Professional chefs have a reputation for being desperate, tragic figures. Insanely overworked and consequently stripped raw down to only one remaining nerve, your average chef is very likely someone who hasn’t seen a vacation or even daylight in years and whose only reward after yet another Boschian hellscape of a service is the ability to drink his or her own weight in alcohol. They’re just not the kind of people you want to mess with, particularly when it comes to your dumb little dietary hang-ups. Oh sure, they’ll probably honor your request to substitute their fennel gnocchetti with something gluten-free, their white bolognese with something soy-based and their sartori bellavitano cheese with something vegan-friendly, but make no mistake: while they’re doing it they’ll fantasize about taking that 8-inch Misono knife and driving it directly into the top of your head like they’re a member of the Night’s Watch, their kitchen is Castle Black and you’re a marauding Thenn. (And at least if you were a Thenn you’d eat meat and shut the fuck up.)
With all of this in mind, it’s really not a surprise that a recent fiery online back-and-forth between a Los Angeles chef and a group of animal rights people ended in digital bloodshed and a whole lot more.
It started last week, when Mark Kalenderian, longtime chef at the legendary Tam O’Shanter in northeastern L.A., inserted himself into the comments section on the Facebook page of current powerhouse L.A. restaurant Terrine in Beverly Grove. Back in January, Terrine was one of the first restaurants to fully embrace and promote foie gras upon its return to the good graces of the California legislature, advertising a special foie menu to specifically mark the controversial but positively delicious delicacy making its big comeback. Foie had, for two years, been banned in California due to a push by animal rights activists who consider the process by which it’s made animal abuse, but with the ban now gone and restaurants like Terrine serving foie again, the PETA types have spent the past four months going completely ape-shit (or whatever the vegan equivalent of it is). They’ve bombarded Terrine in particular with angry comments and Yelp reviews, claiming the place sanctions animal torture and otherwise going off on the kind of unhinged rants you’d expect from people deprived of whatever nutrients meat generally provides to the human sense of humor.
While much of the commentary has vanished into the ether, Kalenderian claims that his pro-foie declaration began as a response to a commenter named Kim Socha, who said she had recently dined at Terrine and was disgusted when she discovered the number of meat dishes on the menu. Now please keep in mind that a terrine, the French dish the restaurant is named for, is made with meat and emulsified fat, like a pâté. The front of Terrine the restaurant is also marked by a giant drawing of a pig, meaning that if you walk in there and are legitimately shocked to see meat on the menu, you’re a fucking idiot. More than likely, Kim Socha has never been anywhere near Terrine, but still, there she was on Facebook complaining about the meat on the menu and the special focus on foie gras. And there was Mark Kalenderian, pushing back. Needless to say, all out war ensued.
It reportedly came to a head when one particular activist who’d gotten involved in the fray — someone from the UK — scooped up a picture of Kalenderian’s daughter from his personal Facebook profile and dropped it into the middle of the back-and-forth. Understandably, Kalenderian took that as an implied threat against his family and brought out the knives. While no one’s posted the activists’ apparent role in the hostilities and the thread has since been deleted, Kalenderian’s online enemies of course saved his comments and immediately began pushing them out to the furthest reaches of social media. The comments were — colorful.
— 🐺 The Paw Report Ⓥ 🐾 (@ThePawReport) April 3, 2015
As is obvious, the “global boycott” of Tam O’Shanter was launched immediately, with Mark Kalenderian being accused of making “misogynistic” “death threats!” An incredibly ill-advised series of comments, which included referring to activist Kim Socha as a “cunt,” goes from being just another dumb-ass internet asshole fight to a full-on Defcon 1 event, with everybody blowing the whole thing up in the hope of claiming an enemy head. Kalenderian was wrong to say what he did, but if he’s telling the truth about somebody popping up a picture of his child as a veiled threat, I can’t say I wouldn’t have responded just as viciously. And again, in the end, as much as the animal rights activists who make up the other side of this brawl want to play pious and claim to have taken the high road throughout the entire discussion, it’s entirely possible they were just as vitriolic as Kalenderian given that they genuinely believe that eating meat — and particularly foie gras — amounts to being a murderous bastard who patronizes restaurants that are animal Abu Ghraibs. Since the foie ban was lifted, some L.A. chefs claimed they’ve gotten death threats from these people, which makes sense when you consider how strongly they feel about the rights of animals to be granted all the same protections as humans.
Admittedly, my thoughts on animal activists and foie gras are pretty well known, given that I wrote a lengthy piece back in January that described my night out at Terrine on the first evening the restaurant put foie back on the menu. Despite having a really wonderful meal, my fiancée and I had to run a gauntlet of pissed-off PETA protesters both coming and going and I spent at least part of my dinner juvenilely entertaining myself by antagonizing the people standing outside holding their posters emblazoned with images of geese being lavaged to make foie. I did this for two reasons. One is that I happen to love foie and the other is that I have only a limited number of fucks to give and I have to dispense them judiciously, lest I lose the ability to go about my day functioning correctly because I’m hung up on every little thing. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the food I eat is killed, hopefully as humanely as possible — because happy animals make for tastier food — but I realize that’s not always the case. My fiancée is a chef and we enjoy eating adventurously together — she’s cooking for Terrine’s pop-up at Coachella this weekend, in fact — so my feeling is that we’re more important than that pig or goose. Just the way it is.
But this fight between animal activists and those who don’t wish to adhere to their ideology and strident espousing of it isn’t going to end anytime soon, and the frontline is apparently the front door of your favorite restaurant (should that restaurant serve something they consider as valuable a life as a human being). It will surprise absolutely no one that Mark Kalenderian was fired earlier this week from the Tam O’Shanter. Considering the specific tone of his comments, there was probably no choice given that the restaurant is owned by Lawry’s of Beverly Hills and there’s no way they were going to tolerate an employee even joking about going all Hannibal and making cunt stock out of the bones of a vegan. Kalenderian says he regrets his choice of words, but he says he had every right to fight back hard given that they brought his child into the fight and he still believes he was correct in defending a restaurant that was operating within the law and serving a dish its patrons desired.
Oh, and he’s started his own online advocacy group to “oppose bullying animal rights activists.” It’s called “Because All Creatures Offer Nutrition.” Yes, the acronym for that is “BACON.”
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.