Chef Cesar Ramirez of Chef’s Table accused of racism

Chef Cesar Ramirez (above), defending himself in an open letter. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Chef Cesar Ramirez (above), defending himself in an open letter. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Chef Cesar Ramirez of Chef's Table in New York allegedly called his Asian customers 's**t people'

Asian foodies are up in arms after chef Cesar Ramirez at three-Michelin-star restaurant Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, allegedly gave lesser cuts of meat to his Asian customers and referred to them as "s**t people".

A lawsuit filed by five former employees also claims that they were not paid overtime rates and service staff were stiffed of their tips.

After the case was filed last week, many foodies took to Yelp and other restaurant review sites to slam the restaurant's racist practices and bad service, resulting in a temporary dip in the restaurant's rating on some sites.

In the suit, one of the former employees, Ms Emi Howard, who is Asian- American, makes bold accusations that Ramirez was racist and "routinely referred to Asian customers as 's**t people'".

She adds that Ramirez had, many times, instructed her not to seat Asian customers at the parts of the kitchen counter closest to himself.

The restaurant is an intimate 18-seater spread along three sides of a square counter, with Mr Ramirez stationed behind the fourth side.

On one occasion, when Ms Howard had seated Asian customers close to Ramirez, she says she was subjected to a "wild verbal tirade"; henceforth, he took over the seating arrangements.

Apart from that, Ms Howard also claims in the suit that when a large piece of meat was cut into many pieces for the guests, Mr Ramirez would instruct her to "give the worst pieces of meat" to the Asian customers and "Upper West Siders".

The restaurant charges US$255 (S$336) a person, not including tax, and a 20 per cent service charge, which the three service employees who are part of the suit say was not distributed to them.

They also claim that Ramirez and Mr Moneer Issa, the owner of the restaurant, would withhold "significant portions" of any additional tips that diners gave.

When Life! contacted Mr Issa, he said in an e-mail that the "allegations are false" and they are "severely disappointed in this lawsuit and the allegations made".

He added that the company prides itself on the diversity of its staff and welcomes everyone who comes through its doors, "regardless of their creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or nationality".

Ramirez also released an open letter in which he states: "I am not a racist and I have never been."

He wrote: "We treat the restaurant as our home and everyone who comes here is immensely valued. I am indebted to our guests."

He added that his culinary inspiration comes from places such as Japan and he is "fortunate to work with a talented staff from all over the world".

After the case was filed last week, many foodies gave the restaurant one- or two-star ratings on review site Yelp, a stark contrast to the usual four or five stars that the restaurant receives.

"I don't remember him speaking to our party of 4 (Asians) except to tell us no photos," wrote Ms Renee K, who gave the restaurant a two-star rating on Yelp. "Service and reception was lukewarm and robotic," she added.

Ms Christie K, who gave the restaurant one star, said her party of two paid US$1,000, "and to discover that we were referred to as s**t people while they seemingly served me leftover meat and robbed me of my rights as a patron, I cannot give Chef's Table more than a one star. Really a huge disappointment".

There were, of course, some who continue to praise the restaurant and share their good experiences.

Ms Nini L, who gave the restaurant five stars on Yelp, said she is Asian and did not notice a difference between her cut of meat and that given to her husband, who is Caucasian. She also noticed that the people sitting nearest to the chef were, in fact, Asian.

Still, Singaporean Rosie Nasir, 22, a student who will be travelling to New York with her family this month, said she is looking forward to a number of good meals in New York, but Chef's Table will not be one of them.

After what the chef has said about Asians, she said: "There is no way I would go there."

simlinoi@sph.com.sg