Le Fooding Draws Le Criticism


It has now been more than 48 hours since the second coming of Le Fooding, which took over the grounds of P.S.1 on Friday and Saturday nights. Although this year’s theme was a staged battle between New York and San Francisco chefs supposedly driven to blind, combative rage by a plate of figs, the event’s aftermath is playing out as more of a fight between angry ticket holders and the Le Fooding organizers.

One disgruntled ticket holder e-mailed us a message with the subject heading “Le Grand Fooding – WORST EVER.” Although that summed up his experience rather neatly, he went on to elaborate:

I hope you guys sent someone to cover this. Never have I been to such a disorganized event where you waited in line for so long, to get so little, only to watch it all fall apart after 8:30pm and have mass crowds just ignore the lines and start rushing the food tables. For something that was meant to raise money to fight hunger, it bore a sad an ironic resemblance to the scenes you see in third world countries where huge crowds gather to fight for scraps of food being handed out.

The writer is in plentiful company: as Eater has noted, the term “shitshow” has been liberally applied to the event. Long lines to get in, long lines to get food, and inadequate servings were a common complaint; as Grub Street reported, chefs had been told to prepare 1,500 portions, but served far more than that well before the evening was over.

In answer to our writer’s question, we did attend the first night of Le Fooding. Arriving around 6:30 p.m., we stood in the press and V.I.P. line for approximately half an hour. The line moved in fits and starts. When we neared the entrance, we could see that certain people were being allowed to jump the queue: a squat, hideously spray-tanned woman fresh from parking her Mercedes SUV near the door; willowy, French-speaking, cheek-pecking couples; and Jake Gyllenhaal, carrying a backpack and wearing a beard that would have put Jesus to shame.

Still, the line was no worse than it was last year, and once we got in, around 7 p.m., the crowds inside were still thin. After helping ourselves to David Chang’s beet-goat cheese parfait, which was tasty but reminiscent of those layered yogurt things you find at Starbucks, we ate a single, perfect scallop from James Shyabout, the chef at San Francisco’s Commis, and marveled at the cucumbers in miso “bagna cauda” with whipped nasturtium flower, marcona almonds, and a bowl of roots and coffee served by Jeremy Fox, who was formerly the chef at Ubunto. Which was as utterly bizarre as it sounds, but also delicious and inspired.

Around 7:30 or so, the crowd began to assume more fearsome proportions, and as we waited in line for a single, whisper-thin slice of pizza from Pizza Moto, we began to feel sorry for both the pizza-makers, who looked like they were suffering through the last leg of a decathlon, and the people who were forming the endless lines behind us.

By the time we made our way to the ancillary space where Seersucker and Torrisi Italian Specialties were stationed, we began to feel sorry for anyone not wearing jack boots: for some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to cover the ground with sand. While we’re generally a fan of sand when it’s next to the ocean, we had to wonder if its presence at a fancy-dress event where many attendees were wearing high-heels was a benign oversight or some sort of attempt at subliminal misogyny. Either way, it was a pain in the ass.

We didn’t stand in line for Seersucker because we’re not really fans of the restaurant, but Torrisi’s pickle salad with slivers of lamb tongue was pretty damn fine. After we ate it, we weighed the possibility of standing in line for April Bloomfield’s beef-onion-cheese pie, but by this point, the lines were definitely at shitshow length. So we left, taking another of Chang’s beet parfaits for the road.

We left at 8:15, half an hour before our writer asserted that everything fell apart. Our experience was overall far more positive than negative, though we have to agree with Eater’s observation that the event’s “challenge” theme was undermined by the completely unrelated dishes and ingredients served by the chefs.

And we also have to add the caveat that if we hadn’t been afforded the privilege of standing in the shorter press line and gaining early admittance, our experience may not have been so positive. Also, we didn’t have to pay for our tickets. Had we coughed up $50 to spend hours waiting in line for miniscule portions of food, even very well-prepared food, we’d probably be pissed off too.

True, all of the proceeds from Le Fooding went to benefit Action Against Hunger, which is an excellent reason to spend 50 bucks, and no one in this crowd was going to know real deprivation, regardless of what they did or didn’t eat at P.S.1. And as New Yorkers, we’re all too accustomed to spending a lot of money to wait for food. The difference being, of course, that there’s typically only one line to wait in before being rewarded with a relatively satisfying meal.

But the fact remains that regardless of its good intentions and the worthy cause the event will benefit, Le Fooding challenged the patience and good will of many of our compatriots. So here’s a challenge for Le Fooding: Next year, how about a little more liberté, égalité, and fraternité for all ticket holders, not just the ones lucky enough to be standing in the press and V.I.P. line. Give everyone an experience that will satisfy the body even as it empties the wallet. And for god’s sake, lose the damn sand.