There is nothing quite like the brutal, uncensored underbelly of food blogs. Shots are fired left and right, and verbal bombs are lobbed indiscriminately—all in the name of a sandwich. Sure, bonafide dining critics like Pete Wells will occasionally dig into a restaurant, cataloguing a disastrous meal for the benefit of his readers. But usually that’s more of an exercise in fun than a systematic attempt to court controversy.
On forums like Chowhound (one of the O.G. crowd-sourced food platforms), you’ll come across discussions debating the merits of L.A. pastrami that run 600 comments deep (more on that later). It can be a full on war zone in those threads: a flurry of excruciatingly petty arguments, insightful observations, tangential sidebars, and grammar nazis wagging their fingers. But, as we all know, when someone mocks your favorite taco, there’s no backing down.
While some of these battles are self-contained in the comment sections of Eater and CHOW, there are other scenarios where the barbs turn into personal affronts, displayed openly to the public. Reputable bloggers will trade sharp words with chefs, or attack other journalists; hell, they’ll even bark at each other, resulting in public shaming displays sure to relieve any insufferable work day at the office.
Despite all this, we salute these bloggers and comment-section trolls, even if their conversations are borderline absurd (apparently Trader Joe’s employees can be “too cheerful”). When it comes to talking about food, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and we can’t knock them for that.
From lifetime bans levied by chefs, to questionable PR stunts, here’s a rundown of food blogger battles that could only be described in one word: epic.
Eddie Huang vs. Marcus Samuelsson vs. Lolis Elie
The face-off: Eddie Huang was already irked by Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem (which he deemed akin to “writing the report for a book [the chef] never read”), but it was the memoir Yes, Chef that sent Huang on a rampage against one of New York’s most celebrated chefs. The Baohaus owner (a crack blogger before he blew up) spoke openly in a column for The Observer about the restaurant’s failure to “pay homage to the neighborhood.” Huang, who dined at Red Rooster with rapper Shiest Bubz, cites Samuelsson’s cringe-worthy stereotypes of the residents of Harlem, as well as his refusal to maintain important traditions like take-out. In an interview with Paper, Samuelsson shrugged off the attack with remarkable indifference: “It’s not like he’s a relevant person. I can live with the fact that we have created jobs and that we make people happy.” The battle prompted Lolis Elie, food writer and story editor of the HBO series Treme, to weigh in. After quickly acknowledging his close ties with Samuelsson, he proceeds to pick apart Huang’s “critical criteria,” firing back that Huang dumbs down the black community into two groups: the hip-hop aesthetic that doesn’t buy into the vision, and the poor community. Why is Bubz, Elie asks, a legitimate arbiter of taste?
The verdict: Draw. While Samuelsson has good intentions, some of his phrasing, as Huang points out, comes off as hollow and detached. But Elie makes a strong case by insisting that the black community is not a simple dichotomy, but rather a community made up of many parts. Is it fair to base an entire community off of Bubz’s point of view, he asks? “Does Eddie Huang know any black people outside the hip-hop community?,” ask Elie. “There are lots of black people who, rightly or wrongly, disdain the hip hop aesthetic…Were these black people insufficiently authentic to be consulted for Huang’s essay?”
Bill Esparza vs. Rick Bayless
The face-off: Bill Esparza, the taco scholar who runs StreetGourmetLA, is a well-respected figurehead in the L.A. blogosphere. But he is also a notorious pitbull when it comes to defending regional Mexican cuisine against anyone who dare besmirch it. In a piece he wrote for the OC Weekly, he was quick to criticize WSJ reporter Lettie Teague about her mum take on Mexico’s Valle De Guadalupe wine region. But Esparza’s most memorable battle royale revolves around celebrity chef Rick Bayless (you know, the white guy who made a career from of serving traditional Mexican food). This was around 2011, and Bayless probably had it coming to him after getting into a war of words with Jonathan Gold about the opening of his restaurant Red O in Los Angeles. On his blog, Esparza mercilessly picked apart Bayess’ menu in what would become a widely-circulated diatribe.
The verdict: You could consider this more of a one-sided fight, with a lot of chatter from Esparza’s end and little heard from Bayless’ corner. But Bayless did make a slight, if not sneaky, jab. While filming a PBS series called Mexico: One Plate at a Time, Bayless sent out a handful of tweets, marveling at the cuisine he came across while in Baja. Baja is an area Esparza has covered extensively and championed over the years. So when Esparza went to scope out Bayless’ south-of-the-border tweets, he was met with a surprise message: “You have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user.” In a follow-up, Esparza commented: “I have to say, I feel special. Out of more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, Rick blocks me!” He added, “He’s only tasted my Anaheim chile. The habanero is coming.”
Chef Eric Greenspan vs. the Eater commenters
The face-off: When Los Angeles restaurant The Foundry temporarily closed its doors in 2013, chef Eric Greenspan was already on to his next project, centered around a grilled-cheese recipe that earned him first prize years prior at the Grilled Cheese Invitational. We suppose that when Eater described the chef as “vociferous” they weren’t mincing their words; commenters were incredulous over the fact that chef Greenspan would base his newest venture around such a pedestrian food item. A concept like this, they claimed, was doomed for failure. “My 6 year old niece can make a mean grilled cheese,” wrote one sarcastic non-believer. A shouting match ensued over Greenspan’s credibility. Guest #10 wrote: “He’s a funny fat f-ck, and I mean that in a good way. I like him personally. Grilled Cheese restaurant? Really? So lame. gone w/in a year fo sho.”
The verdict: People talk shit in forums all the time. But even though most people who are targeted in these threads wisely choose to ignore the noise, there is something to be said for someone who takes matters into his own hands. Greenspan, apparently, is one of those people who’s not afraid to respond back to the community. He fired back: “User #10 you like me personally and then refer to me as a fat fuk? Anonymously? Don’t like me so much. And I appreciate the support, #13, but that 8 minute finger in the ass routine, a bit much. Time will tell if the Ggc will be a success. I know I’m going to put my all into it. I know it’s going to be fun and delicious. And I know I will continue to put myself out there every day to bring you something great tasting with whimsy and class. You haters should just keep hiding. It suits you. The rest of you, I appreciate the support and look forward to seeing you soon!”
In almost perfect comedic timing, the thread ended when user bride123105 asked innocently,
“So is this open yet?”
Chowhounders vs. Themselves (The Great Hot Dog-Sandwich Debate of 2014)
The face-off: Prepare yourself for the food-world equivalent of a filibuster for the ages. The debate about whether a hot dog can be classified as a sandwich has raged for nine months (beginning on March 1, 2014) over 467 individual CHOW message board posts. While simple at the surface, this query is a land mine of etymological uncertainty and regional subjectivity. In other words, a perfectly ambiguous subject for Chowhounders to pounce on.
In a sane world, one may assume that the thread’s first comment, delivered four minutes after the initial issue posted, would suffice as closure: “Technically [a hot dog is a sandwich], even though it really is in a class of its own.” But it can’t possibly end there. Not when the stakes are this high. Can a split bun be classified as a pocket? Is it a sandwich if protein is nestled in bread rather than filling it? Does classification change depending on how one holds the hotdog? Is a hot dog one of many genera of sandwich? Is this whole absurd thing simply a sketch dreamed up by John Cleese and Eric Idle?
Back in March, user Veggo wrote, “If I were taking yet another standardized test, and the question was ‘is a hot dog an animal, vegetable, mineral, or sandwich?’ I would check the sandwich box.”
In that circumstance, we might all comply (but it’s just as illogical as the primary question). Another commentator reminds us that court ruling upholds that a taco is not a sandwich. Still, that doesn’t settle anything either…because, we find later in the thread that the case in question was actually about WRAPS. Oh boy.
Commenter Bob Martinez gets us closer to the finish line with a lengthy rundown of various dictionary definitions of sandwich, punctuated by a brilliant quip: “I stand by my Babe Ruth/hot dog point. Just because everyone calls him Babe doesn’t mean his name isn’t George Herman Ruth.” Sadly, Martinez isn’t immediately heralded as victor. The madness continues (including one guy’s suggestion that fat dudes describe anything wrapped in a starch as sandwich).
The verdict: In December, commenter Steve dropped this bomb: “All I know is if my wife asks me to make a sandwich for her and I make a hotdog, there will be big trouble.” Still, there’s still no clear winner—even if the last post, from December 29 reads, “It most deficiently is.”
NPR Commenter vs. NPR Commenter (The Great Egg Pun of 2014)
The face-off: While most online feuds involve wounded egos and bruised reputations, there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned friendly competition. On an NPR article titled “Farm Fresh? Natural? Eggs Not Always What They’re Cracked Up To Be,” a group of commenters had a field day coming up with their own egg-related puns. Before delving into the heady topics of humanely raised livestock and arguing the finer points of pasture-raised versus free-range chickens, there was an epic battle of wit and one-upsmanship. The conversation is kicked off by one user who notes:
“This news story is not going over easy…”
“There’s a deadline they were scrambling to beat.”
A pun storm ensues, branching off into ridiculous tangents and inviting some lame-ass jokesters to strut their stuff: “What city is made of all eggs? New Yoke” and “Wasn’t going to participate in this pun, but I cracked.”
The verdict: While there are plenty of great back-and-forth exchanges (“this story was poached from another site” “Traitors! Benedicts!”), we feel this interaction sums it up best:
“All of you are just so cagey with your comments.”
“I give my comments free range.”
Eater Commenter vs. Roy Choi Coverage
The face-off: There was a time when Eater assumed the role of Foodie TMZ, digging up the dirt on industry folk to supply rumors and gossip to hungry commenters. The site has changed greatly since then, but that hasn’t necessarily deterred the spirit of its opinionated fan base. Case in point: Back in August, the site announced the debut of Roy Choi’s rooftop restaurant Commissary, a newsworthy story by all means. But one commentor, GnoccoFritto, couldn’t resist commenting on the nature of their coverage, accusing Eater of supplicating to Roy Choi. “Any time Choi so much as passes gas, I’m sure Eater will be there, live.” He continues: “Eater L.A., please publish the forthcoming thank you note from Roy Choi for the free (quid pro quo of some kind) p.r. + make sure knee pads are in working order.”
Eater Editor Matthew Kang chimes in: “Funny bc they don’t have P.R. and Roy actually kind of hates us.” (Kang links to a Roy Choi Tweet that reads: ”Fuck The James Beards, Michelin Guide, and Eater LA. Much love to everything else in the world.”) “Yet you still cover Choi, breathlessly,” GF barks back. Another blogger, as if tired of the routine, tells GF, “you’re being insufferable again.”
The verdict: By this point, you get a sense that GF is a prominent troll on the site. To critique a publication because it covers the opening of one of L.A.’s most esteemed chefs is an argument that’s lost on us. But allow commenter GFY to do the talking: “Roy Choi is an important part of L.A. restaurant scene! Only a bitter, out-of-work Adrian Reynolds (GnoccoFritto) thinks otherwise. Show us on the doll Gnocco where the mean blog touched you!” Identity revealed. Burn!
Chowhound vs. LA Weekly’s Pastrami List (a.k.a., Pastramigate)
The face-off: Ranking foods in a definitive order is the very lifeblood of the foodie world: Publications love it for the pageviews, and forum users take delight in completely eviscerating lists—while offering their own “true” version of the way things should be. Everyone’s an arbiter of taste, right? But in the storied history of Chowhound—whose well-informed participants are notoriously prickly—not many discussion topics stoked the ire of its commenters in the way that LA Weekly’s pastrami ranking did. To give some context: In L.A., Langer’s has been the reigning King of Pastrami for decades, offering hand-sliced, tender meat on double-baked rye bread. So when the alt-weekly published its best pastrami sandwiches of 2014, some people cried foul when they saw that the much-hyped newcomer Wexler’s Deli came in at number one, ahead of Langer’s. Commenter JesseJames got the crowd going with his take on the whole debacle: “This reeks of bullshit journalism. LA Weekly showing itself to be an advertising flyer and/or platform for the unqualified. Looking at the photo of the author on her Twitter page, she weighs less than the sandwich I had at the Carnegie Deli. You do the math.” With more than 600 comments, the investigation was aptly re-named “Pastramigate,” and boy did it take on a life of its own.
“The pastrami is disappointing is the most compelling part of your argument,” writes noahbites to JesseJames. “Debating the quality of various foods with people who have eaten said foods is the backbone of this board. I kindly encourage you to focus on the food itself and less on speculative accusations.”
But JesseJames remains firm:
“I’m suspicious. That’s reasonable. Crap pastrami rated number one. What’s a bigger crime than that?”
The verdict: Other bloggers chime in to defend the writer, who now becomes a prominent target in the dispute. People point out that author Rachel Narins documented her pastrami eating spree on IG, giving further credence that she put in the necessary research. Collecting data and not relying on other’s opinions is an honorable thing, Chowhounders said. (Narins watched from afar.)
The conversation veered into another direction, calling into question her methodology (did she only try 10 places?) and her classification system (kosher vs. non kosher). Ultimately, we were saved when Servog injected some humanity back into the discussion:
“I don’t think this whole comparison deal is going to be presented as a peer reviewed journal article in which the pastrami under discussion in the LA weekly is going to get sorted out as ‘kingdom-phylum-class’ with DNA being the defining characteristic to finally get them profiled. I say get a grip. Taste it and rate/rank it for yourself. And if you like it better then say so.”
David Chang vs. Josh Ozersky
The face-off: There are two sides to every story, and in this one, there are also a few chins. In one corner, we have O.G. food blogger, gout-sufferer, and a guy who appears on this list twice, Josh Ozersky (a.k.a., Mr. Cutlets). In the other, Momofuku dynasty founder David Chang. As the story goes, one night, Ozersky walks into Ssam Bar, and like Moses when he reaches the land of Milk and Honey, was told in no uncertain terms to get the fuck out by God (or in this case, Chang). Ozersky told Eater in a 2008 interview:
“They believed that I had mocked them and put them down and ‘wanted to rub their faces in it.’ I was shocked.”
Shocked! Except, also, per Ozersky:
“I was possibly more candid than I should have been about how overhyped I thought David was getting, and even made the mistake of calling him the Setagaya of Soup”.
The thrust of the ban later changed to something else entirely. When blogging for Eater in a post titled What Really Got Me Banned From Momofuku, Ozersky revealed that the real reason was because he broke news about one of Chang’s restaurants before Chang could orchestrate a press cycle on it. Says Ozersky:
“The fact is that I broke the story of Momofuku Ko on Grub Street, thus ‘it is said’ blowing a big New York Times article for him. But I didn’t use confidential, embargoed, or off-the-record info; I got it fair and square, the way reporters are supposed to.”
The verdict: Ozersky has written that the ban is “a distinction of which I am inordinately proud.” One can assume this piece of Momorabilia will go for top dollar on eBay in the not too distant future. If Ozersky is to be believed, he still has his integrity as an upstanding journalist, right? Either way, integrity probably doesn’t taste as good as uni tapioca. Bottom line, he still doesn’t get to eat at Momofuku restaurants, which we all know blows. The 86 is now the stuff of legend, and one of the most famous 86s still presumably active in New York; Anthony Bourdain even addressed Ozersky’s MomoBan in his book, Medium Raw, writing:
“There is no question in my mind that buffalo will graze in Times Square — and pink macaroons will fall from the sky — before Josh Ozersky ever makes it through the door of a Momofuku anywhere.”
Robert Sietsema vs. Josh Ozersky
The face-off: Sietsema and Ozersky are two of the greatest food bloggers of all time, but they couldn’t be more different in style. The old-school journeyman Sietsema has the same approach whether he’s writing for an alt-weekly, The New York Times, or a blog: pound the pavement relentlessly in the pursuit of the most delicious and obscure food imaginable. Mr. Cutlets, meanwhile, is a journalist who took to the blog age with unprecedented gusto, shouting his divisive opinions from the Internet mountaintops and trolling the food world with clinical precision. The stage was set for a war of integrity between the two titans of the realm, and we got it when Ozersky ran an ill-advised Time column about all the big-name chefs who cooked at his wedding. Sietsema called foul, penning an open letter for the Village Voice that questioned the ethics of Ozersky’s nuptials, suggesting that the wedding feast may have been a pay-for-play situation in which the chefs were promised column space in exchange for their contributions. The beef set off a conflagration in the food world, with everyone from the NYT to chefs weighing in about the ethics of comps in the industry. Ozersky eventually tacked on an addendum to his column, offering a half-hearted mea culpa for his lack of transparency, saying that he wasn’t unethical, just “dumb.”
The verdict: Both Sietsema and Ozersky have stuck to their journalistic guns since the spat, and both are thriving in the blogosphere. However, it remains a stain on Ozersky’s reputation that’s still brought up from time to time by people who want to attack his credibility as a critic, so you could say he took the L on this one. In retrospect, the failure to explain how (or if) he paid for anything really was his fatal mistake. After all, celebrated food writer Francis Lam also had a ridiculously stacked cast of chefs at his wedding—Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini, Danny Bowien, etc.—and the meal was blogged about breathlessly by none other than Ruth Reichl. It didn’t cause a stir, though, for two key reasons: 1) Francis Lam does not call himself a critic, and 2) He did not tell everyone how awesome it was in a national publication.