How Not to Hire a Chef Busboys & Poets owner Andy Shallal spent thousands on a contest to find the right chef. So why's the runner-up doing the cooking?

From left to right: The quasi-celebrity judge; the esteemed cookbook author/judge; the restaurateur who held a contest to pick a chef; and the contest winner...for 18 days.
Darrow Montgomery

Near the tail end of his Southern road trip, Andy Shallal had come to a horrible realization: The winner of the Top Chef-like contest he’d staged wasn’t the right man to lead the kitchen in his new restaurant after all. At the time of his epiphany in late March, Shallal and Chris Newsome, the lone chef standing after the grueling competition, were both silently milling around the New Orleans airport, fresh off a multiday tour of the South to sample the food that would define their project. Shallal, to be fair, wasn’t the only one in crisis.

Newsome had just learned that his elderly grandmother had died. Instead of catching a flight back to D.C. with Shallal, the chef was going to rent a car so he could drive to Birmingham, Ala., and attend the funeral of the woman who had influenced his love of food. Shallal, meanwhile, was stewing over recent events. During the past few days, Shallal had been arguing with his new chef over what dishes to feature at Eatonville, the restaurant he was about to open across V Street NW from the restaurateur’s first Busboys & Poets outlet in Shaw. Shallal, who was born in Iraq, wanted to limit the pork offerings. Newsome, an Alabama native, couldn’t imagine a Southern restaurant without pig products.

As he stood there in the airport, Shallal simply couldn’t fathom why his willful new hire thought so highly of himself. Had Newsome ever opened his own restaurant? Did he have any clue what middle-aged African-American women—Eatonville’s targeted palate—really wanted to eat? Hell, as far as Shallal could determine, Newsome was a nobody. Shallal even had evidence: the lack of Google hits when the restaurateur searched on Newsome’s name.

At some point—Newsome says it was after he learned about his grandmother’s death, and Shallal says it was before—the owner finally spouted off to his chef. “You’re interested in opening Chris Newsome’s restaurant,” Shallal told the toque. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

And with that, Shallal fired Newsome before the chef ever had a chance to cook a single meal at Eatonville.

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It was an unpredictable ending to what had, just weeks earlier, all the signs of being a classic partnership. Back in February, Newsome was one of more than 200 people to submit résumés in hopes of landing the executive chef position at Eatonville, a gig with a $75,000 salary attached to it. Only 23 of those applicants, though, were called in for interviews. Newsome was one, and for good reason. He not only studied the culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., but had also worked for the James Beard Award–winning Bob Kinkead, first as a sous chef at Kinkead’s and later as chef de cuisine at the now-shuttered Colvin Run Tavern.

Newsome’s interview, however, started out on an odd note. Before even one question was posed, the job candidate was asked to sign a release so that videographers could record every word of his interview session. Newsome signed it and proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes or so fielding questions from Shallal and Carla Hall, the Wheaton-based caterer and former Top Chef finalist who was helping to weed through the candidates. The interviewers felt an instant connection to Newsome. “When he walked out of the room, we both had tears in our eyes,” Hall said later. In a way, they felt as if they had already found their man. “This is our chef,” Hall recalled thinking.

Because he was clearly partial to Newsome, Shallal admitted right after the contest that he was “a little harder on him from the beginning.” You’d have a hard time proving that, though. Shallal checked only one of Newsome’s references, and the chef all but breezed through the various rounds, each tied to some Southern ingredients or Southern dishes or the Southern strains of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is partially set in Eatonville, Fla., the writer’s all-black hometown.

Then again, Newsome probably could have won this contest without a biased panel, which did include both Shallal and Hall as judges for the championship round. Newsome’s final menu, after all, was a clever amalgam of food and Hurston biography. His “sweet and spicy” barbecued oysters, he told the judges, were inspired by Hurston’s similarly “sweet and spicy” personality. His cornmeal-crusted flounder with tasso ham was a nod to Hurston’s connection to the Southern coast, with its endless bounty of fresh fish. His gingerbread-scone dessert was even inspired by the character Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The judges ate that treacly stuff up. Mike Curtin, CEO for D.C. Central Kitchen, felt that Newsome’s approach showed the chef was putting the Eatonville concept before his own ego. “It’s clear that [the chef] is cooking for this restaurant,” Curtin said during the final challenge. “He’s not cooking to show off.”

Curtin’s assessment makes you wonder how, over the course of just a few weeks in March, Newsome could have shape-shifted from a thematically sensitive chef willing to sacrifice his ego in the name of Eatonville to an egomaniac willing to undermine his boss’ very vision of the restaurant. The answer perhaps requires some background first.

To begin with, executive chefs typically aren’t hired by means of a Food Network–esque contest designed to drum up public interest in a restaurant. No chef or restaurateur contacted for this story had ever heard of an executive chef hired via a competitive cook-off—save, of course, for those winners of reality shows such as Hell’s Kitchen. Too much is at risk, most said, to hand over your multimillion-dollar restaurant to some chef who’s only proven that he can cook a great meal.

A true executive chef, says Michael Babin, co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, requires more skills than the ability to impress a random collection of judges who may not even understand your restaurant’s concept. Chefs must also manage the motley crew of cooks who work under them. It takes someone with a big ego and a sense of humility. A chef must have the humility to accept feedback and to dish out 101 minor criticisms every day “without wiping out the people who work for them,” Babin says. But a chef must also have an iron-will ego to prevent small compromises from creeping into the kitchen systems, the recipes, or whatever else might diminish the experience out in the dining room.

To find such a person, Babin will “use every means at [his] disposal.” He’ll interview the chef himself, then pass the potential hire to the director of operations, the manager of the restaurant, even to the public relations person for further questioning. Babin will also call everyone and anyone who might have an opinion on the chef, venturing far beyond the candidate’s provided references. Babin wants to find out, among other things, if the chef is a screamer, a plate-thrower, or a bum who shows up late and leaves early, perhaps with a few tenderloins stuffed under his whites. Babin will, of course, also conduct a tasting or two with the chef. “It can be a long process,” he says.

It’s also a process with little guarantee for success, particularly for young cooks moving into the executive chef position for the first time. Babin believes such newbies succeed only about 30 percent of the time. The main problem with just about any hiring process is that you can only see how a chef works once he’s in your kitchen for days and weeks. No exhaustive background check or interview session can tell you whether the chef has the necessary drive. Or if he’s trustworthy. Or if he’s philosophically aligned with the restaurant’s mission.

But of all the analytical tools available to a restaurateur, a cooking contest is likely the least effective way to suss out a chef’s real personality, says R.J. Cooper, the Beard Award–winning toque. At Cooper’s Vidalia, cooks are almost always promoted from within once they’ve learned the restaurant’s system and values. Even line cooks at Vidalia aren’t hired until they make it through a brutal two-day ritual in which they must perform a wide variety of tasks, often under a number of different people. Cooper’s trying to assess their dedication and determination. “You’re not going to find that in a contest,” he says.

Andy Shallal will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t kowtow to the cult of celebrity chefs—or even non-celebrity chefs. By his own recollection, he burned through three toques in three years at his last chef-driven restaurant, MiMi’s American Bistro off Dupont Circle. After fighting over food costs, cleanliness, and basic kitchen management, Shallal told himself that “I’d never go down the chef route again.”

And for years, he didn’t. The model for his wildly successful Busboys & Poets chain doesn’t include chefs. Instead, the restaurateur relies on kitchen managers to hire and train sous chefs and line cooks who, day in and day out, are content to execute a budget-minded menu of pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and a small number of entrees. In return, these kitchen drones receive a salary, benefits, health insurance, and paid vacations. “For my people, it’s a job,” Shallal says. “It’s not about the showmanship.”

But when it came time to develop Eatonville, Shallal realized he needed a fresh concept, particularly given the restaurant’s proximity to the Busboys & Poets on 14th Street NW. “I can’t do the same thing,” Shallal notes. So he decided instead to build a chef-driven destination for “more foodie types.”

It was Shallal’s idea to turn his chef selection into a publicity stunt. His plan was both elaborate and sophisticated. He rented out CulinAerie, the new cooking school on 14th Street NW, to host the multi-day contest. He hired a team of videographers to capture every moment, from the initial interviews to the final cook-off. He paid the nine competitors after each stage of the competition, starting at $100 per chef for the first round and culminating at $1,000 per chef for the two finalists, Newsome and Rusty Holman, a North Carolina native who last cooked for the Young Republican crowd at the exclusive Rookery in the West End

Shallal spent nearly $25,000 to stage the competition, but he hoped to reap the benefits in terms of press coverage and public excitement. His plan was to create a series of videos, which he would release over a period of weeks on the Eatonville Web site, concluding with one announcing the new chef just as the restaurant was set to open.

Complications arose from the day the contest started, at least for some of the chefs. The nine contestants had to elbow for room in CulinAerie’s main instructional kitchen, which had a limited number of burners and ovens. In a way, the kitchen forced these competitors to act more like colleagues as they politely negotiated for space and open stoves. But on the second day of the contest, with six chefs remaining, each one required to make fried chicken, the contestants were confronted with an even bigger issue: no deep fryers at CulinAerie.

The chefs had to fall back on pan-frying techniques or had to improvise their own deep fryers on the stove top. This may explain why the judges weren’t too impressed with the birds. “I’m an African-American,” said E. Ethelbert Miller, a literary activist and editor of Poet Lore magazine, during the competition. “I’ve been eating chicken all my life…I didn’t taste any chicken that I wanted to go back and eat some more.”

A far more complicated problem, however, surfaced at the end of the fried-chicken round: The judges ultimately wanted to cut both of the ­African-American chefs, leaving only four white men for the remainder of the contest. Shallal balked at the idea. “We can’t allow the process to be guided by race alone,” the owner said. But “when I am honest, race plays a role.” And with that remark, Shallal decided that five chefs would move into the next round, including Jacques Ford, one of the previously ousted toques.

The truth be told, the best chef—or at least the one with the most experience as executive chef—didn’t win the contest. Trent Conry, previously head toque at both Ardeo and 701, was asked to leave in the semi-final round, a victim of his own refined skills. Conry prepared such dishes as a beet risotto, a potato cake topped with smothered onions and shiitake mushrooms, and a “coffee and doughnuts” dessert in which the drink was a multi-layered parfait-like creation with java-flavored granita in the middle.

“I’d say you’re probably the most talented [chef] we had, but that’s not all we’re looking for,” Shallal told Conry when he gave him the boot. “I’m not sure we’re going to be a great fit, and that’s why I think we need to move on.”

Minutes before he delivered the blow, though, Shallal told Conry one other thing: He thought the chef would be “a major challenge” to work with.

Shallal’s comment, perhaps, should have been a warning sign to Chris Newsome.

The Southern road trip was part of Shallal’s master plan; he wanted his new chef to experience the real Eatonville, so that he could better understand the food and the culture that had shaped Hurston and, by extension, the new restaurant that pays homage to the writer. A number of people had told Shallal the trip was a bad idea.

Privately, Newsome didn’t think much of the trip either. It’s hard enough, he figured, traveling with friends and family, let alone traveling with three strangers—his new boss, Shallal’s brother-in-law, and Brian Evans, an Eatonville manager. The chef’s mood didn’t improve any when Shallal allegedly told Newsome that he had never before visited the South, nor had he ever cracked open a Southern cookbook—aside, that is, from those by Vertamae Grosvenor, a culinary anthropologist who served as one of the Eatonville contest judges. (Shallal denies such remarks; he says he’s visited the South repeatedly and has read a number of other cookbooks on Southern food.)

The 37-year-old Newsome, by contrast, has been steeped in Southern food and culture his entire life. He grew up on beans and corn and other crops pulled straight from his grandmother’s Alabama farm; he started cooking professionally at age 19 at the Bottega Restaurant & Café in Birmingham, where he worked under the esteemed Southern chef Frank Stitt. To Newsome, it wasn’t going to be easy to swallow lectures on Deep South cooking from an amateur.

Which may have been the crux of the problem when the foursome pulled into New Orleans. It was in Crescent City that Shallal delivered his speech to Newsome about Eatonville’s target eater, that mythical middle-age African-American woman. Shallal said he knew from experience what such diners wanted, and it wasn’t pork. Not long after the speech, as if on cue, Shallal and Newsome came across a 40-something black woman who admired the Busboys & Poets shirt that someone in their party was wearing. Shallal introduced himself and told the stranger about his new Eatonville venture. She wondered if he had hired a chef yet.

Shallal said the chef, in fact, was standing right here, pointing to Newsome. She then turned to Newsome and asked if he will have good things on his menu.

“If I’m allowed, I will,” Newsome told the woman.

Shallal wasn’t at all amused by the smartass remark. To the boss, it was just another sign of his new hire’s misplaced arrogance.

For his part, Newsome doesn’t deny that he’s confident, a character trait that he believes stops well short of arrogance. It’s a self-image that would appear to jibe with Babin’s earlier description of a strong kitchen leader. Shallal, however, views Newsome’s personality a different way. “He just had that way about him,” the owner says. “He was resistant to any kind of criticism or change.…To be a good chef, you got to try to listen to comments from others.”

When the ax finally fell on him at the airport, Newsome felt the decision was rash, perhaps based in part on the strain of the trip as well as Shallal’s inability to clearly articulate his vision for the restaurant. Shallal, the chef said, wanted his restaurant to serve Southern cuisine, authentic Southern cuisine even, but wouldn’t know the real stuff “if it was staring him in the face.”

Shallal admits that Newsome was “probably right,” that the owner never articulated a clear vision for Eatonville. “But I really wanted a collaborative process to take shape,” he adds. The owner felt like Newsome had a clear idea for Eatonville—a sort of modern take on rustic Southern cuisine—and wouldn’t budge from it.

Whatever the ultimate reason for the divorce, Newsome isn’t holding any grudges against Shallal, though the chef does confess that he’s “thrilled that I’m not” at Eatonville. Newsome says that even though he’s still without a full-time gig.

As for Shallal, well, the show must go on. He ended up hiring Rusty Holman, the second-place finisher in the chef contest. “I remember [Holman] being good, kind of hit-or-miss good” during the competition, Shallal says. “But he’s come through as being very good.”

If you look at Eatonville’s Web site today, you naturally won’t find a word of this dust-up. Instead, you’ll find an altered reality. The entire site has been designed completely around the competition; it features short descriptions of the competing chefs as well as the people who served as judges. The site, in fact, is so focused on the contest it doesn’t even include a copy of Holman’s opening menu.

But right there on the home page, the site boasts this bit of creative fiction, as fanciful as anything Hurston penned during her career:

“[Drum Roll]… The winner of our chef search is Mr. Rusty Holman!”

Our Readers Say

Wow, talk about a clusterf*ck of bad ideas. I'd be interested to know how many hits Eatonville's web site received (prior to this article). Couldn't have been that many. What a waste of time and money.

Shallal, whoever is advising you, or working with you and doesn't have the balls--or interest, since it's your $ you're wasting-- to tell you "this is a stupid idea", needs to get canned. If you have a publicist, i'd spend some money on finding a new one.

But if this ill-conceived scheme was all your ego's doing, i suggest you take a step back and remember how and why busboys and poets is making you oodles and oodles of $$$: people go there, like the food & atmosphere, tell their friends to go, and they tell their friends to go. It's simple.

best of luck
I am amazed that Andy Shallal is the success he is. I realize his success is due in large part to the fact that DC has such mediocre food and that DC palates are easily pleased. In other words the bar is quite low. Shallal's establishments serve horrible food - all of them. From the soggy pasta at Cafe Luna to the overpriced dreck at MiMi's to the inedible slop at Luna Grill to the thoroughly unsatisfying Skewers. I'll give Shallal one thing: he's good at PR, creating concepts and promoting himself. Busboys & Poets is a great concept, but that's all it is - concept. The food there, like all of Shallal's establishments, is mediocre and boring. The B&P website is nice, as is the design of his restaurants, but isn't food just as important? If anyone has an ego problem it's Shallal. I don't blame him entirely since the denizens of DC bestowed the tiara on him. Let's just not pretent that any of Shallal's establishments serve good food.
Hahaha, JuliaC tells it like it is!

Watch out, here comes the barrage of offended DCers with their bruised, mediocre-food-loving palates...
"To be a good chef, you got to try to listen to comments from others.”

What a crock of bullsh't! Trust me Bob Kinkead would not put someone in charge of a kitchen unless that person had all the attributes attributed to a good executive chef described within, plus talent.

I have always thought Busboys and Poets was pretty dreadful, sloppy, sloppy service with people kind of bumping through things but the "don't know any better" crowd goes there in droves. I will often demur rather then meet people there because mostly what its good for is getting a headache.

How convoluted is this whole Eatonville thing even without the chef story. A restaurant concieved to honor an author, whatcha gonna serve, paper and cardboard.

The whole upscale black target thing is kind of degrading as well. Like gays and whites need not reserve? Like upscale blacks are so parochial they need yet another place to get fried chicken - I mean Georgia Brown's has done that - because they are too limited to expand their palates. No, its the "don't know any better crowd" who is Shallal's target and all this will work well for them.

You can put anything on a menu, execution is a different matter. What Shallal really wants is publicity about a menu that can be badly approximated by his "drones" (read ill paid latinos). Mr. Newsome's sin was integrity in his profession which must have become glaringly obvious to Shallal in of all places, New Orleans (imagine someone who knew nothing about french cuisine touring Paris for the first time with LaRousse).

I hope he at least manages to keep this "upscale" place marginally clean, that would be upwards for him.
Word on the street is that Shallal wanted the winning chef to write an "Eatonville" cookbook as well. When is the "chef's personal assitant" contest?
So, Mr . Carman- are you friends with Mr. Shallal? or have you made a life long enemy? Its pretty bold to go up against such a big entrepeneur in this town.

Though im the first to admit that Busboys and Poets service and food stink. The service at the shirlington location is a joke and skewers is beyond awful. I agree with Julia C- how has he become so successful? i hope Dc has better palettes- but Im not so sure anymore....
only in America..a guy who came from Iraq, worked in a pizza parlor, got married, had the requisite heirs, dumped his wife and kids, "came out", and then became a crappy restaurant mogule- all while preserving his condescending arrogant disgust for Americans! What a country!!!!
Re: J
Its "palates", not "palettes".
Ok....... there seems to be alot of comments from people who have NO CLUE.
First of all the negative comments about the food at BBP. What do you people expect????? I mean really. Mr. Shallal himself has said many times that BBP is not trying to be fine dining. The food is actually pretty good considering the price. An $8 burger and $9 pizza (its like 12 inches).

As for the "drones" he employs (the latinos, morrocans or americans) they're actually paid pretty well and enjoys their jobs. Which is problably why many of them come back to work for him again and again at later ventures.

And now a comment for DCGirl..... Mr. Shallal's "condescending arrogant disgust for Americans" Where do ou get your information???? Do you know this man at all? Have you any idea of the organizations that this man belongs to or the work that he has done? Let alone the donations he has made year after year.

And now my comment regarding the Chef. As a business man, owner or even a manager of an establishment and you were in a position where you realized that you made a mistake in the hiring of an individual (whether he was hired or won a contest) the only sensible thing to do is cut your losses..... move on.

It seems to me that most of the above comments were made by either friends of the terminated contest winner or people who are just clearly jealous of Mr. Shallal's success.

Oh and by the way. I have eaten at Eatonville twice since it's opening and I think the food is incredible. Kudos Mr. Shallal for having the sense to give your new Chef a chance. He's doing a great job!

To FoodStar - I am white and like I mentioned I'e been there a couple times Don't be scared.... they won't bite.
Some of you people need to get laid.

If you don't want to eat there at Mr. Shallal's establishments - go elsewhere -

I give him credit for he has been able to do to transform the hood. i live in the building across the street and i sure as hell glad he's there.

I had dinner at Eatonville last night and its AMAZING!! Kudos to new chef.
"By his own recollection, he burned through three toques in three years at his last chef-driven restaurant, MiMi’s American Bistro off Dupont Circle."

There seems to be an error here - I ate at MiMi's a couple of times and the food on the plate gave absolutely no indication that it was a chef-driven restaurant (nevermind the singing servers).
DC Girl obviously knows him very personally or his ex wife to have such disdain. Im not here to diss the man, just the food. To run businesses in this town, you do need to be a bit arrogant
FYI people..the current chef (Holman) and the former chef (Newsome) were in a dead tie for the chef position in the contest. One of the requirements in the contest was to read "Their Eyes are Watching God". Newsome read it, Holman didn't. Newsome won.

Meanwhile, Holman has a resume just as impressive as Newsome's. I wouldn't write off the food unless you've tried it. They're still working out some kinks but there are some fine dishes at Eatonville.
To DCGirl wow you became very personal and what does his race have to do with anything. I guess we know who you voted for this election don't we. To FoodStar you as well bring up his drown which is offensive because he employees local artist, college students, part moms and many more. So these people represent ignorance to you? Wow how bold of you to make such statements about your fellow DC MD and VA residents. the two of you both sound like your green with envy : ) funny

PS FoodStart aka the Racist! not all BLACK people eat Fried chicken
to DC/MD Born - where did I mention race? being from Iraq does not indicate race anymore than being from America makes you purple....you don't know much about the country evidently...and you DON'T know who I voted for...oh, and I was talking about Shallah's CLASS or lack thereof.

to DCGuy - giving money doesn't make you anything but a person who gives away money...he's still a lowclass condescending manilpulative asshole who hates Americans - I've heard it from his own mouth....

and if the food and cleanliness at the new restaurant is anything better than at Shallah's others, then its kudos to the Chef alone...until he grows a personality and has an opinion that differs from Shallah's :)
Everyone that commented on this page is just jealous.
It's easy to tear someone down when they're at the height of their career.
Andy Shallal is a GIFT to D.C. He gives gives and gives to the community.
All the comments are from the same loser that is just JEALOUS that they don't have his talent.
Futhermore, The city paper is like a tabloid- DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING U READ FROM THE CITY PAPER. It's common sense people- did any of you go to college??
Instead of talking trash about a businessman that none of you know of - why don't you GET A LIFE.
And for the record I've been going to Busboys and Poets ever since it opened in 2005 and I've been enjoying the vibe, the food, and the free wi-fi for 4 years now. Also, I plan on going to Eatonville because it sounds like a cool concept. Chefs are replaceable, who cares as long as the food is good.

I give props to Andy Shallal for even conducting an interview for the City Paper.
Hey it's his restaurant- he can hire or fire whomever he wants.

Also, I'm pretty sure the negative comments are all posted by 1 person who has personal issues with Shallal.

I went to Eatonville for dinner last Sunday and seriously enjoyed the fabulous artwork and the food. Rock on Andy Shallal! You make DC a better place.
so like, andy's married
OMFG! No pigmeat please; we're Iraqi. In a restaurant touted as an homage to Zora Neale! Bwwaahaahaahaa!!!
Great article!
Oh, and Vertamae makes the best greens this ol' white girl has ever tasted, including at a Hurston festival *in* Eastonville. Any restaurateur who ignores her advice re food for "middle-aged African-American women" (will there be a sign at the front door?) & substitutes the 'knowledge' gained on a road with 2 Iraqis, 1 bean-counter (but not red beans, I'll wager) & good ol' boy from an Alabama farm, well...
Prolly no shrimps, neither.
and talkin 'bout Bob Kinkead...I'm sure he'll be thrilled to find out he's mentioned in these charming comments...oh,and BTW, Kinkead is a GREAT Chef and never gave a rat's ass what anybody else's opinion was about his food - if they didn't like it, he said they were F#@&*ng stupid! ...and he was right... :)
oh, is there going to be sign at the door that says old black ladies only????
We were saddened to read the review. Two days ago, we shared a delicious dinner at Eatonville. By our own choice, we sat on their interior porch on rocking chairs and enjoyed the good food (very light and tasty, and beautiful to the eye). The service was efficient and helpful, and décor felt like a feast for the eyes. Whatever the other problems might be (past or present), we are raving about the place to all our friends and suggest that others try it for themselves, as well.
1) It is a restaurant, not sacred soil. 2) It is food, not a blood transfusion. 3) One of those"drones" is someone's family member doing quite well raising my four grandkids and loving working. 4) Bitterness towards business people doing business for which you voluntarily attend makes no sense. 5) Why in the world would race/ethnicity/national origin make any difference in your restaurant choice? 6) Who would have guessed that a spurned chef, embarrassed by the publicity, might have negative things to say about his dismissal? A shocker, no doubt. 7) Please submit front-page newsworthy story suggestions about the last time you were let go/fired/dismissed/quit that paint your former employer in a bad light, c/o Washington City Paper. 8) Of course, Andy is my great friend and, I believe, a great person - and there are many, many others who feel the same way. I am sorry for you he is successful.
How do you have a Southern Resturant without serving pork products. Pork has and will always be part of the Southern diet.
Ok, I've made my peace with non-Black owned establishments named after famous Black folks. In fact, sometimes I even like it. I've also made my peace (for the most part) with the strange, bold way many Americans in general will open up a particular business serving/selling/performing another racial and ethnic cultures food, clothes, or even music. Contradictions are, I guess, acceptable when it comes to money.

As much as I love Busboys and Poets and Andy Shallal's vision of racial harmony, I was offended by the way Southern cuisine was researched in a matter of days for a restaurant. I am a Black American woman from the Deep South. My whole family, especially the women, can cook Soul Food from scratch (even homemade butter). No shortcuts. It takes a while to prepare but the food is worth it. My own collard greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and potato salad make my mouth water.

And fried chicken? My family holds a serious competition when it comes to well-seasoned crispy bird.

Culturally, all of this comes from Slavery because on both sides of my family, I am a descendant of enslaved Africans. My family has been here for over 200 years. We know how to cook really good Soul/Southern food because that's what my family did during Slavery: Cook food for those who could legally owned us during that time, and as hired help after Slavery ended. It's been researched and documented as a part of my family's history.

I don't understand how all of the sudden, non-Black Americans know how to cook Southern food better than most Black people. They are the experts now? Yes it's a new day and there is more than a slight difference between Soul food and Southern food (yes, there is. What my ancestors ate was not always what they served to their enslavers. White people didn't eat Chittlin's, or Chitterlings, back then). But did (Southern) Black folks all of the sudden loose the ability to provide expert advice about what their ancestors cooked for centuries in bondage? What were White people cooking during that time, anyway?

And would it be strange if I as a Black American woman opened up a sushi bar? Or a Kosher deli? Do I have to be Jewish to make koogle? Italian to make pizza? At least be a Muslimah to make good Kebabs? A Thai woman to bang out some good drunken noodles? Because if I could, of course I would have to promote it as the best. Authentic. Better than even the "natives". And somebody is going to be offended.

Though I don't normally go to restaurants that serve Southern cuisine since I can cook that stuff without even looking at a recipe (except for places like Arcadiana and B.Smiths because I'm not Creole nor Cajun, so the foods from the Gulf are not a part of my skill set) , I will still visit Eatonville one day to experience what's going on. I just have to make peace with feeling like Elvis just left the building, and is about to make a lot of money off of what he just heard.

Oh yeah...I don't eat pork anymore, but my family thinks I'm strange. Some sort of Pig must be served (a Southern restaurant with no pig? Doesn't make any sense). Stick with fried porkchops, and optional hamhocks for the greens.

Nicole H. , Adams Morgan.
Nicole until you open your own restaraunt, keep your world view opinions on race and slavery to yourself. Black folks always complain about the way they are portrayed and taken advantage of, but never take any iniative to lead the pack. Your such a good cook, show the world how it's done, or else stuff it. I'm on my way as we speak to get some soul food from the chinese dude named Danny, I would love to get some chicken from Raheem, but Raheem is too busy running his mouth about how Danny and Eddie Leonard aka Lee Kim Chong stole what is rightfully his, while Danny or Lee Kim or whatever did something about it.
"But on the second day of the contest, with six chefs remaining, each one required to make fried chicken, the contestants were confronted with an even bigger issue: no deep fryers at CulinAerie."

OMG! As a multi-generation native Atlantan, who has spent his entire career in the foodservice industry, the entire episode reeks of incompetence at every turn. First, I'm not surprised, nor should they have been, when there were no deep fryers at a CULINARY SCHOOL. Second, as ANY Southerner will tell you, you DO NOT deep fry chicken. The best fried chicken ALWAYS comes from a well seasoned skillet in the hands of an experienced cook. If none of these 'chefs' could make passable fried chicken on a stove, then none of them deserved the position. Lastly, it sounds as if most of the responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Shallal. It sounds as if Mr. Shallal has more money than common sense or experience as this article was VERY aptly titled. Using Google to check the hits on someone's name...oh brother. It appears that he is trying to cover his tracks by saying that he has visited the south and has read southern cookbooks. Again, if he has, he has learned nothing. A restaurant serving "Southern" food should include pork in various dishes. The implication, although carefully never stated, is that because the owner is from Iraq, he must be Muslim and therefore adverse to pork products. But to be adverse to too many pork products and being Muslim...isn't that akin to being sort-of pregnant?
Big Tony: I don't have to show the "world" . My family is enough. Some us don't have to cook our cultural food for everybody. And if having an opinion about aspects of American History (like Slavery and Southern/Soul food) makes you uncomfortable because you like your food concious-free and devoid of any historical or cultural background, then do you. I bet you wouldn't go to a chinese restaurant owned by Black folks though, would you?

JC: That's right. Cast Iron all the way! Not just for frying....I only use cast iron for everything. I like the Lodge brand. But since these places have to bang out quick "Southern" food, I guess it's not economically smart to use such slow kitchen effects. And about the Pork....although I can cook vegetarian Soul Food, I hope the next business venture for Shallal isn't a Cuban Restaurant. Can you imagine a Cuban eatery with no pig? It's the same thought process.
The same person is writing all the negative, hateful comments to this article.
Enough with the personal attacks, Grow up!


Eatonville Restaurant has GREAT FOOD, I ate there last night and I thoroughly enjoyed my Oyster po boy and the service was GREAT! Highly recommend this place- he chose the BETTER chef
I had lunch at Eatonville Restaurant today AND had a chance to meet the real chef, Rusty Holman. I loved his food and he's a really nice guy. I think Andy chose the right chef- the other chef sounds cocky and hard to work with. As a restaurant owner, you want to have a good relationship with your chef. It was a good move on Mr. Shallal's part. This article is drama, it was entertaining but shady. Made me a little uncomfortable reading about it, since it sounds like the author has his own personal agenda to just make a name for himself by trying to ruin an innocent business owner's choice to chose a different chef. Seriously guys, its his restaurant and the new chef seems to be doing a great job.
Again, this article is disappointing.

Go to this restaurant for yourself- you won't be disappointed.
Andy and his managerial staff, following his lead, are some of the most abusive arbitrary employers I have ever been around. Bus boys and Poets is one huge fraud, where Andy is playing the Left in DC as a bunch of suckers. Andy portrays Bus boys and poets as a upholding high social standards, but this is a lie. What his restaurants need is union. This is the only way to stop arbitrary firings, verbal abuse and exploitative staffing practices. If Andy truly is on the left he would welcome structured work rules including a written warning protocol for staff infractions.
Newsome's parting comment was that he was glad he was not going to be working for Andy, if appears he saw Andy for the manipulative abusive boss he is and he truly is lucky he got out early.
Every time I eat at Bus Boys and Poets, my mouth thanks me.
Great food, great books, unique products and interesting people.

After listening to Andy Shallal speak at the Green Expo last year, and interviewing him last month about Eatonville, I realized that he was in fact a "gift" to Washington DC resident.

Not only has he changed the way people eat in DC, but he has introduced a new platform for how people think about food. ALL POSITIVES - fair trade, green design concepts, human rights, arts, poetry, performance, the list goes on. This is a person who continues to create platforms for free speech and integrated arts. He combines politics, culture and arts. How many other places have you eaten that have done that successfully, in DC?

Personally I found him warm and considerate, and highly humble. And if I were in the food industry, I would be thankful to have a boss like him. Before you make claims about a person......you really need to do your research.

Mucho props to Andy Shallal for his contributions to this City.

-Journalist, Filmmaker, American, Multiethnic!, Female
Interesting article. I don't know how many of you have eaten at Eatonsville, but the food is amazing, good prices and great customer service. One couldn't ask for more.

I don't understand why people have to put others down that have evidently made a name for themselves. What restaurants have any of you opened lately?!?! How many of you have the $$$ to endorse your own s@#?? Exactly.... Get a grip!
I don't know about Eatonville, but I do know the first time I walked into Busboys and Poets, I turned around and walked back out. Contrived, rude waiters, horrible posturing customers.
"What were white people cooking during that time anyway?"
My non-Black Southern family, in America for 11 generations, never owned slaves (I researched and documented my family history too!), and certainly never hired any person to cook their food-they were way too poor. They were forced by their parents to quit school, pick cotton and tend the fields all day and then the women cooked all this stick-to-your gut, poor people's food at night(taught to them by their mothers and aunts and grandmothers). According to the history expert above, these white folk don't know nothing about Southern food,not to mention Soul Food(how could they, they weren't cooking for their masters). But damn, they sure made some good collard greens, black-eyed peas, grits, chitlins (yep, chitlins, defying the annals of herstory-which, when it comes to white folk,apparently only includes white slave-owners and ignoring nearly 70% of the rest of the southern white population)), fried chicken,cornbread and scrumptious cobblers - from scratch using everything from their land that they personally farmed.

Anyway sister, I would love for you to open a sushi restaurant, because I know that you would try your damnedest to make it the best one ever- especially under the misconception that people who descended from African slaves shouldn't be making sushi, so yours would have to be good, or else! And if somebody in this town could make some decent Thai food, I wouldn't give a damn if they were a Muslim Pakistani Israeli from Chinatown, West Africa - I would be there immediately.

Everyone in the South knows that PORK is the staple to a good southern meal. No pork = NOT SOUTHERN.

Why not open an Iraqi restaurant? I'm sure he at least knows something about that food...
hallal, who was born in Iraq, wanted to limit the pork offerings. Newsome, an Alabama native, couldn’t imagine

a Southern restaurant without pig products.

a Southern restaurant without pig products.

What a fucking idiot

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