Gabrielle Hamilton is not shying away from the controversy surrounding her plans to partner with Ken Friedman to run The Spotted Pig with her wife, chef Ashley Merriman. The restaurant's fate has been in flux ever since December, when the New York Times broke a story on allegations of Friedman's sexual misconduct, based on the stories of two dozen employees.
On Friday morning at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, she doubled down in an exceptionally heated panel in which Will Guidara, Hugh Acheson, and Traci Des Jardins challenged her decision to partner with Friedman, a move that Acheson referred to as giving "a hall pass to a predator." During a tense moment at the beginning of the panel, Hamilton told Food & Wine EIC Hunter Lewis she was doing fine.
"We might lose a lot of people, a lot of friends. I understand. What we don’t share, it seems with ... many women—we don’t share a bloodlust. I am prepared to go forward proudly," Hamilton said at the American Express Restaurant Trade Panel. This comment evoked some applause in the audience. "I’m very excited to see if I can be some part, in my tiny way, of the future of the culture of restaurants. It’s not photogenic. It’s not heroic. It’s very small. 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."
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When asked about Friedman, and "why he hasn't come clean," Hamilton didn't mince words.
"He’s a total shit show that guy," she said. "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. He’s a shit show. He’s not coming to work at the Spotted Pig tomorrow."
The panel was always going to be heated. In anticipation of the event, Acheson had posted a photo of its description on Instagram, with the caption: "Well this Amex Trade Chat tomorrow in Aspen is gonna be all kinds of whack."
At the panel, Acheson addressed Hamilton, saying, "What you’re saying now of this new leadership move is good, it could be good, it can't be a hall pass to a predator."
"I choose this truth and reconciliation idea, rather than this shut it down, scortch it burn it clean slate," Hamilton said. She also insisted that she isn't necessarily looking for the support of all women.
"I don’t wish for any woman to feel divided," she said. "I’m not asking for allegiances. 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. I will go on the path I believe in whole-heartedly. I might put out a flare occasionally for some kindness. People are very, very, very upset; it's very confusing. It doesn’t look like anything that has yet happened."
Hamilton's announcement to partner with a man accused of sexual misconduct by several employees, as well as retaliation against those who pushed back, has been met with confusion and frustration in the culinary community. On Thursday, Kelly Fields tweeted, "Ken Friedman doesn’t need partnership, investment + support, women who are actively fighting their way out do."
In a statement this week, which she released after the news first broke, the James Beard Award-winning chef defended her decision, referring to Friedman as a "longtime friend." She said that she and Merriman are "excited and deeply invested in being at the leading edge of the much needed paradigm shift in the industry." She continued, "For us it is not a shift at all because we have been living it and modeling it and shepherding it for 19 years at Prune, and we are eager to have the larger field, the bigger pool, the greater influence; not only for the 96 employees of the Pig at this time, but also of its owner Ken Friedman, and as a way to set the paradigm in the wider industry."
In May, April Bloomfield finalized her business divorce from Friedman, leaving The Spotted Pig,
Friedman has denied the allegations against him.
This post has been updated throughout the panel.