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Streaming recommendations and a round-up of last week’s food-related entertainment news
This post originally appeared on July 19, 2019, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.
Welcome back to Eat, Drink, Watch. I’ve got some notes about a new arrival on Netflix, plus a round-up of the week’s food related entertainment news. Without any further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the new season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Comedians in Cars is stuck in neutral
Jerry Seinfeld and Jamie Foxx
After streaming all 12 new episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I’m convinced that this is the most maddening TV show of the year.
During its best moments, Comedians in Cars offers a highly entertaining peek inside the minds of the world’s most famous funny people. And during its worst moments, the show feels like Hollywood’s most flagrant vanity project. While I enjoyed several of the conversations in this new season, which lands on Netflix today, there were an equal number of moments that made me wonder, “Why did they leave this part in?” And, “Is Jerry Seinfeld really that out of touch with reality?”
The high points of this and any season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee are the episodes where Seinfeld makes a connection with entertainers he admires. These scenes are endearing because they show Seinfeld as a benevolent elder statesman of comedy, who wants to celebrate his peers and give credit where credit is due. It’s fascinating to watch Jerry talk to Jamie Foxx about the actor/comedian losing his mojo after finding his first taste of fame. His lunch with Bridget Everett serves as the perfect introduction to this charming alt-cabaret star. The Martin Short episode features a fun retelling of how a Canadian Godspell production launched his career as well as those of Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, and Paul Shaffer. Over fries at Canter’s, Seth Rogen confides in Jerry about how shocking it was to learn about Bill Cosby’s history of sexual misconduct at a ceremony where the Cosby Show star was collecting a lifetime achievement award. And Jerry’s lunch with Melissa Villaseñor includes a hilarious montage of the SNL star’s favorite, highly-specific celebrity impressions.
If you are a fan of comedy lore or entertainment history, there is a lot to enjoy in these segments. But the rest of the episodes — and especially the ones starring Ricky Gervais and Matthew Broderick — feel like aimless excursions within the cozy, but bland bubble of celebrity stardom. The low point for me was seeing Broderick and Seinfeld roll up to Le Pain Quotidien in a bright green Lamborghini, joke with each other about how neither of them have any cash to pay for the bill, and then sit and eat pieces of pain au chocolat as Jerry tells his friend about his favorite W.C. Fields comedy bit. Similarly boring is a scene where Gervais and Seinfeld get stuck in traffic in a Bentley convertible, and they talk about how they’ve run out of things to talk about. During these dull moments, it occurred to me that Comedians in Cars might actually be Jerry Seinfeld’s one true “show about nothing.”
Aside from being intermittently listless, the new Comedians in Cars episodes also suffer from many of the deeper issues that plagued the previous season. Seinfeld still condescends to service workers, and exhibits a cruel tendency to mock strangers in his immediate orbit. In this season, you see Seinfeld and Broderick make fun of a Patagonia store employee for telling them that they can’t actually film in his store. In the Sebastian Maniscalco episode, Jerry turns to a worker at storied Italian delicatessen Faicco’s and says, “Look at that face — it looks like they made the sandwich out of his head.” During his hangout session with Eddie Murphy, Seinfeld and the Beverly Hills Cop star make jokes about both little people, and LA’s homeless population. And in the two-part Ricky Gervais episode, Seinfeld and the creator of The Office get into a debate over whether it’s okay to say “the Chinese aren’t funny and they all look the same.”
These aren’t clever bits of social commentary, or insightful discussions about the nature of comedy. They’re just lazy brain droppings from celebrities who know they’re being offensive but clearly don’t care.
Just like last season, there are way too many Lavazza espresso product placement shots in every single episode. And while this continues to be a very weird detail of the show, the strangest moment actually comes in the middle of the Bridget Everett episode when Jerry launches into a vicious rant about an unnamed comic who slighted him in the press many moons ago. The tirade begins in the middle of a conversation about John Belushi’s last days, when Everett mentions that she’s still close with one of the late actor’s best friends, whose name is bleeped out. “He sucked,” Seinfeld tells Everett. “He wasn’t funny. And that’s why he didn’t get anywhere, period. He sucked. Because in comedy, nobody gives a fuck if you’re cool [or] if you’re lame. If you’re funny, you win. If you’re not funny, you don’t. And he’s not funny — that’s why he had to do that stupid fucking voice, because you have no fucking act.”
I have no idea who Jerry is talking about here, but I think it’s a total cop-out that the Comedians in Cars team bleeped out the name of Jerry’s enemy. It’s the most fascinating moment of the show, and yet, the drama is undercut by the fact that Jerry doesn’t want to reveal the name of his foe, perhaps because he doesn’t want to deal with any blowback for dragging the guy. As the comedian feels so comfortable cruelly mocking perfect strangers, he should at least do the audience a favor and be willing to punch out instead of strictly down. Just tell us who it is, Jerry!
All 12 episodes — including the totally unnecessary Gervais two-parter — are now available to stream on Netflix. If this sounds up your alley, my recommendation is to queue up the Jamie Foxx, Melissa Villaseñor, Martin Short, Seth Rogen, and Bridget Everett episodes first, and proceed with caution from there.
David Chang has a new Netflix show in the works called Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. Each episode will feature the Momofuku empire builder eating his way through one city along with a celebrity guest. It premieres this fall.
I’m officially intrigued by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s new short form, mobile-only video platform Quibi, especially now that Evan Funke is doing a pasta-themed show. It launches next spring.
In the op-ed, Lehmann writes that on-demand delivery and transportation companies — Postmates (which is headed toward an IPO), Uber, Lyft, etc. — should start treating organized labor as “working partners” rather than “sparring partners.” Companies, he continues, must also work with policymakers for pro-worker and pro-innovation solutions. Lehmann then outlines four principles to chart a new way forward:
Giving workers a voice, such as a worker forum or some way to “air grievances, appeal disciplinary actions and advocate for reforms.” Lehmann also calls for states to establish commissions that establish industrywide standards on benefits, conflict resolution, and protection from discrimination.
Paying at least the minimum wage, with a sector-wide earnings floor. Gig workers are paid by the task rather than hourly, Lehmann writes, but “the bottom line should be the same: If you work for a full hour, you should earn at least the minimum wage.”
Providing workers with benefits like health care, disability, retirement savings, accident insurance, and career development programs through an industry-wide benefits fund that tech companies pay into.
Regulators and lawmakers clarifying the rules surrounding classification of gig workers as independent contractors or employees.
On the surface, this call for “a new deal that offers certainty and dignity for gig workers across America” sounds impressively progressive, with Lehmann coming across as enlightened compared to, say, Instacart’s CEO, who a few months ago was forced to apologize for tip theft. But a closer read makes it apparent that Lehmann’s piece hits all the same beats as an op-ed authored by the heads of Lyft and Uber — which asked California to compromise on the state’s AB5 bill that would make it harder for companies like theirs to classify workers as independent contractors, and thus cost companies a lot more money — just in slightly more sympathetic packaging.
AB5, which was passed by the State Assembly in May and is now up for debate in the Senate, codifies the California Supreme Court’s May 2018 Dynamex ruling that used a three-pronged “ABC” test to determine whether a worker qualified as an employee or an independent contractor. Under the ABC test, a worker is considered an employee unless the employer proves otherwise by a contractor meeting all of these requirements: a) the worker is free from the control of the company, b) the worker does work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and c) the worker has an independent business in the same industry.
Lehmann’s op-ed is carefully, artfully ambiguous when it comes to AB5. He doesn’t explicitly state whether he is for or against it, but instead suggests that AB5 “isn’t enough,” framing his proposal as a new deal that goes “further.” This creates the impression that his proposition radically more progressive, when in reality, the substance is virtually indistinguishable from the points set forth by the demonstrably aniti-AB5 Uber and Lyft.
Postmates, when contacted for comment for this article, made the company’s stance on AB5 clearer in similarly couched language. A statement from a company spokesperson reads:
We immensely respect Assembly member Gonzalez-Fletcher’s leadership on AB5 and the Senate Judiciary Chairman’s role in addressing issues of the future of work. And as Governor Newsom confronts its first Future of Work test as a State, we are committed to working through a legislative process that does not seek simply a carve out or exemption from Dynamex — but rather one that keeps labor and industry at the table to balance new standards of gig worker voice, pay, and benefits with the type of worker flexibility never before seen in historical employment law in this country. In the same way that you can not sign up for a shift at Starbucks at 8AM, then run across the street to Peet’s to make a latte; and then come back an hour later to resume your shift at Starbucks only to go clock out because you need to complete a homework assignment — the level of flexibility realized in truly on-demand work is valued by over 80% of our fleet in California. Our commitment is to raising the standard of worker benefits and balance them with worker flexibility.
The passing of AB5 would fundamentally disrupt the business models of gig companies like Postmates, Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, which are predicated on the low costs of independent labor. Such companies have justified the low wages and lack of benefits given to their gig workers by touting the jobs’ flexibility (despite the fact that labor laws don’t prevent companies from offering employees flexibility), as Postmates does in the above statement, or by maintaining that such jobs were never meant to be full-time. (On a similar note of justification, in Lehmann’s op-ed, he defends a much-criticized recent decision to tweak Postmates’ payment rates and remove a $4 minimum per-job guarantee by claiming that “more frequent deliveries can ultimately mean more cumulative earnings over time.”)
The reality is that more and more of the American workforce is joining the gig economy, whether by choice or a lack thereof, and smaller-scale fixes like a tech company-contributed communal benefits fund are not the same as lasting structural changes that come from legislation. Weaponzing progressive-sounding rhetoric in the fight against a workers-rights bill — and using the strawman of “flexibility” to justify it — is disingenuous. And it’s not fooling anyone.
On the latest Eater Upsell, we talk the demise of Dean & Deluca, drive-thru surveillance and more
On the latest episode of The Eater Upsell podcast, hosts Amanda Kludt and Daniel Geneen tackle the biggest food stories of the past week.
They get into the rise and fall of a New York giant, what happens when a coffee shop blames its closing on its neighbors, and a very 2019 lawsuit regarding waitstaff uniforms. Plus, a tone-deaf lede in a Texas magazine has Eater’s Nadia Chaudhury calling for more transparency and diversity in food media, and more.
Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Matt Moreland, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, Tan France | Christopher Smith/Netflix
The stars of Netflix’s hit show help a farmer turn his business around
One of the highlights of Queer Eye Season 4 is a “farm to slay-ble” makeover involving a recent divorcee named Matt who lives on a farm in rural Missouri.
As this fourth-generation farmer explains at the beginning of the episode, Matt’s dairy farm has fallen on hard times — a common occurrence in the area — and he wants to try to make a little extra cash by hosting farm-to-table dinners on his property. Over the course of their week in the country, the members of the Fab Five — stylist Tan France, interior designer Bobby Berk, life coach Karamo Brown, grooming maven Jonathan Van Ness, and food expert Antoni Porowski — give both Matt and his farm a major makeover culminating in a candlelit dinner where he serves a homemade butternut squash soup to his friends and family on a gorgeous patio outfitted with a custom-designed, extra-long table.
Queer Eye: Season 4 | Official Trailer | Netflix - YouTube
It’s one of the most rewarding makeovers of the season to watch, especially considering that at the beginning of the episode, Matt admits that he “never had an in-depth conversation with a gay person” before meeting the Fab Five. Once the makeover is complete, Matt raises a glass of wine from the local Amigoni winery and tells his family, “I wanted to give up on this place and mow it down, but because of those guys, I didn’t.”
A post shared by Red Barn Ranch (@red_barn_ranch_farm) on Jul 17, 2019 at 9:40pm PDT
Since the episode was filmed last fall, it seems that Matt has continued to make improvements to the Red Barn Ranch. The farm now has a silo slide, a barrel train, and a corn maze for families, and the barn can also be rented out for weddings, birthday parties, and other events. In September, Matt will reopen his pumpkin patch, with 32 gourd varieties for sale. Red Barn Ranch is located in Harrisonville, Missouri, approximately 40 miles south of Kansas City. It’s open to the public every weekend, and by appointment during the week.
Matt’s makeover — and seven other Fab Five transformations — are now available to stream on Netflix.
Staff photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
We think of kombucha as a health drink, but it’s also a great beer substitute when you’re not trying to get hammered
I recently flew from New York to Eugene, Oregon — an early morning haul — for a trip with my boyfriend’s family where, upon arrival, we stopped at a brewery for lunch. Now normally, mama (as I will unfortunately call myself) loves her juice (what I call booze to make dependency cute), but — be it the early hour, the long flight, or some sudden urge to start taking care of myself that occurred at high altitude — this day, I did not feel like drinking alcohol. I know, what a world!
But just because you don’t want to drink wine or beer or cocktail doesn’t mean you want to skip the feeling of drinking one, as proven by the sudden rise of sober bars. And while seltzer is great for the home and office, it doesn’t always cut it when you’re spending time with others who, unlike you, are slowly getting hammered on complex-tasting hooch. Enter my surprise savior: kombucha on tap.
I realize kombucha at the bar isn’t an entirely new idea, but it was new to me, having previously only drank it when I wanted to feel healthy and therefore superior to others. Who knew that I could experience this divine smugness at the brew pub as well as at the grocery store? Everyone, but me, apparently, but to continue on with this stale (nay, fermented) take, I’d like to suggest that all bars get on board with this on-tap kombucha thing as it’s far more interesting (and beer-like) than most non alcoholic options to date.
Like beer, kombucha can vary wildly in quality. Try a local Eugene batch of lavender and peach kombucha as I did and your go-to grocery brand GT Dave’s starts to taste (even more) like swill. Craving something less sweet? There’s a ‘buch for that, I’m sure, just as there’s a ‘buch for lovers of lagers, sours, and IPAs alike. They differ base on region, they differ based on ingredients and fermentation periods. There’s a lot of diversity to explore there! And while you might be saying “kombucha tastes bad,” remember that this is what people used to say about natural wine and now we can’t get enough of it. I mean, maybe your palate just needs to grow the hell up? Or you can just order something else! It’s none of my business!
Kombucha itself has a very low alcohol percentage of about 0.5 to 2 percent, enough to fuck up a house elf or baby... but only if the baby is a particular light weight. Far more seriously, it is NOT a good option for those struggling with alcoholism because even those trace amounts can trigger a craving for more alcohol. However if you’re someone who can safely drink trace amounts of alcohol, but chooses not to for your own reasons, kombucha is a far more affordable option than even most mocktails — a drink at alcohol-free bar Getaway in Brooklyn, New York, for example, costs $13, about the price of your average New York City cocktail — as it usually rings in between $4 to 6.
Perhaps you’re not yet sold on the idea and that is fine. I do not work for Big Kombucha and therefore will not be making any money off of its success. But next time you’re at the bar and don’t want to drink, just try it. Sneak it in a kombucha flask if you have to. It’ll almost feel like you’re drinking a beer like the rest of them, only you won’t feel like hell the following morning.
Inspired by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, the young empire builder cites customer service as her restaurants’ main offering
As a restaurateur, Amelie Kang wants to craft a positive experience for her guests. Her first New York City restaurant, MáLà Project, put Sichuan dry pot in stylish environs, “using modern design tropes as a counterpoint to the classically minded food,” as Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton described it. Since opening in late 2015, Kang has grown her portfolio to include a second location in Bryant Park and fast-casual restaurant Tomorrow in the Financial District.
As the 2018 Eater Young Gun has grown, her empire has expanded to employ a staff of more than 60 people. From the beginning, Kang has prioritized company culture behind the scenes as much as hospitality. In the early days of MáLà Project, one book helped crystalize and integrate these two pillars of her business philosophy.
Somebody to look up to
“I was listening to the podcast How I Built This, which I listen to religiously. Tony Hsieh was on one of the first episodes and when I heard it, I thought, ‘I have to read his book.’ Delivering Happiness is about his company philosophy and how he built the culture at Zappos. The name of the book comes from the idea that leaders of a company have a responsibility to deliver happiness to the staff and the team so that later on, the team can deliver happiness to the customers.
“His company culture aligned with our company culture: They consider themselves a customer-service company that happens to sell shoes. We have the same philosophy: We consider ourselves to be a customer-service company that just happens to serve food. Zappos is a big company with way more experience and having someone to look up to, in a way, really helped us. Seeing these ideas on paper was kind of like a validation.”
“I learned a lot from that book. For example, Hsieh incentivized all of the staff to resign from the company for a $1,000 bonus, [deciding that] whoever took that money was obviously not a good fit for the company. It turned out no one left.
“I thought that was really brilliant, and so we did that at MáLà Project as well. About one year in, we offered $300 for staff to resign within three weeks. Now that we’re heading toward our fourth year and the second year of our second location, we offered it again. Nobody takes it. Overall, the team is very close and very tight, even more so than I expected. We have a pretty low turnover rate, and everyone says it’s the team that’s keeping them here.”
Lessons for building the future
“Hsieh says we should always be learning and changing, and inertia is the worst enemy of a company. The moment that you get used to things is the moment you lose sight of problems.
“I’m looking to grow my business not so much from a financial perspective — it’s because I need to build a platform so that people can grow. There’s only so much they can learn from working at a physical restaurant, and being a single location is not going to get them any further. A lot of people consider the restaurant industry as a middle stage, a quick way to make money. We don’t want that. We want to build this company to support careers that people can rely on. They can have their benefits, they can go on nice vacations, and have the opportunity to have a family.
“I think if any industry can offer that to its employees, we can offer that to our employees as a restaurant. It’s going to take some time and we have to be creative about it, but we really want to make it happen.”
On this travel series, Chang will explore a different city with one celebrity guest per episode. “There’s something about traveling with someone that opens you up,” Chang says in an announcement about the show. “Being away from all the craziness of daily life, you spend long days together in an unfamiliar place with nothing to do but wander the street, share meals, and talk. That’s what BLD is all about—learning more about ourselves, our friends, and the people we encounter out in the world. Plus, of course, the ridiculously delicious meals we share.”
Morgan Neville, Chang’s collaborator on Ugly Delicious, is also working with this chef on this new series, which is slated to premiere on Netflix this fall. The chef/restaurateur is also preparing a new season of Ugly Delicious, as well as Family Style, a Hulu talk show with Chrissy Teigen that’s being co-produced by Chang’s Majordomo Media and Vox Media Studio. No premiere dates have been announced for these series yet.
In other food TV news, Roy Choi and Jon Favreau’s excellent cooking series Chef Show will return to Netflix this fall with a new batch of episodes. And while Samin Nosrat’s docuseries Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat remains one of Netflix’s most popular new food shows, apparently the entertainment company is still “awaiting her pitch for a second series.” Hollywood Reporter’s new food TV cover story also includes some interesting details about the business side of these productions — Gordon Ramsay makes an ungodly sum of money for each of his Fox shows, in case you were wondering — as well as this intriguing blind item:
One unscripted agent notes that there have been “millions” of passed pitches of Bourdain knockoffs since his death, and several sources mention one high-profile food personality who unsuccessfully campaigned as a Bourdain replacement to No Reservations producers Zero Point Zero within a few weeks of his death. But imitators are considered persona non grata in an industry still very protective of the icon’s legacy.
Who is the food star who pitched himself as a replacement for Anthony Bourdain following the Parts Unknown star’s tragic death last year? There really could only be maybe five people who fit this description. And while we may never know the truth about who that “high-profile food personality” was, it’s at least somewhat reassuring to know that the food TV head honchos rejected these pitches for the sake of preserving Bourdain’s legacy.
Stay tuned for updates on Chang’s shows and all the other food TV newcomers as they become available.
While the ice cream licking was filmed as a social media joke, the iced tea drinker was caught on surveillance camera at a grocery store in Odessa. He told police that he tasted it and put it back because it was “gross”. (Some reports also say he spit in the bottle). He probably should have been made to pay for the tea, but now he’ll likely be charged with tampering with a consumer product (a felony), and is being held in juvenile detention. Cool and reasonable, just like the rest of America’s legal system!
And in other news...
A Virginia man is suing chocolate company Godiva for false advertising for producing its chocolates in the U.S. He’s claiming that the packaging implies that the chocolates are made in Belgium due to the words “Belgian 1926” on it. [People]
Do blueberries belong in the same place as bacon and eggs? McDonald’s says yes, because it’s testing a blueberry McGriddle. [Delish]
A Hasidic man in Orlando is suing McDonald’s for religious discrimination, saying he was denied a job because of his beard — the man claims he offered to wear a beard net, but a McDonald’s manager still refused. [Newsweek]
It’s 11 a.m. and the Wall Street Journal is already drunk on the suggestion that you should drink wine for breakfast. [WSJ]
In a case of life imitating Portlandia, celery is very in right now, helped by celebrities like Kim Kardashian drinking it in juice form. [Bloomberg]
Eiffel Tower restaurant Le Jules Verne has finally reopened after a long battle waged by its former chef, Alain Ducasse. Ducasse (who was reportedly not super present at the restaurant) was pushed out in favor of chefs Frédéric Anton and Thierry Marx. [Guardian]
Who’s ordering all those fake meat burgers? Apparently it’s not really vegans, but so-called “flexitarians”, which is code for “people who eat meat but like, not all the time”. [Takeout]
Texas governor Greg Abbott has signed the controversial “Save Chick-fil-A” bill into law, and the whole event kind of looks like an ad for the chicken chain. [CBS]
The brand that wants to “murder your thirst” also wants to raise some cash
Liquid Death, the canned water startup that briefly became an object of fascination and derision in May for its aggressively hardxcore and violence-tinged branding that includes the tagline “murder your thirst,” is reportedly negotiating to raise up to $10 million in Series A funding.
The fundraising talks, which were first reported by Axios and confirmed by Insider, come just two months after the company obtained $1.6 million in seed funding, backed by incubator Science Inc. and investors like entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck, Dollar Shave Club’s Michael Dubin, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and Jen Rubio of the luggage startup Away. Not including the $10 million in potential Series A funding, Liquid Death founder and CEO Mike Cessario — a former Netflix creative director — has raised $2.25 million for the startup to date.
The criticism leveled at Liquid Death has been multifold, with some taking issue with its sexist messaging (Cessario once made a somewhat disparaging comment about how other water brands speak to “Whole Foods yoga moms”), and others with the double standard of who receives millions in funding. Cessario, in an interview with the publication the New Consumer, acknowledged the backlash, claiming that he “thinks” women might be the brand’s “fastest growing segment” of customers, and promising that the brand will never have “bikini clad girls that go around giving out cans” like some energy-drink companies do. So generous.
Defenders of Liquid Death would point out that the product, which comes in tallboy aluminum cans, is much more environmentally friendly than water in plastic bottles, most of which end up in landfills or the ocean after being discarded. And, as Axios notes, the idea may sound ridiculous, but “no sillier than water in plastic bottles, which generated $18.5 billion in 2017 revenue.”
As for Liquid Death’s water itself, the consensus from an Eater taste test is: It’s … fine. Tastes like water, with a hint of metal.
The chain and its piri piri chicken is a huge part of the British identity
Char-grilled chicken represents summer barbecues, which, for a country like the United Kingdom that experiences nine months of dark skies and rain, the dish can act as an escape. Originating in South Africa and specializing in Mozambican chicken, it’s zero surprise that roast chicken chain Nando’s has become woven into the fabric of the United Kingdom, giving beans on toast a run for its money.
The chain restaurant squeezed itself comfortably into the space between fast food chains and full service restaurants; but the oil that keeps the Nando’s wheels turning is its piri piri sauce: an acidic and spicy sauce that gets coated onto every single chicken the chain turns out. Still, while Nando’s is a huge part of the British identity it’s still relatively unknown to the American public; except for those who get to run into the mouthwatering grilled chicken at stateside chain locations in Maryland, Virginia, or Illinois.