Three days after the sports world was stunned when Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security was disqualified for interference, the restaurant world was shocked to learn their most revered awards show was rife with intimidation, judge tampering and even collusion with presenters.
The news broke in Chicago early Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours after the end of James Beard Awards, the so-called “Culinary Academy Awards”,. when a shaken chef Elizabeth Falkner, who presented the award for “Best Chef in the West”, was accused of collusion and placed in protective custody by the FBI immediately after giving a tearful news conference where she broke her silence on what law enforcement is calling the “underporkbelly” of the restaurant world.
Falkner said she feared for her life and that’s why she blurted out “Michael Cimarusti“ as the winner of the award for best chef in the west. There was jubilation in the crowd for Cimarusti, the chef and co-owner of the revered Los Angeles seafood restaurant Providence, who had finally won an award that had eluded him for nine years.
Or had he?
Falkner, literally shaking, refused to name names, but she said her life was threatened by a business associate of Cimarusti’s. When a reporter pressed her to give up a name, Falkner went ballistic. “What the fuck? Do you think I want to be sleeping with the striped bass? I’d be floating in the Chicago River in an hour if I give you the name. Fuck you and your newspaper.”
Almost immediately the announcement, another Los Angeles chef, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl who finished second in the voting. said Cimarusti should not be disqualified. “I love Michael and last night was a long time coming. He is a great chef, but his boss has no business in the restaurant world.”
Koslow was referring to reputed mob boss Donato Poto, Cimarusti’s business partner who calls himself “a humble front of the house guy” at Providence. An FBI agent,, speaking on the condition of anonymity, scoffed at that notion. “Don Poto calling himself a front of the house guy” is like Don Corleone calling himself an olive oil salesman,” he said.
It is universally believed that the genuinely nice Cimarusti had absolutely nothing to do with any alleged crimes. However, sources admitted they were focusing their investigation Poto.
In the jam-packed after parties of the James Beard Awards, Don Poto smiled at this reporter when asked about the incident and possible collusion, and intimidation. When he finally spoke, it was chilling.
“Write what you have to write. Just be careful. Everyone knows you’re not hard to find. You’re at the Mozza Corner every night, right? I would hate for something unfortunate to happen to you. You have a lot to live for.. All I’m saying is be careful. Enjoy your time in Chicago.”