Q & A with Jordan Kahn, Part 2: The Nature of Criticism and Why Red Medicine Kicked Out the LA Times
A. Froug Chef Jordan Kahn in the Red Medicine kitchen
At the end of the first part of our interview with Jordan Kahn of Red Medicine, he was explaining that Vietnamese cuisine fits his culinary philosophy because he isn't interested in making "a big, sweet fucking rich bomb. A big ass molten chocolate cake or a giant bowl of pudding. " Check back later for the recipe from Red Medicine. Your version won't look quite as good, but if it makes you feel better, neither will ours.
In the second part of our interview, Kahn discusses food criticism in the social media age and explains what exactly happened when his restaurant booted out then-anonymous LA Times restaurant reviewer S. Irene Virbila and posted her photo online. He also tells us that he'd like to meet Virbila sometime. Did we just move one step closer to reconciliation?
Squid Ink: You spend all this time on these dishes, when you have someone like S. Irene Virbila who maybe doesn't appreciate your thinking, is that where that whole event came from? Can you give us your side of how that all happened?
Jordan Kahn: I don't necessarily want to get into because it was not meant to be a stunt for publicity or anything. I want people to come here and know that we work really, really hard to make every guest that comes to our door really happy. It's not driven by ego. It's not driven by money for me. I want the restaurant to make money so that I can pay our cooks and we can pay our vendors. I have no interest in being rich. Ever. The food world is tricky these days: the internet, Twitter, Facebook and all these things. Everybody's a critic and says things without realizing what it does to other people.
I get this a lot, "Any artist who puts his stuff up is gonna be subject to criticism." And it's entirely true, but the main difference is that the artist paints for himself and hopes other people appreciate it and understand it. A chef cooks for you. And hopes you like it. So when you hate it, it destroys us a lot more inside.
And when someone says really harsh and cruel things, they don't understand the chain of how it affects people. It doesn't just affect the chef. It affects his cooks. It affects their families. It affects their families.
You know, when Irene wrote her review of XIV, she said really, really terrible things about me, and I remember, I was at home and it was the first day off I had taken off since we had opened. It was like five months in. I read it, and I looked at my girlfriend at the time, and I said, "How am I supposed to face my cooks tomorrow and tell them that everything's gonna be okay and what they do is important?" They should be proud of what they make.
People thrive on negative criticism and they enjoy writing negative things. "Oh, this movie was shit." Or the best are commenters on Eater. They're the fucking best. [Kahn holds up the water glass he's drinking from] Someone just writes "Oh Jordan made this glass himself. We're gonna show it." [He makes typing motions.] "This looks like shit. I hate everything about him. Fuck you."
Where does this come from? People are entitled to do that, but when someone has a voice in such a public manner, it's really mean, you know? I didn't want to put my guys through that. I didn't want to put myself through that. I don't know how I would have reacted.