when you compliment one nationality, you are really putting down another. It's quite similar to when you see two women and you tell one of them how nice she looks. The other woman will invariably say "What? i don't look good?" With Nancy's Mexican case, you multiply that by a few billion. I really think it over for her. Sad. I love that woman."
A Los Angeles chef who lost out in the best chef in America contest would not comment on Silverton's predicament. However, like Silverton, Suzanne Goin, unaware a nearby microphone was on, was overheard saying "Great. With Nancy out of the competition, maybe I can finally win this damn award."
Some of those who work closest with the chef appeared to be turning against her.
"Maybe if I changed my fuckin' name to Kate Gonzalez she would have thanked me in her James Beard award acceptance speech," said Kate Green, Silverton's black/white assistant. "I love Nancy, but I think she's gone brazy. She makes it seem that those sombreros are the only people who can work hard."
Monday night, just before evening service, in a silent protest, the three head chefs of Pizzeria, Osteria and Chi Spacca: LIz "Go Go" Hong; Chad "Willy Wonka" Colby; and Derek "The Wreck" McCabe, none of whom are Mexican, went to the middle of the Melrose and HIghland intersection and turned their Mozza chefs coats inside out so it looked as they though they worked at "azzoM".
At the pizzeria, host Lance Ohnstad, a Silverton admirer, joined in the protest in his own way. Since the tape was leaked, Ohnstad's reply to the oft-asked question "Is this the pizzeria or osteria?" is now "It's the taqueria."
It remains a mystery as to who leaked the tape to the Food Network. The voice Silverton is talking to on the tape is that of Michael Krikorian who has fervently denied leaking them. His credibility was bolstered today when a restaurant insider said, "If he sold the tapes to Food Network he would have some money. But, he's as broke as ever." Krikorian is the man Silverton referred to when she is heard say "I don't want any more selfy-plus-ones with you, Armenian."
At the Pizzeria. long-time customer Lonnie Bishop, aka "The Prince of Pumps", joined those outraged by Silveton's comments. "She is gong to have to give up the restaurant."
About the only one coming to Silverton's side was another controversial chef, Dominque Crenn from San Francisco. "Nancy is the best and Nancy is right. Like she said in her beautiful acceptance speech, she knows how to select the best team. i'm not sure about her choice of men. but her choice of a restaurant team is peerless."
Monday afternoon, a reporter stumbled upon Silverton as she was leaving the Marni store on Melrose Place. He asked her if she would return the James Beard Award.
"If they really want it back, they can have it. Problem is I'm not sure where I put it."
Then the reporter asked Nancy Silverton what she would do if the outrage reached a point where she would have to leave her restaurant.
In a style all her own, she answered, "Mario and Joe would never let that happen. But, hey, if that ever does happen, well, I'll deal with it. Don't worry about me. I've lost it all before. In a way, it makes life interesting. A real challenge. I've been knocked down and I always get back up. I'll think of something new."
She slide into her black Porsche 918, revved the mighty 887-horsepower motor, and said "And you can bet this If I ever do open a new place, I'll hire a lot of Mexicans. And maybe even an Armenian."
Silverton roared off. Toward Mozza, no doubt.