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Conflicts and Resolutions

August 26, 2013

Truly, I hope this is the last I have to write about my interactions with Michelle Hines Abram. But you know how I feel about questions. Even though the following was left on Facebook and not in the comments section of the FLB, I feel compelled to answer. It came from chef Rachel Mabb, whose Facebook page says she’s the “Head Cheffie Chef” at The Ruck. For what it’s worth, she gave me her permission to answer it publicly on the blog.

Also, there’s one other thing that I need to clear up. Unfortunately, I see no other way to do so than to break a rule I had established about quotes and attribution. More on that soon.

But first let’s get to the questions. In response to the post An Unhealthy Level of Boosterism, chef Mabb wrote:

Why so malicious? Gastronomy is supposed to be about enjoyment and conviviality- not criticism. I think this post was very childish, and does nothing to give me reason to read what you write. I don’t care that your knickers are in a twist over some allusion that was made in some other blog that may or may not be about you. I just see bitterness and grudging. You seem to be making yourself irrelevant in the arena of gastronomical comment. This may not bother you, since you think the “food scene” here garners little respect for anything. Which begs the question, why are you so interested in chiming in anyway? Haven’t you moved to Princeton yet?

Honestly, I’m glad she asked. I would much rather those who disagree with me voice their concerns directly so I have the chance to address them constructively. Especially in this case, since it would appear as if my position on a few things has been misunderstood.

Let’s start with the easy ones first.

No, I’m not in Princeton yet. Thanks for asking. Right now I’m in Virginia, but please don’t tell my Virginia and D.C. friends, because I’m not going to be able to see them all. Later today I’ll be back in Pennsylvania on the farm, enjoying home grown tomatoes and Chambersburg peaches.

Princeton is next week, and I’m very excited to once again have a kitchen of my own. I’m equally excited to stock that kitchen with trips to Wegmans and Whole Foods.

Malicious?

I’m afraid I don’t see it. I’ve read through the post and I don’t see any attacks against Michelle as a person. I commend her good works. More importantly while I disagree with her conclusion, I agree with the thrust of her argument. Mostly though I disagree with her strategy for how to best elevate Albany in the culinary world.

My opinions are strong and they are heartfelt. But there is no malice. In fact, the reason why I wrote the post was to clear the air. It was obvious to me (and others) that despite Michelle’s objections, her closing remarks were a direct response to an admittedly passive-aggressive post I had written earlier.

So why am I chiming in here anyway? Well, let’s look at that conclusion Michelle Hines Abram drew one last time. Because I think if we pick it apart a little bit, chef Mabb may come over to my side of the fence.

The Capital Region has a Food Scene and it has nothing to do with mozzarella sticks and fish fry. I don’t call that unhealthy boosterism, I call that knowing what’s good.

Let’s put questions of my ego aside for a moment, because that was never the point. Besides being two of the three regional dishes that are unique to the Capital District, do you know what Mozz & Melba has in common with our foot-long fish fry? These are staples of almost every tavern in the region.

Taverns are our food culture. Taverns are well represented in my short-list of recommendations, and The Ruck in particular continues to make that list (despite some recent lapses in consistency). Incidentally, that list was linked to the conclusion of my post when I wrote, “I’m just thankful for the places that are actually doing good work.”

These places aren’t our food scene. They aren’t trying to be trendy. You will never find one pretending to be what it isn’t. Our taverns are the heart and soul of our community. More than anything else, for better or for worse, they reflect the taste of the region.

With her statement, MHA was effectively besmirching the very things that make our region unique. That is what got my knickers in a twist. And that is why I responded with a comment parsing the differences between a food scene and a food culture. A comment which MHA never posted. Maybe it’s because she’s the one who’s grudging. I don’t know.

What I do know is this.

MHA has effectively tried to shut down the dialog on this matter as it seems she conflates disagreement with personal attacks. Besides blocking me from her Facebook and Twitter feeds she has recently asked her network of chefs and others to refrain from responding to these posts. So perhaps I won’t hear from chef Mabb in response to today’s post after all.

What I do need to clear up are the actual attacks MHA has been making on my character behind my back. Somehow even with my limited technical knowledge it was surprisingly easy to read a few of her recent Facebook posts. Actually, I just got lucky. It looks like I have a malfunctioning app on my phone running an old OS.

I know it’s bad form to do this, but I feel like I’ve been left with no other options. Here’s what Michelle had to say on her Facebook page:

I have chosen to not respond to the recent posts about me. That kind of negativity is simply not who I am or what I believe in. I will kindly ask all of my friends to not respond on my behalf as well, as that only gives relevance to something that is so ridiculous.

And that would be totally understandable. But I’m not attacking her. The posts aren’t about her or diminishing her charitable works. The posts are about a difference of opinion. It’s discourse. The fact that I lack her zeal for boosterism doesn’t equal negativity. I make critical arguments, and I support those arguments with reason. This is what I do and how I do it.

What I don’t do is call someone a liar behind their back. One last Facebook quote from Michelle:

Guys, he is lying. I don’t engage with people like. I had a conversation with him the night before he ran the post and explained the my post was not about him, but was a response to something of Steve’s.

No. No, I’m not lying. I have never contended that the entirety of her post was about me. That would indeed be a ridiculous notion. Michelle’s post is about a lot of things that don’t involve me at all. However I challenge any reasonable person to read her final words and tell me that it was not a direct response to my post from May 10.

Just so you know, before the post went live I offered Michelle a chance to go on the record with a quote that denied her statement was a shot against me. She refused. That was her choice, and it was her right.

But to be clear, I didn’t believe her then, and I don’t believe her now.

There is one good thing to come of this though. By being able to peek into a Facebook thread where you are not expected, you learn who your friends are and who they aren’t. No need to call the rest of them out by name. They know who they are.

[Tomorrow, come hell or high water, I’m writing about something else.]

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 7:16 am

    Only one way to settle this. Pistols at dawn. Choose your seconds.

    As I stated in my comment on your last post, the mozzarella sticks/hot dog comment is the only thing Mdm. Abrams said that stuck in my craw. That was a low blow aimed directly at the soul of my beloved home environs. As I used to sigh at your nonsense when you started this rag (I find your taste improved as of late), I sigh at this M.H. Abrams. Sigh. Silly outlanders.

  2. August 26, 2013 10:36 am

    Well written, DB.

  3. August 26, 2013 1:10 pm

    Well said.

  4. August 26, 2013 1:13 pm

    No matter how much you insist otherwise, raspberry sauce is not a “staple of almost every tavern in the region,” it just isn’t. Having it at a few places in Albany doesn’t make it a regional staple.

    But anyway.

    I think you’ve hit on something about our culture here: “It seems she conflates disagreement with personal attacks.” Yes, absolutely. People today seem very quick to believe that their opinion is the only “right” way to think, and if you disagree, you’re wrong and mean and attacking them. And that’s just sad.

  5. August 26, 2013 1:23 pm

    You have two very different agendas, as (I think) I pointed out on your last post about this subject (or was just thinking)… you’re into making the region a better place to eat (through constructive criticism); she seems to be an unrepentant booster who if you moved her to a town with a population of 103 would be comparing the local diner with Per Se. I understand that the kind of attitude she represents is exactly what you’re trying to fight, but sometimes you just can’t win an argument with people who are determinedly insular. Better to move on than to indulge such folks.

  6. August 26, 2013 1:26 pm

    KB, the raspberry sauce may not be a “regional staple,” but I’ve never encountered it anywhere else. So it may not be a staple, but it’s certainly a regional idiosyncrasy. I’ll leave it to local food historians/specialists to figure the whole thing out.

  7. August 26, 2013 6:31 pm

    Please go back to your regular posts.

    • August 26, 2013 8:52 pm

      Thanks for your patience. I’m done with this too. Tomorrow is a new day.

  8. Josh K. permalink
    August 26, 2013 11:05 pm

    @KB, you need to stop with the melba hate and spouting out misinformation.

    Mozz and melba/raspberry sauce is served in just about EVERY tavern in the Capital Region. In fact, I challenge you to find me a place that serves Mozz sticks and NOT melba around here.

    Short list in Albany alone:

    The Orchard
    Fountain
    Across the Street Pub
    Ralph’s
    Beff’s
    Graney’s
    Hill Street Cafe
    McGeery’s
    Victory Cafe
    Washington Tavern
    Professor Barley’s
    Cafe 217
    Cafe Hollywood
    Legends

    • August 26, 2013 11:47 pm

      You are wasting your breath. This seems to be her pet point to argue. She has been provided with ample evidence to the contrary in the past. I have regaled her with anecdotes concerning how, as a child, I thought that raspberry sauce was the default mozz. stick condiment and that marinara was merely a secondary option for those who did not truly know how to live. All to no avail… It is such a funny issue to take a stance on, isn’t it?

    • August 27, 2013 11:26 am

      In KB’s defense, she grew up north of the Twins (as did I, much further north than KB, though), and she contends that it is not a regional staple because you can *only* find it in Albany, and not in, say, Saratoga. (I certainly never saw it growing up, either.) Mr. Dave’s list proves that point. In other regions, the “regional staples” are found a decent radius away from the center, so that this really isn’t is an anomaly.

  9. Josh K. permalink
    August 27, 2013 12:18 pm

    It’s everywhere in this area INCLUDING ‘Toga:

    Saratoga – Circus Cafe/Irish Times
    Clifton Park – Ravenswood
    Troy – Red Front
    Watervliet – McIntyre’s

    And Albany being the hub of the region, is obviously where you will find it the most and less so the further you are away from the Capital Region epicenter.

    It’s like arguing that Chicken Riggies and Utica Greens aren’t a Utica regional specialty when you live in Syracuse

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