The row over cultural appropriation in the food world rumbles on. The latest touch paper was a piece in The Times about their former restaurant critic, Jonathan Meades, who was quoted as saying that “without appropriation there is only stagnation”. Chefs shouldn’t worry about being true to a dish’s origins, he argued, but instead focus on whether it tastes good.
To anyone over the age of 35 that’s a pretty uncontroversial stance. This is very much an argument for the new guard, however, and as such I suspect it is something that many restaurant PRs will have to confront sooner or later.
I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs (although as I’m in my fifties you can probably guess which side of history I fall on). All I do know is that if an unwoke paper like The Times gets the occasional complaint about us exploiting other cultures in our recipe writing, The Guardian must be drowning in them. It’s clearly felt in the restaurant business too. Times Radio tried to find a chef to comment on Meades’s comments, but not one of them was prepared to risk putting their neck on the line. Sensitive times.
So how do you respond if your client stands accused?
It’s easy for a recipe book writer to add a two-line get-out-of-jail card to their prologue, thanking the “wonderful old lady in the roadside shack outside Tijuana who generously taught me how to make authentic guacamole” (precisely what material difference that acknowledgment actually makes is a mystery to me but it seems to satisfy the gods of cultural propriety). But a restaurant has no such quick fix. It can hardly append a mini CV to every dish to acknowledge its origins.
My advice in the face of complaints is to do nothing at all. Put your head down and wait to see if the outcry will pass. It invariably will. Caitlin Moran wrote the other week that a Twitter storm lasts precisely three days – not two, and not four – so weather that and you are home and dry.
Only if it carries on longer than that might you have a problem that really needs solving.
“Love this! Drinking non-alcoholic spirits is more pleasurable than alcoholic ones. Fact. They’ve even got brain scans to prove it. Hats off to the PR, though, for not going down the more obvious route that the celebrity ownership of CleanCo low- and no- spirits brand would have offered.”