Gabrielle Hamilton Announces Plan to Partner with Ken Friedman at The Spotted Pig
This post has been updated with a statement from Hamilton.
While the fate of New York's The Spotted Pig has been up in the air since allegations of restaurateur Ken Friedman's serial sexual misconduct broke in December, Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton says she wants in.
In a surprising Wednesday interview with the New York Times, Hamilton said that she and Friedman will soon be making a deal, and she will be running the restaurant with her wife, chef Ashley Merriman.
In a new statement to Food & Wine, in which she refers to Friedman as a "longtime friend," the James Beard Award-winning chef said 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."
Just one week ago, Friedman's longtime partner April Bloomfield made her business divorce from Friedman official, parting ways with the Spotted Pig.
"The metaphor of divorce has been used a lot lately regarding Ken and April, and we can follow that metaphor for a single beat further and say we are going to be the second marriage," continued Hamilton. "As everyone knows, it is a bittersweet truth; everyone is a better spouse their second time around."
In her interview with the New York Times, Prune referred to the scandal surrounding the Spotted Pig as a "man-made disaster."
"Everyone gets so excited when José Andrés goes into these natural disasters and helps people,” she said. “They ought to be happy that these two women are going into a man-made disaster to help make things right.”
Friedman wasn't the only source of conflict at the restaurant. The NYPD is investigating a claim that Mario Batali, who frequented the Spotted Pig, sexually assaulted a woman in the restaurant's private party room, which was allegedly known to some as "The Rape Room." (Batali has denied allegations of unconsensual sex.)
The decision is undoubtedly controversial. Natalie Saibel, one of two dozen Spotted Pig employees who told the Times about the harassment she endured, said she was fired in 2015 for speaking up about Friedman's behavior. Regarding the news that Hamilton would be partnering with Friedman, Saibel said, "It's shocking and unfathomable why as a female chef, as a queer woman, Gabrielle would align herself with a sexual harasser and help bail this man out."
Friedman has denied the two dozen allegations from current and former employees that include groping, demanding sex, requesting nude photos, and unwanted touching.
Hamilton seems to be aware of those questioning this move.
"We can tell you assuredly and confidently that we are not coming to partner with Ken to be his 'fence,'" Hamilton told Food & Wine. "We are not about to sell on the street some shitty knock-off handbag of 'redemption' and 'I'm a new clean man with a wife and child and I don't do any drugs or any drinking, and it was all a misunderstanding, and April is the real bad wolf, and Mario is the bigger badder wolf' crock of shit. We see ourselves helping the Spotted Pig, and helping the industry at large, and helping April and helping our longtime friend Ken, and helping ourselves."
She also addressed the restaurant industry's party culture that is so under scrutiny.
"In some ways, we've been throwing the same parties that Ken's been throwing: booze, drugs, celebrities, money, after hours super fun shit, sexual innuendo, jokes, camaraderie, fraternity, etc.," she said. "But we didn't sexually harass our waitresses, and we didn't blacklist employees who betrayed us, and we weren’t abusive to our kitchen crews, and we didn't manage our restaurants through fear or intimidation and we didn't pretend that the left hand didn't know what the right hand was up to."