April 30, 2014

The PR game of hype and lies

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A few weeks ago there was a discussion on new restaurant openings in town, and Cocotte came up as one location that quite a few people wanted to try.  Well, someone in the group did try it, and commented "wonder how long the chef was actually at Amber..."

A look at the restaurant's Facebook page describes Chef Patrick Dang's background as "Chef de Cuisine of Amber, Hong Kong..."  Materials sent out by the restaurant's PR agency says the same thing.

As it happened, I do know someone with direct knowledge of who has held what position at Amber, and for how long.  So I found an opportunity to ask my source, who told me definitively that Patrick Dang "was never chef de cuisine in Amber, he was chef de cuisine in MO Bar for 6 months only."

A quick glance at Patrick's CV online shows that he was at the Landmark Mandarin Hotel from late 2005 to mid-2006.  Well, even if he were chef de cuisine at Amber during that time, to be honest the Amber of 2006 ain't exactly what it is today.  So to even use it as the primary part of your PR blurb is a little misleading... never mind that he's outright lying about his position.

Of course, most of us (well... myself excluded in this case) just take what the restaurant/PR tells us and lap it up.  Lots of media, websites, blogs... have basically regurgitated the same line, without bothering to do some basic due diligence to see if the guy is really who he says he is.  One Francophile website I came across even called him the "former head of Amber" - which is so laughable I wanted to call up the people behind the site and meet them... because anyone who knows anything about Amber would know who the "head of Amber" is.

Now a little word about the Moldovan brothers behind the restaurant - Jonathan and Brice - who are described in the PR blurb as having "come from a long line of five-starred European hospitality."  What exactly does that mean?  Based on what I can gather from the internet - including this New York Times interview with Brice and his twin brother Petrous - their parents had a brasserie in the small village where they were born.  Not exactly five-star, n'est-ce pas?

Jonathan, as far as I can tell, has mostly worked in finance.  The twins said they always worked in the same restaurants from the time they were teenagers, so I'm assuming that Brice's CV would look almost identical to Petrous'.  Let's see... some rustic-looking place around Nice; another small resto in the small, seaside town of La Barre-de-Monts; a country club in England; a lodge restaurant in Sun Valley, Idaho that is described as a "comfortable family restaurant"...  After that, there was finally a name I recognized - La Côte Basque in New York.  I'm not sure what Brice was doing, but Petrous is said to have been sous chef.  Given that La Côte Basque closed in 2004 when the twins were around 22, he would have been a pretty young sous chef...  After another stint elsewhere, the twins found themselves back in New York with the Russian Tea Room, where Brice was the mixologist and Petrous was chef de cuisine and found time to make the local news.  Later on the three brothers decided to strike out on their own, opening New York Burger Company.

The preceding paragraph was, perhaps, a long line... but how much of it was "five-starred European hospitality"?  Well... none, if you asked me.

So... this is the type of stuff that's going on in our F and B industry - where people inflate their CVs and outright lie about their experience.  The running joke among my friends is that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli" - or nowadays noma.  As a consumer who shells out his hard-earned cash, how excited am I about all these upcoming new openings around town, run by people like these?  Not very.  I'd rather go back to my list of tried-and-true restaurants, including - you guessed it - Amber.


Anonymous said...

Well done Peech! I see investigative journalism as a second career, and you serve them right by calling out the Moldovan brother's harassment case. We all seem to be enamoured by Michelin starred chefs when it is equally honorable working for Mom and Pop restaurants. I hope you start the much needed CV verification of chefs in this town.sophia

Peech said...

well, I'd rather hope that I can do well enough in my current career so that I wouldn't need a second career...

I used to work with someone who seriously inflated his resume and achievements. Becos he was introduced by a friend, I didn't do any due diligence on the person. One of our potential clients did, and what they heard from his former employer was a far cry from the stories he was telling us. Needless to say our business did not succeed after that. So now I do DD on everyone I work with.

There is most certainly honor in working for smaller operations, and one should take pride in one's job as long as it is done well. I have left the world of global investment banks behind me a few years ago, and have been working exclusively for very small outfits that nobody's ever heard of. I still take great pride in doing what I do.

e_ting said...

Good on you, Peech. It's not the first time a press release has sent out complete lies, and us lifestyle journos (in particular) should really be less trusting. They call us bitter and cynical, but such is the world we live in - let your guard down for a second and the damn fools trample all over you.

Anonymous said...

Well done - good research. I ate there and the food was OK, however the prices were extremely high. The wine list is also pretty extreme.

Disappointing the journos and bloggers don'r do more due diligence. More annoying is that they sample these things at free PR meals and never assess the quality of the food against the cost.

Far too many new chefs coming to HK looking to make a quick buck charging very high prices - there is definitely a serious case of restaurant inflation going on.

Anonymous said...

I usually don't make a lot of research before going to a new restaurant, and i don't mind paying the price if i have a good experience, but when the experience start with lies of the owners, common, Mom and Dad brasserie, burgers and nothing really professionally consequent after sexual harassment cases in NYC...
i don't feel ok to spend my money for these people, PR is important, but if the food is good, why so many lies.

Unknown said...

Great job, Peech! I wish I have read your post about one year ago before I visited this restaurant and setting the bar way too high.

I recently ran into a restaurant in Central called Saam whose owner-chef has the very same name as the one being mentioned here. Do you have any information on whether it's the same person.


Peech said...

I believe it is the very same person...


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